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Introduction to Charcuterie

May 7, 2010

Charcuterie is (from Wikipedia),  “the branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, pates and confit, primarily from pork.” Today I document my first forays into charcuterie, which is becoming quite the ticket item around Madison these days. “Pork- it’s so hot right now,” pretty much sums it up. Thankfully, this interest in pork has led to a few DIY (do it yourself) meat classes around the city.  I was lucky enough to get to attend one, all about pork.

On March 14th, 2010 I took an pig butchering class (Vegetarian and Vegan friends, you may want to stop reading now).  It was held at the Goodman Community Center a couple blocks from my house, and the instructors included two guys I met way back in the day during my time at the volunteer run coffeehouse, Catacombs.  The class was a 4-hour foray into the innards of a red wattle hog, raised at a local organic farm just outside of Madison.  The pigs had been slaughtered ahead of time, hung for a couple days and cut longways in half, so there wasn’t as much blood and gore (or organs) as I had expected.  Still, if you get queasy at the site of raw meat, you might want to skip the rest of this post.

About 60 of us filled the room, and we were quickly divided into four groups.  Two groups went with Ben, and two groups went with Johnny to go through half a pig’s worth of primals. Essentially, when you cut a pig (or cow, lamb, etc) into “primals” you segment it into 5 parts. For a pig, these are 1.) ham; 2.) picnic shoulder; 3.) loin; 4.) shoulder butt and; 5.) spare ribs/belly.  Here’s a diagram showing the basic primal cuts:

Here’s what our pig half looked like:

And here’s our pig again, cut into primals (more or less):

After primals, we worked as a group on a variety of other cuts; pork chops, ribs, tenderloin, etc.  I got to have a go with the hand saw and segment off a porkchop- it was very exciting!  It was also hard. Ben made it look easy (see below):

But when it came time for me to cut off my own porkchop, I needed some assistance.

But in the end, ta da!  My own, personally hacked off pork chop.

I was absolutely thrilled.  In fact, I’m still excited about the whole thing!  I actually got to cut my own pork chop!

After basic cuts, my group learned how to make sausage. I already knew a little bit about sausage making, since I have seen the episode of the Simple Life (yes, I have watched it, and yes, I thought it was funny) during which Paris and Nicole work in a sausage making operation.  We ground up the pork in a meat grinder, learned how to season it, and than used a meat pressing device to push the meat into the casing.  All of this was fine and good.

It was the casing that freaked me out a little bit.

Now, being kind of grossed out by sausage casing might seem a little bizarre coming from a gal who was thrilled at the sight of this:

But sausage involved one thing that, besides piggy’s little brain and a few glands, I hadn’t had to deal with yet- an organ. The casing for our sausages ( in fact, the casing for most sausages) was intestine.  Yep, that’s right. INTESTINE.  All of the excrement had been squeezed out and the whole thing had been thoroughly washed, but still. Poop had been in there. My squeamishness was not lessened when our instructor told us that our intestine might still smell like shit, but it was still fine. Sometimes the smell just sticks around.

O. M. G.

Fortunately, I’m not too delicate of a flower and was able to dig right in and start stuffing sausage (which now waits in my freezer for the perfect grilling opportunity.) However, the horrifying revelations were not over. As I watched my lining plump up with pork, I realized that in a macabre way we were postmortemly feeding the pig itself.

Again- O. M. G.

Feeling a little undone by this latest realization, I looked away from the sausage and accidentally found myself staring at the glass jar full of floating casings.  Suddenly I remembered my work at a sexual health educator, tugging a condom over my elbow while explaining how much better modern contraceptives are compared to what was available in ye olden time days, aka sheep intestines. Now, though I’ve never actually seen a sheep intestine, I am 99% sure they looked a lot like the limp noodley pig intestines that were floating in the jar in front of me.  Flashes of gross, unwashed Medieval hanky panky flashed before my eyes.


But I am no wilting violet. I shook off my extreme discomfort and soldiered bravely on, and with my classmates made a lovely coil of sausage, which we later sectioned off into a length of delicious fat links.

We later learned about curing bacon, making hard sausages like salami, etc, and took home a lot of pork.  I also got to take home a big bone (for soup) and a bunch of “leaf fat.”  You can see the “leaf fat” in the pictures of the 1/2 pig above- it’s the long white cylinder in the pig’s midsection.  This fat is apparently really great for rendering into lard (which, legend has it, makes for amazing pie crust). This great gob of goodness is also resting in my freezer, preparing for apple pie season.

All in all, it was a wonderful class.  I can’t wait to take another one, and eventually deal with all the grosser organs and things.

In my next post I’ll talk about why I decided to enroll in the first place.  For now, I’ll leave you on this dreary Friday with a kitty pic, to cleanse all of our palates after my treatise on sausage casing:

Thanks for reading!

One Comment leave one →
  1. emily permalink
    May 11, 2010 1:24 pm

    this is very interesting. i think bonnie would have loved a class like this.

    it reminds me of the omnivore’s dilemma…i will look forward to hearing more about this class and your intentions for taking it.

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