Last Saturday, on a balmy and beautiful afternoon, I watched David Newman butcher half a pig on the deck of Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen.
I thought it would be, well, weird. And it had its moments. Hand saw. A pig foot falling off the table. Peeling off a layer of fat. But frankly, I found the experience informative and exhilarating.
Newman’s affable personality helped. He works as a meat science professor at North Dakota State University, but I think he has a future as the rock star of home butchering. Newman can explain how to butcher a carcass with charisma and science. Plus he’s good looking. I’d say, move over, Alton Brown.
Newman also is the son of Mark and Rita Newman of Newman Farm, so he has an affinity for heritage Berkshires. So do Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman, who typically butcher, cook, and serve a Berkshire at their East Memphis restaurant every week. Up next on the menu: pork belly chops.
Listening to the rapport between chefs and butcher and the questions from participants (largely young and male) convinced me that pig worship in Memphis has moved way beyond pulled pork.
In addition, Newman’s lively demonstration included lots of fun facts. Here are a few:
• Pork is not the other white meat. It’s a red meat like beef and the darker the color, the better the pork.
• What’s the biggest mistake people make with pork? They overcook it. There hasn’t been a case of trichinosis in the U.S. for the past 35 years, so break out and enjoy pork prepared medium rare.
• Pigs don’t like stress. The more they frolic, the better their meat tastes. Lots of body fat helps too.
• Before the advent of margarine (and the bad rap against fat), a pig’s lard was more valuable than its meat.
• The paper lining in the packaging of commercial pork is there to absorb the water, salt, and phosphates that’s added to pork during processing.
• A boneless ham is a ham without the femur bone.
• A large commercial processing plant employs 1,200 to 1,600 people and processes 19,000 pigs a day. Wow.