I don’t generally find myself in the company of great chefs, nor do I find myself in the company of freshly slaughtered animals, but I got the chance this weekend to hang out with Dan DeMatteis and a 6 week old Berkshire/Hampshire cross from Cameron Reeds delivered to the city by Mark Trealout of Kawartha Ecological Growers. As I have decided 2010 is the year of “NEW”, any opportunity to learn is a priority. This particular learning curve was way out of my comfort zone, though. When I was about 6, my family holidayed at a bed and breakfast to discover what life is like on a working farm. We rode on tractors, cuddled with lambs, bailed hay, and went on field trips to visit the neighbours. After checking out a major chicken operation supplying the likes of KFC and Swiss Chalet, I had the fear in me of humanity and of animal husbandry due to a sealed garbage bag at the door that was still clucking. Next stop was the alcoholic pig farmer just down the road, where my heart became hardened seeing a tiny little piglet discarded on a pile of shit in the corner of the barn. The sow had just had a litter of the most perfect little pink piglets some of which sported black spots. There was one runt in the litter that I noticed couldn’t wrestle her way to a teet and was much smaller than the rest of her brothers and sisters. I just couldn’t let her end up like the other guy thrown haphazardly onto the pile, and desperately pleaded with my mom and the farmer that we were staying with to take her back with us. I’m not sure why they agreed, but after administering a healthy dose of iron filings force fed on a stick by the sketchy pig farmer, we coddled her in a blanket and I held her close all the way back to the farm. We named her Celeste, and made her a nice cozy spot in the basement by the dryer where she could be kept warm under a heat lamp. We fed her by bottle and made sure not to leave her side for the rest of our time there. Henry and Lorraine graciously agreed to keep her at their farm and raise her there as we did our research and realized we could not take her back to the Annex. I was devastated to leave her there, but knew that Celeste would be well taken care of. We visited her a couple of times, and my father was always blown away by the fact that she seemed to recognize our voices, even after weeks of not seeing her. One day, I was told that Celeste was no longer… that she had been sold, and was most likely bacon. Again, devastation. I didn’t understand, and I certainly didn’t know that her fate had always been that of the abattoir. So, from that point onwards, I didn’t knowingly eat pork. Until one day in May 2009 when the induction of the Tamworth breed into the Slow Food Arc of Taste inspired me to celebrate pigs, and give it a try. The obvious next step was to actually face my fear of animal carcass and get my own hands dirty in honour of my sweet Celeste. And so, I share with you my experience here.
Saturday afternoon at Queen and Spadina, bustling through the crowded streets, all dressed up to attend a wedding later in the day, to get to Dan’s place in time to watch it all go down.
The pig came gutless and clean as a whistle. Very little blood and gore, which was a good thing at this stage as I would have probably hurled otherwise. One step at a time. Dan masterfully cut away the flesh from the bone and showed me how to efficiently and carefully butcher the meat so that nothing was wasted. He is preparing every part of the pig in a number of different ways for a reunion dinner party. We poked around, figured things out as we went along, and triumphantly ended up with cuts of meat that even the most discerning consumer would gladly purchase in the finest of butcher shops! I was grossed out and thrilled all at the same time, making sure not to get too carried away by all of the excitement. Unfortunately I ran out of time and had to leave before the whole pig was portioned, but got a good sense of how it works and can’t wait to be there for the next big project! Check out a graphic VIDEO of the event! Thanks Dan!!!