A workshop called porkshop.

For those of you with a queasy stomach when it comes to raw meat, I’d suggest we temporarily part ways and meet back next week, same time same place. Because we’re talking pig meat today, with pictures.

A few weeks ago, my mom and I attended the Weston A. Price Foundation yearly conference. Mom departed a day early leaving me solo for a workshop called Porkshop that professed to teach proper pig butchering. To be frank, I was a little apprehensive. I’ve been known to pink glove my way back into full-on meat eating, and each bold new step makes me pause and re-accept my perspective on the necessity of a proper cycle of life. Staring at a recognizably dead animal is no exception.

As I arrived early Monday morning, two relatively young men that looked like instructors bustled around the empty hotel kitchen organizing our chairs, tables and pig. Casually, I tried to gauge if these two guys were going to be helpful or a bit beyond us. I couldn’t tell. They’d scattered a few favorite books across a stainless steel work table, and fellow Porkshopers and I filled the somewhat uncomfortable silence by writing down the titles:

The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson
The Art of Making Fermented Sausages by Stanley Marianski
Charcuterie & French Pork Cookery by Jane Grigson
Cooking by Hand by Paul Bertolli
Complete Sausage Book by Bruce Aidells
Field Guide to Meat by Aliza Green
Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management by Isabella Mary Mayson
The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall

Turns out, my brief worries weren’t a bit necessary. Brooks Miller, of North Mountain Pastures, and Nathan, of Breakaway Farms, couldn’t have been more generous. Five minutes in, I knew I had found solid gold. The young farmers were incredibly self-made, knowledgeable and passionate. The class began with a virtual download of combined knowledge about how to raise mostly heritage breed pigs. They let the 10 of us guide the discussion with our interests & questions.

Being really green, I’d never considered the importance of seemingly obvious animal traits like the ability to mother one’s young. Turns out, it’s incredibly important because this instinct has been bred out of many factory farmed pigs. When left to their own accord, they would roll over on their young and crush them. Or, leave them without food. What? That’s sad! Farmers also consider traits like a breed’s inclination to root. The little hook on the end of a pig’s snout can apparently do some serious damage. I guess concrete doesn’t even stand a chance with some breeds.

Our discussions went beyond pigs, as well. I learned that certain species are a dead-end road for parasites of another species. For example, cows are best set out on a pasture before sheep. The cows can eat parasites that could take down a whole herd of sheep. So when it’s the sheep’s turn on the pasture, the probability of parasite infestation is much lower. Choice of feed, movable fences, finances, mud and death… farmers think about a lot of stuff. And it’s all based in grounded practicality. I find it all fascinating…

After the farming overview, we pulled a half pig onto a steel table and Nathan taught us how to break it down. The coolest part of this process was looking at all the cuts I’ve always known: the ham, pork chops, ribs and seeing them all joined together in nature’s way. I breakdown chicken all the time, and when I do, I always think it’s cool to start with a bird and finish with 2 breasts, 2 legs, a backbone and a couple wings. This process was just the same, only much, much larger. The meat was truly beautiful.

After the breakdown, Brooks taught us all about curing meats. And first up, we learned that nitrates are really just a bunch of bologna. I guess sea salt provides all the necessary protection, and when making a recipe that contains nitrates, they can simply be omitted.

We then prepped an unbelievably delicious cured Italian meat called Lonzino, made with loin meat. Honest to Pete, we just slapped a bunch of sea salt on the baby and tossed ‘er in the cooler. The real art comes first in the farming of beautiful meat, then in the process of hanging the meat in drying room at a perfect temperature. But overall, the take-away feeling was “I can do this!” Brooks and Nathan kindly peeled away the mystery of both farming and curing making success seem like a recipe of hard work and common sense.

After popping our prepped meat in the cooler, Brooks offered us a taste of the finished product, North Mountain Pastures cured Lonzino. Holy smokes. Delicious. I never, ever would have expected all that flavor to happen with only sea salt and quality meat. Next, we made and sampled Tesa, Italian sugar-free bacon. Also, amazing. Savory and satisfying. The class moved on to sausage with Nathan, and I, unfortunately, moved on to the airport. But, I left with a big old-fashioned smile on my face. I’d hang out with a couple friendly farmers any day of the week.

Next month, I will be heading to England for two weeks. My husband will be working hard, and we’re taking a weekend off to travel to Devon in order to eat a barnyard dinner at a place called River Cottage. Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall, the author of the above-mentioned The River Cottage Meat Book, farms this land, and after our dinner, I’ll be staying on for a few days in order to take a Fish Skills & Cookery Class. I can’t wait… and I’ll be sure to tell you all about it.

xo Organic Spark


  • The Domestic Diva

    Wow, looks like such a great class! I've always wanted to learn how to butcher. Have a great holiday!


    December 19, 2010
  • Molly Chester

    Thanks Jen! It was fun. You would have liked it. Happy Holidays to you, too! xo Molly

    December 19, 2010
  • Sandra

    You are amazing. The first point of your England agenda is already accomplished…find a farm! I love it.

    December 19, 2010
  • hellaD

    Great post, thanks so much for sharing all those books and this detailed information.

    December 20, 2010
  • Molly Chester

    Thanks Sandra! I like you!

    And hellaD – I'm really glad you liked it. I felt so grateful for the wisdom that was passed on to me, as well!

    December 20, 2010

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