One morning last May, my sister Mary called, very excited. “We have to take this class,” she insisted. “It’ll be fun.” She was talking about a class at the Fatted Calf butchery in Napa, California, offered by women and for women, on carving up a pig carcass. And that is how I found myself with my sisters Mary and Tamra in Bay Area charcuterie and meat expert Heather Bailie’s class, “Pig + Woman + Knife.”
We prepped our wardrobe for the class weeks in advance. Mary sewed some white cotton canvas aprons, and I designed an image to decorate the front: a picture of a hog, divided into the primal cuts; the word “woman” underneath that, in a nice font; and beneath that, a butcher knife illustration. I researched and found the United States Department of Agriculture stamp for hog carcasses, so I added that in a lavender color, along with our names. We were ready.
I saw this class as a steppingstone to my goal of raising and butchering pastured pork, since it would teach us basic butchering techniques. With this knowledge, my sisters could help me butcher my hogs when that time came.
We gathered and drove to Napa, our hometown. Arriving at the Fatted Calf, we were led into the back where, on several stainless steel worktables, lay three halves of pasture-raised pigs.
I was kind of disappointed that the heads were not included. One of my father’s childhood memories is helping my grandfather make headcheese on their homestead in Manitoba, Canada. When my husband Bob-O and I raise our pastured pigs, we will be doing all of the butchering ourselves. The more I know, the better.
It was a small class, there were only six of us. One woman was already a chef at a Bay Area restaurant, another was a homesteader, and one was, like us, looking forward to future pigs. We gathered around an intact carcass at the first table.
Bailie, our teacher/butcher, faced us over the hog. She gave us a quick rundown on knife safety and then launched into carcass deconstruction instructions. As she carved, she discussed the seven primal cuts: the butt or Boston butt, picnic ham, loin, ribs, belly (bacon!), hocks, and trotters. We were all enthralled at the grace and efficiency of the cuts. Right then, I wanted to be a butcher.
After the different cuts were separated and identified, and all of our questions answered, Bailie placed all the cuts back into their original position. Once again, we could see the whole side of the hog, but now we knew the cuts and could see where they came from.
We divided into two groups of three and took a hog side. We each took turns making the various primal cuts. It did not take long for us to break down the two hog sides.
We also worked on several subprimal cuts. Not all of us did the same thing. We each were given a task, and when we finished that we could try something else. From Peter, Bailie’s teaching assistant, Mary learned how to trim the fat from the skin. I wanted to try trimming the fat, so I got a turn at that, too.