Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Thursday

October 24, 2013

Going whole hog: Chefs gather to learn butchery from best

TRAVERSE CITY — Students crowded around Christoph Weisner while he disassembled half of a pig using a filet knife, a boning knife and a chainmail-clad hand.

The seasoned butcher's hands moved slower Tuesday morning than they would if he wasn't pausing every few minutes to point out an important cutting technique here and a way to minimize waste there. Still, it took only about 40 minutes for Weisner to disassemble half of a full-grown hog and prepare cuts of meat for use.

The students, many of them accomplished chefs, craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the seams where Weisner separated muscle groups to preserve the tenderness of the meat. The Austrian farmer and purveyor of Mangalitsa hogs was among a cast of experts who made up the instructor corps for the fourth annual Pigstock TC, an event aimed at helping chefs become more in tune with the meat they cook and serve.

"Every chef should go through this," said John Hoagland, managing partner for Cherry Capital Foods and Pigstock organizer. "Chefs are used to getting meat in a box with no connection to the animal. If you're going to be a carnivore or omnivore, you might as well know where your food comes from."

The three-day clinic featured Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman, two men recognized as experts on charcuterie. Polcyn, a nationally recognized chef, and Ruhlman, a renowned food blogger, author and cook, authored a book on the subject together that was released in 2005 and earned them James Beard Award nominations.

The three men and Weisner's wife, Isabell-Christina, worked together to show 22 students how to butcher a whole pig from killing it to preparing refined cuts of meat. They began at Blackstar Farms on Monday and moved inside at the Haggerty Center on the Great lakes Campus of Northwestern Michigan College for the rest of the course.

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