It’s not as easy as it looks. Peter showed Mary how to cut a small slit—about two finger-widths—in the top edge of the hide. By hooking in your fingers there, you can get a good grip on the fat-covered piece. When my turn came, I held the hide up and tried to wield my very sharp knife smoothly along the line of fat to be rendered into lard. Obviously, this is a skill that benefits from repetition and technique.
I wryly thought to myself, “Geez, I’m butchering this job!” Then I thought, “If I was really butchering this job, I would be doing it right!” I have a deep and newfound respect for butchers.
Mary and I were cutting some very big loin chops while Tamra was removing a kneecap at another table. Tamra looked up at Peter and said, “This kneecap is kind of creepy.” Peter agreed, “Yes, it is.”
After each of us had cut a chop, we placed them on a large tray and seasoned the meat with an array of seasonings—rosemary, lemon zest, and fennel pollen.
A counter—with a pitcher of ice water, glasses, and a tray of Fatted Calf charcuterie to tempt us—bridged the shop front and the classroom. With a basket of sliced rustic bread from Model Bakery next door and a small bowl of cabbage pickle, our nosh was complete. Salami, mortadella, and prosciutto were the meats I could identify. As we finished one type of preserved meat, another variety would magically appear on the tray. Next to the counter was a hand-washing station, so it was easy to clean up, take a swig of water, and sample the thinly sliced meaty goodness.
Once we were done with the sharp knives, they brought out the wine. We sipped and learned how to use the cuts we had mastered. We made spicy pork crépinettes—little herbed sausage patties wrapped in the lacy caul fat that surrounds pig organs. The caul fat was really pretty. We joked about using it as a pattern for crocheting a caul shawl.
We learned how to tie a roast by practicing on a porchetta—a pork loin and belly roulade seasoned with garlic, lemon, fennel, and rosemary. Again, this is a skill that is harder to master than it looks. We figured that they retied the roasts as soon as we left.
After washing up, we were ushered to some picnic tables outside the shop where our lunch had been set up. The food was scrumptious. We talked and exchanged e-mail addresses so we could share our photos from the day.
Upon re-entering the Fatted Calf, we each found a bag with our name on it waiting for us at the counter. Our large, seasoned chop was in there, along with a couple of the crépinettes and some seasoned, skewered pork we also made.
The next step for me will be the salumi (salted meats) class at the Fatted Calf. I yearn to be able to produce the kind of preserved meats I was eating off that tray. Meat curing is a skill—and an art.
I am fascinated with the concept of preserving food without relying on electricity. It’s no wonder—living beyond the grasp of the power lines makes Bob-O and me very conscious of every bit of energy we use. Plus, people have been preserving food without using electricity for centuries. We have worked out some hygienic kinks along the way, making some techniques safer. But for the most part, this is a well-traveled road. And I’m looking forward to the meal stops along the way.
Kathleen Jarschke-Schultze is finishing up the grand dried bean experiment at her off-grid home in northernmost California.