This past weekend at the Institute of Culinary Education, fifty wide-eyed Slow Food-ies gawked as Rudi Weid butchered a sustainably raised pig from Tamarack Hollow Farm in Vermont as part of Slow Food's "Nose to Tail" series. Part by part, with hands covered in blood, Rudi explained the different culinary uses of pig, in between jokes about lazy supermarket butchers and skirt steak, while responding to questions such as: "Why is the butt on the shoulder?"
As a novice pig cooker with very little knowledge of its usable body parts, I learned a wealth of information. Outside pigs are the best to get your hands on: they eat much more than commercially-raised pigs in sheds—and mainly corn. Fat builds up because of all this eating and keeps them warm. The pigs stay happy and therefore are much more delicious for you to eat. While they are also more expensive ($6/lb as compared to around $3/lb for commercially raised), I would rather eat tastier meat whose origins I'm familiar with and that I feel good about. This is one of the big messages Slow Food promotes in their events. The more knowledge you can compile on your food, the better decisions you'll make when you're grocery shopping, at your local butcher, and out to eat.
Not only did the event feature the down-and-dirty butchering, while the meat cooked in the back kitchens, a representative from Rogue Ales led a tasting of four different beers which all—not surprisingly—pair well with pork. We also all got to sample Mo's Bacon Bar and Flying Pig, a small bar of dark chocolate with bacon, a new release from Vosges Chocolate. When the tasting began, and I took the first few bites of crispy pork skin, instantly I got a stomach ache. Beer, chocolate, and bacon—aren't these the vices our mothers warned us about? At least my pain went to a good cause: proceeds benefit Slow Food Harvest Time programs in East Harlem and Williamsburg schools. Praise the lard!
Slow Food NYC offers a plenty of classes and tastings throughout the year. Tomorrow, catch "The Educated Eater" at the First Presbyterian Church (12th Street and Fifth Avenue; map), a discussion and Q&A sponsored by Greenmarket on what "organic", "cage-free", and "grass-fed" really mean, and if you can trust the labels. Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com. Light local refreshments will be served.