Butchering a Pig (in More Ways Than One)

Pig Slaughter

Bacon and ham moves from the abstract to the concrete when you butcher a pig, and butchering a pig is exactly how I spent the better part of the morning last Friday. And, at times, I really butchered it such that an appreciation for the art of butchery was engendered by the whole experience.

The pig carcass, a heritage Red Wattle, was picked up whole and brought to an industrial kitchen in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. After laying the carcass out on the work table before us, the knives and cleaver came out, assembled in a row like the instruments of a medieval executioner (or surgeon). The first order of business was removing the head with its bloodied toothy grin (which may have been more of a snarl).

Next, the leaf fat was peeled neatly out from inside of the pig (it comes out quite easily). Located near the kidneys, this is the highest grade of fat and the healthiest of the three types of fat found in pork. Leaf fat, when rendered into lard, can be extremely high in omega-3 fatty acids (perhaps more so than even salmon). This is especially true when it comes from heritage pigs which have been allowed to graze on roots and pasture grasses. Once the leaf fat is rendered into lard, it becomes a prized baking ingredient. Personally, I can’t wait for our next batch of waffles where we’re ditching the Crisco in favor of lard. A similar move was made years ago when we switched from margarine to butter.

The leaf fat removed, we set to carving the pig into primals, the segments from which the individual cuts come. And from these primals came the pork chops, the rib racks, and the pork belly–which is being cured as of this writing and will eventually become bacon. After deciding against making prosciutto out of the hams, we put them into a brine. If everything goes according to plan, once brined they will be rubbed and smoked for the classic holiday ham–just in time for Easter. The scraps went into the grinder and came out ground pork which will become sausage links for Sunday brunches and barbeque grilling sausages for the Spring and Summer.

Though, at times, my work was a bit of a hack job there’s something very satisfying about the early stages of hands-on learning: respect for an ancient trade and knowledge set (that of the butcher) and the thrill of new territory (the inside of a pig). It’s the sense of being a boy again.

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