Last Wednesday evening, Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge gave class attendees a rare opportunity to witness what most foodies only read about: the actual carving of a pig.
In the spirit of Cochon555, a traveling competition centered on the appreciation and creative preparation of all things porcine, Julie Biggs and Jason Lord reduced a 110-pound heritage pig into cuts of meat easily recognized in your local meat case. Picnic hams, tenderloins, Boston Butt cuts, spareribs, pig’s feet, and jowl were all on the menu.
As attendees arrived for the class, they found themselves in the presence of a carcass that had been initially prepared; the head was separated from the body, which was cut cleanly in half. It took some a few moments to adjust to what they were standing next to, but there were no real surprises. Biggs commented, “These people know why they are here, and they know what they are going to see.”
Biggs and Lord’s sheer passion for their work quickly mitigated any slight discomfort.
Biggs, Formaggio’s charcutière, and Lord, the chef for Formaggio South End, were excited to conduct Pig Butchery 101: Primal Cuts from Head to Tail. “I love how cool pigs are today,” said Lord. “People are more educated and interested in what they eat.”
Neither Biggs nor Lord has any formal training in butchery per se. “I never learned butchering in culinary school,” said Lord. When asked how he acquired the considerable skills he was demonstrating throughout the evening, he confided, “I learned from sticking around [East Coast Grill, in Cambridge]. I just got involved.” Biggs is still learning. “I’ve always wanted to learn,” she said. “I love the idea of going to a farm, picking out an animal, and seeing it through to the end myself.”
Throughout the class, attendees sampled dishes made from various parts of the pig. The starter was a simple sausage roll; a light pastry shell filled with browned sausage with a hint of garlic. Next came “head to tail” posole, a traditional Mexican stew made from “bits and pieces” of pork livened up with hominy, cayenne pepper, cumin, and other spices in a robust pork broth.
For those feeling a little more adventurous, pig ear salad came next. This was many people’s first experience with pig ear, and most found the salad to be a pleasant balance between salty (from the roasted pig’s ear and capers) and tangy (from the citrus vinaigrette dressing). The final tasting was a Chinese-styled pork belly, sliced and served simply, letting the flavors of the meat’s fats melt in their mouths. During each course, Formaggio manager Vince Razionale kept guests’ glass full of rich, dark ales and stouts to complement each of the dishes.
A recurring theme during the evening was respect. “As long as you respect and appreciate what the animal is doing for you, you’re in the clear,” Lord said. Several times he leaned near the animal and thanked it in a hushed tone.
Watching Biggs and Lord treat the animal with such reverence summed up the spirit of the event. In dismantling their heritage pig, they were completing the journey of an animal in the food chain for our benefit, and while the results were tasty and the mood light, they never lost sight of what was actually happening. When asked why an experience like this was so important for people to have, and why he loved participating, Lord said it best.
Adam Centamore is the guest author for today’s Foodie Blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, where we explore myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.