Sunday, October 02, 2011

Thinking of Eating: The Meat of the Matter

I arrived at Portland's Culinary Workshop (PCW), where I would be butchering my half of Roger, about thirty minutes before Clare was to arrive with him and her half of Don. I walked in to find the tables set up for the butchering along with the various knives and saws we'd be using to do the job. In the spirit of the day, there were also two tubs set up to hold the butchered meat, one labeled "Roger" and the other, "Don."

Melinda Casady, Mistress of Meat.

A hands-on cooking school started by my neighbor, Susana Holloway, and her friend, Melinda Casady (left), both former culinary school instructors, PCW seemed the perfect place for this part of the process. Especially because Melinda, nicknamed "The Mistress of Meat," loves to teach people how to cut up whole animals or, to use the term of art, "break down" carcasses.

Roger's tub.

The halves of Roger and Don had been hanging in Clare's shed at the farm to chill overnight, and when she drove up they were cool as cucumbers, wrapped in plastic sheeting in the back of her truck. She'd stopped at a friend's winery on the way in and weighed the halves, with my half of Roger coming in at 96 pounds, making his live weight close to 320 pounds. Quite the pig.

Just getting started.

We carried the carcasses in and laid them on the tables—end to end it was about five feet of pig to cut up—and Melinda discussed with each of us the different ways we could cut up our pig. Did we want lots of chops and steaks? Or would we rather have more roasts? Big or small? Bone in or out? What about the ribs? Did we want whole racks?

Can't wait to throw these on the grill!

Some decisions were easy…we're more roast types than steaks, but a nice chop is good once in awhile, too. Some decisions we left until we saw what the actual cuts were like, made easier because the breaking down involves cutting the animal into large sections called primals, then sectioning each primal into smaller and smaller pieces. It also involves finding and cutting out glands and other non-edible bits, and I was glad for Melinda's expertise with that particular chore.

I gotta get me a hacksaw.

There was very little waste, even from a pig that big, since I was planning on making stock from the bones and making sausage with the inevitable collection of scraps of meat and fat. While I was secretly relieved that I'd decided not to keep the head because it would be too recognizable as Roger, I was also a little sad I wouldn't get to make scrapple again.

Getting a little rummy.

While I won't go into the blow-by-blow on breaking down a carcass, it was fascinating to see how much a pig's anatomy resembled our own, and how the different joints are connected. Emotionally it wasn't hard to do, probably because the carcass didn't look like Roger any more (the head thing again), and I was focusing on the job at hand, trying not to slice myself up in the process. It was all kind of geeky in a messy, sweaty sort of way and as we got down to the last few cuts, after four hours or so of work, I was getting really exhausted.

Wrapped and ready.

When the wrapping and packaging were finally done, we opened beers and a bottle of wine and toasted, first, Roger and Don for the wonderful meals they'd provide, then ourselves and Melinda for a job well done. Roger is now resting comfortably in our freezer, and I can't wait to have our first dinner featuring him.

Read the other posts in this series: Roger and Me, Roger Grows Up, Saying Goodbye, The Day Finally Comes and Pasture to Plate.


Becky said...

We butcher the game (deer, elk, turkey) that my husband hunts and kills. Both my boys help. It is a tons of work, but it's nice to know that the meat is "the" meat you intended to eat, and the quality control is as good as you want it. We even keep the scraps to feed our dog (lucky dog!). As with our garden, when you put so much effort into the food you eat, you don't waste any morsel of it. It's also nice to know that so much of our food is as local as we can get, and as natural and organic as possible, not to mention that our food bills are much lower!

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks for sharing your family's experience, Becky.

It was an amazing and, unfortunately, all too rare privilege to have this opportunity to get to know Roger, and I'm grateful to all the people who made it possible. That said, Portland is one of the rare places where city folk like me can learn more about the food they eat. And for that we can all be thankful!