Monday, January 18, 2010

This is Cooking!

Back when I was teaching Introduction to Gastronomy at the CIA, I used to run a lesson that I titled "The Socratic Cook" that, in the spirit of Socratic didacticism, made no propositions other than that it was possible to be a Socratic cook if one was willing to ask a lot of questions. Among the many questions that I posed in this lesson were several that I suspect many students thought was absurd: What is cooking? When does cooking begin and end?

The goal of this lesson was not really to find answers to these questions (That would have been an impossible goal given that none of these can actually be definitively answered.) but rather to lead my class to a place where they could see -or begin to see- how rich with experience the cooking life can be if we stay curious and don't try to place limitations on what we think we are supposed to be doing as we pursue our craft. The truth of this was driven home to me big time when, this past weekend, I spent two days at Mosefund Mangalitsa Farm in New Jersey with a group of people (most, but not all of them chefs) who'd come from as from from as far away as Seattle and Houston to learn how to slaughter, butcher, cook and cure hogs from two masters of the craft, Christoph and Isabell Wiesner.

Christoph and Isabell, who breed and farm Mangalitsa hogs in their native Austria (Christoph is president of the Mangalitsa Pig Breeders Union of Austria or “Interessensgemeinschaft der Wollschweinzüchter Österreichs” -IGWÖ) ; Isabell Zernitz-Wiesner is the manager of their farm Arche De Wisentale.) were invited to Mosefund to run the workshop (Pigstock 2010) by Michael Clampffer who raises Mangalitsa pigs for sale to individuals, restaurants and butcher shops. I was there as a guest of Michael who had been my student at CIA in, not coincidentally, Introduction to Gastronomy.*

So what did we do? Well, on Saturday Christoph and Isabell taught us how to slaughter, clean and butcher hogs that, unlike most hogs, have long hair and very large amounts of fat. In all seven hogs were killed. (I did not get to kill any because there were about twenty people in the class who had paid to be there, and since enough of them wanted to slaughter, I had to bow out.) We roasted one the hogs for dinner and the others were eventually taken home by the students who'd paid an up-charge for the meat. On Sunday we drove over to the local firehouse where Isabell showed the group how to turn the offal into dishes like head cheese and blood sausage.

Here is a slide show of some of what happened on Saturday. There are no images of slaughtering here because I did not shoot any that were good enough to include. I did record video of the pig we would have for dinner being slaughtered, however, when I tried to load it to my PC I discovered that my camera was imcompatible with my 64 bit version of that piece of garbage known as Vista. I'll load it when I van wrest my daughter's 32bit Vista-driven machine from her social-networking addicted fingers.

*I cannot begin to tell you how impressed I am by these three. But I'll do it anyway. Christoph, a former civil engineer, showed great expertise in breeding, meat science and butchery. I was equally impressed by his humane approach to animal husbandry and his humility. I did not discuss breeding or meat science with Isabell but I was really impressed by her knowledge of animal behavior and husbandry. She's just as skilled as Christoph at the slaughter plus she's a damned fine cook. Of course, it was Michael who organized the weekend (there is another workshop next week) and did a fabulous job of making sure everything happened when it was supposed to happen and without incident.


IdahoRocks said...

What I am very curious about, and would really like to know is, how did they butcher the pig? German cuts or American cuts? And if whole, how did they roast it and then, how did they cut it?

BTW, I envy you your knowledge....

Scotty said...

Fabulous shots.

Everything else aside, there is a reason I take Vista off of new computers and run them on XP.

Heath said...

IdahoRocks -

The Wiesner's come from Austria, not Germany, so unsurprisingly, they did thing the Austrian way, not the German nor the American way.

E.g. they killed the pigs the way they do in Austria: first you stun the pig, then you stick the pig. In Hungary, for example, they just stick the pig in the neck and it exsanguinates.

The cuts were also Austrian-style. Here's videos from 2009's class, at the Herbfarm:

Heidi Robb said...

Many thanks for posting this, Bob. Admittedly, watching the process makes me uncomfortable and more than a little bit squeamish, and not just for the obvious reasons - also feels like I'm witnessing something holy in a sacrificial ritualistic way. However, as one who willingly prepares and consumes animal flesh I am respectfully learning and appreciating through your videos and commentary. Necessary viewing.

Courtney said...

I am beyond jealous - wanted to go this year but couldn't afford it, so saving for next. If I'd have known I'd meet so many people I read every day...well, I still would have had to wait. So, thanks ever so for posting your experience and letting us live vicariously. Next year!