Happy Hallowed November everyone. We’re still adjusting to East Coast time following our seventeen day book tour that had us gallivanting across this great country of ours. Yep, we visited both coasts and logged plenty of frequent flyer miles and rental car points. You’ll get the full run down on our trip next week. Wanted to take a second to talk about some fun I had right before we left town.
But on to today’s topic: If you’ve read our books, you know that I’ve got one amazing wife who sent me to a pig butchering class two years ago.
My most recent butchering experience was born out of two things: our need to restock our freezer with some tasty meat and my overwhelming desire to gain more experience in the art of whole animal butchering. Deer season is just around the corner and I wanted to pick up a few more tips on how best to tackle a few particular cuts. Now comes the part where you need to get out in your local community and know your restauranteurs/chefs. This experience would have been much more difficult to pin down had I not had a great relationship with Todd Mussman. Todd is the charcuterie expert for our favorite group of restaurants in Atlanta: Local Three, Muss & Turners & Common Quarter.
So, I placed the pig order several weeks prior and set a date to show up at Local Three at 9:30am Wednesday. We were slated for a few hours with our 100 pound hog. Coming into the session, I had a few ideas about what cuts I wanted to focus on. Nothing too fancy and mostly getting some ideas about how best to prepare the cuts we carved out. It’s always fun to learn from what the pros do with their meat. The pig was a nice “roasting” size, in Todd’s words. He’s got a La Caja China grill and this pig was an ideal size for throwing the entire thing in the grill and cooking it for hours.
Arriving at the restaurant around 9:15, Todd was there and we got started. The pig was already cut in half so we began tackling the first side, we started at the extremities. Feet first (one of Todd’s favorite parts to smoke and pick apart) followed by the picnic. It was great watching Todd dig into the shoulder and debone it. Next came the jowl. I was tasked with cleaning the jowl of any glandular remnants and getting them ready for curing/smoking.
The ham was up and I opted to keep the bone in. Todd showed me a few tips on deboning the ham so I would be better prepared to do that myself in a month or two. We then cut the remaining carcass into two pieces (between the 5th & 6th rib).
Next we cut out and trimmed the coppa. I tied the meat up and got some instruction on Todd’s method for tying. Normally, when tying up meat, I use a continuous strand that I loop over itself working from one side of the meat to the other. Todd’s approach took a bit more time, but seemed to make more sense. Instead of starting on one end of the coppa and working across, he had me start in the middle and make individual ties (knotting each) working out from the center. This, in Todd’s opinion allows for a more even thickness across the meat. Working from one end to another tends to thicken as you go. This has been my experience in the past, so I was happy to give his method a try.
We trimmed off the spare ribs and left that whole. This will likely get tossed on my rotisserie with a few herbs & spices and cooked on a skewer for a few hours. We cut the belly off for bacon and then came the porchetta. To start, we took out the tenderloin. I was tasked with cleaning the sinew off that while Todd worked on getting the porchetta carved out. It was awesome watching him work. We left the skin on for all large cuts (bacon included). Nothing really went to waste as we worked the first side. I did trim loose chunks of meat of skin for pork rinds and the meat went into the grind pile for sausage. First half DONE!
The second half was more fun than the first. We started in similar fashion: feet, picnic, jowls & coppa. For this side, I wanted to get an assortment of chops. We also carved out the shoulder roast. Belly was another obvious choice. Who out there would do anything with the belly other than get it ready for braising or bacon (or both)? Todd dove into the chops while I trimmed extra meat of skin. Leaning toward the thicker side of chops, we carved out 8 total.
The day was capped off with me vacuuming and watching in awe as Todd showed me his method for deboning the head. Yep, Porchetta Di Testa is on the docket. He was admittedly rusty and I think it took him all of 5 minutes to carve the head out (rusty…I think not). Next he cut out the tongue and wrapped this all up. I’m thinking this will have a date with our Sous Vide sometime in December. Can you think of anything more amazing than Porchetta Di Testa for the holidays? It might beat our Turducken this year.
All in all, a fantastic experience. Julie and I are going to be headed to Gum Creek Farms in the near future to hang out with Tommy and his pigs. We’ve met Tommy on a number of occasions and I can’t wait to see the farm. It is critical that we all take some time to know our farmers. I’m truly looking forward to continuing to work on my butchering skills and knowledge. Deer season is upon us and I’m hopeful that many of the tips I picked up with Todd will serve me well. Stay tuned for the Mayfield Pork Odyssey. We are really looking forward to sharing this culinary adventure with you all!