Last week I had the opportunity to attend a Cochon and Charcuterie Workshop with Kate Hill and Dominique Chapolard. Kate Hill is one our charcutepalooza sponsors, she runs a cooking school in Gascony. Dominique Chapolard runs farm Baradieu with his family, where they grow all the feed for their pigs, produce fresh cuts and make artisan charcuterie products which they sell at their local farmers markets. Kate and Dominique have such passion about what they do, and it is contagious. The workshop took place at Woodberry Kitchen Restaurant in Baltimore, MD.
Why would I want to participate in a two-day, hands on, butchery workshop? Well, I like pork. Also, I’m well aware that the meat I purchase doesn’t materialize out of thin air into those packages at the store, or the vacuum sealed bags at the farmers market. But I had never broken down anything other than a chicken, a duck, or a large fish. Charcutepalooza made me even more interested in the source of the meat I purchase, and how it is processed. This was something I wanted to learn more about. After taking the workshop I can say that butchery is not only about processing a hog into usable pieces. It is about paying attention to how the hog was raised, what it was fed, how it lived, and whether it was humanely killed.
Now, I am not suggesting that you go buy half a hog and take it apart yourself, but if the opportunity ever presents itself go ahead and do so. You will be able to tell how old the hog was when it was killed by the density of the meat, how it was fed by the amount of fat in the back and the belly, and it’s breed by the shape of its muscles. I also learned what to make with every part of the hog, the best way to cook each of these parts, and how to use every little single scrap of meat.
Another unexpected part about the workshop was meeting and getting to know the amazing group of people who participated. I had the opportunity to meet some of the kitchen staff at Woodberry Kitchen, Will of Whitmore Farm, Evan of Stonypoint Farm Market, Dottie from Boordy Vineyards, and fellow charcutepaloozian @SamsGoodMeats. We talked about nose to tail use of farmed animals, the fact that there are parts of the animal that simply do not sell well in supermarkets or that restaurants do not use on a large-scale, and how this directly translates into farming practices and regulations.
The Cochon and Charcuterie Workshop was an amazing experience. Dominique and Kate are truly wonderful people and they have a wealth of information to share. I do hope you consider participating in one of their workshops if you have the chance. You will find yourself learning about butchering, charcuterie, and more. Although I am confident that I could break down half a hog if I had to, I also know that butchering is about much more than just that.
Here are some photos from the workshop:
Dominique explaining the importance of the type of feed given to pigs during growth. His farm is a true seed to sausage farm. Everything that the pigs are fed is grown on the farm. After the first six months the feed ratios must be changed in order to grow hogs that do not have so much fat on them. Also, he explained how younger pigs (six months or less) have a lot of water in their cells. This does not make for tasty pork. Hogs will have better meat density at about 1 year.
The type of butchery we practiced was seam butchery, following the seams between muscles as a guide. This has a number of advantages. First, it seems to me that less is wasted as you end up with whole muscles and little scraps. Second, it is quite a natural process. If you knew nothing about butchering you could just follow the natural lines present and break down the hog into usable parts.
Dominique pointed out the seams on the inside and the outside.
First he demonstrated how to remove the head, and then the brain, cheek and ear.
Here you can see the difference between the loin and the coppa. The coppa is basically the group of muscles in the neck of the hog. Hogs use these muscles a lot for feeding and rooting, hence the dark deep color of the meat. It also has some fat in between, creating a more succulent piece when compared to the loin.
We collected the little scraps of meat, and some fatty pieces, and combined these with onions, chicken livers, and seasoned with salt and pepper to make pate fricandeau. Pate fricandeau is a country pate, coarsely ground and rustic. It is usually wrapped in caul, but since we didn’t have any caul it was just formed into balls.
The mixture was ground and Dominique formed it into balls.
The fat is supposed to slowly melt away and in essence “confit” the balls. Half way through cooking you would cut an X half way through each ball so that the fat would moisten and cook the inside of the pate. We placed the pate in a convection oven (apparently a big no-no), and instead got a pool of fat and burnt up tops. It still tasted delicious.
On day two, we had 4 sides to work on. It was now our turn to grab the butchering knives and practice what Dominique had demonstrated the day before.
Notice the grip on the knife, Dominique and Kate corrected me countless times as I would instinctively switch to a chef’s grip. He would remind me that, when butchering, the grip on the knife had to be “thriller,” which I took as a direct reference to the movie Psycho, and to switch to a standard grip when cleaning the fat and membranes from the muscles. Dominique advised against using the knife like a pencil and cutting deep into the flesh. He took short, delicate slices at a fast pace which was beautiful to watch but difficult to replicate at first. Here he is removing the tongue.
Then we started to work on the shoulder. From which we produced two roasts, one big and one small.
Here are the bones after we removed all the meat.
For the first charcutepalooza challenge I got a little wine fridge and I so wish that a whole ham leg would fit in there so that I could make some cured ham. Of course, a whole ham won’t fit into my little wine fridge. We learned from Dominique and Kate how to make a viable option: noix de jambon. Little pieces from the ham are tied, seasoned with salt and pepper, cold smoked for an hour or two, and cured for a short period of time. Another option is the filet sec, the tenderloin prepared the same way. The tenderloin and the noix the jambon in the smoker:
We then moved on to saucisson. Back fat was carefully cleaned, only ivory-white pieces were used.
We carefully measured all components: back fat, lean pieces from the ham, and salt and pepper.
Saucisson mix before grinding.
Here everyone practices how to prepare the meat by pushing it down with your fingers, then forming balls and slapping these from hand to hand and against the table.
Dominique forming the saucisson.
The first completed saucisson.
Dominique demonstrating how to tie the saucisson in bundles of two for hanging.
We finished by watching Dominique tie the belly for ventreche.
Dominique, Chef Spike, and Kate with the ventreche.
I left the workshop with new friends, a wealth of knowledge about butchering, several charcuterie recipes, and 12 pounds of pork including a piece of belly and a jowl which I will be using in the next charcutepalooza challenge.