Besides taste preference and cooking methods, are you ever curious how these different pork cuts are made? What part of the pig do they come from? What makes the best tasting pork products? To investigate these questions, I attended the Bite of Bend’s Bite Week Farm to Fork Butchery class presented by Bryan Tremayne of Primal Cuts here in Bend, OR. It was held at the Cascade Culinary Institute, organized by Lay It Out Events. Here’s what I learned:
Photo of Bryan Tremayne with half pig and Thor Erickson in the background
At his store, Bryan receives per-slaughtered (per USDA regulations) local meat that he then makes his own meat cuts from for his customers. The pig used at the demonstration was from DD Ranch in Terrebonne, OR. The particular pig we witnessed was a Hampshire cross, which was fed an all natural, hormone and antibiotic free diet. As explained by Thor Erickson, a chef and instructor at the Cascade Culinary Institute, pigs taste like what they eat, so if they eat garbage they’ll taste like garbage. Therefore, it is important to get a pig for eating purposes from a farm that has fed them well! This will be especially important if you plan on utilizing the fattiest part of the animal, for bacon, lard, etc., which is most often the case! Fat holds the most toxins in an animal, so the better they are treated and fed, the less of these unwanted chemicals you’ll have in your product.
When the USDA inspects pigs after slaughter, they will keep the kidney and make a small incision into this organ to determine how the pig was raised and how it was treated. White spots, off odor, or discoloration of any kind means the pig is not to health standard and will be discarded. The kidney itself can be soaked and used in a variety of ways, such as in the Cajun dish called dirty rice. Other innards of the pig, however, are not allowed to be kept after butchering for public sale.
Prior to this Farm to Fork presentation, our demo pig had be cut in half with a ban saw by Bryan, something that the average pork eater would not have to do if purchasing a pig. With half the pig left, Brian started in by first cutting off the shoulder. Three ribs in, he used first a hand saw to cut through the bone, and then a knife to finish off the meat. This shoulder cut is best slow cooked, as pulled pork or a roast, or used in the grinder, due to the high level of cartilage on this part of the animal, making it tougher. If you cut straight down the center of the ribs on this shoulder cut, you will remove the picnic ham or roast. Then cut at the elbow joint to remove the shank. The shank is most traditionally smoked or braised- cooked low and slow- like the rest of the shoulder.
Photo of the shoulder cut, with Bryan showing where to cut to separate the roast
The jowls, or cheeks, of the pig where cut off before breaking down the shoulder. These can be dry-rubbed with various spices and cured in the refrigerator for three weeks, then hung to dry for 2 more weeks to make an un-smoked bacon cut called Guanciale. Guanciale is Italian for cheek; it is a form of bacon, more flavorful than its pork belly counterpart.
Leaf fat was new to me. This is a thin long strip of fat found inside the rib cage, which was easily removed during the demo with small cuts of a sharp knife on the inner cavity of the pig. It’s best used fresh, to make bacon or to make lard. Melt it down with water on low heat until all the water evaporated and you’ve got yourself some lard! Lard, against popular belief, is actually lower in saturated fat than butter, and is a wonderful source of monounsaturated fat. You can use it any way you would butter.
Bryan cutting out the leaf fat
The ham bone is cut next. This is done by sawing off the hind leg between the tailbone and the hipbone. Brian used first a knife to get through the flesh then a hand saw to get through the hipbone. The ham bone can be used for, well, ham, or packed in salt to cure and hung to dry for up to a year to make prosciutto. The salt is added not just to remove moisture but also to increase lactic acid in the meat, which according to Thor will help to fight off invasive bacteria that could ruin the meat.
The ham bone
Moving on to the internal cavity of the pig, we now must make some choices as to which cuts of meat we want. The muscle inside the ribs, the inner diaphragm, is what we call the skirt steak. This is a tough but flavorful cut of meat. The tenderloin is cutout from below the spine of the pig; it is very tender and lean. Also from this middle section, you cut off the loin, or back section, which becomes various versions of the pork chop; the belly, which is normally used as bacon; and the back ribs. Fresh loin cuts are best cooked on high heat such as grilled. The back ribs can be cut as spare ribs or as baby back ribs. Spare ribs are a longer cut, more flavorful than the baby backs due to the inclusion of more belly meat and fat, while the baby back ribs are leaner and have less connective tissue.
Cutting of the mid-section for chops and ribs
Bacon deserves its own paragraph. American bacon is from the belly of the pig, the meat and fat surrounding the stomach under the animal. It is about 50-70% fat. Making bacon is a two step process. First it is cured with a dry rub of salt, sugar and spices and left to sit covered in a dry area for about 4 days, until the moisture content is gone and the meat is firm. It is then smoked around 185 degrees Fahrenheit for 2-3 hours before it is hung to cool. This dry-cured bacon has not been soaked in a phosphate brine (water, salt and phosphate) like the average bacon you will find at the store, and is only 20-30% water, meaning it will not shrink much with cooking; it is the real deal!
The bacon cut
After experiencing the cutting of a healthy, well raised pig for meat product, I have a new appreciation for the animals that I consume and the way I prepare them! Cutting and cooking each properly ensures you receive the max potential from all parts of the pig to satisfy taste and nutrition.
Recipe: Marinated Pork Tenderloin
1 pork tenderloin
1 Tbs fresh rosemary
1 Tbs fresh tarragon
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp honey
1 Tbs lemon juice
2 tsp stone ground mustard
A few shakes salt and pepper
¼ cup water
Combine marinade ingredients in a glass jar, close lid tightly and shake until well mixed (may want to whip together with a spoon as well). Place tenderloin in a large zip lock bag. Pour marinade over tenderloin, seal bag airtight and move tenderloin around in the bag until completely covered with marinade. Place on a plate and set in refrigerator for 6-10 hours, flipping the meat over at least once during this time.
Take meat from the bag and let it sit at room temperature for 10-30 minutes. Retain excess marinade in bag. Heat a cast iron skillet on high with 1 Tbs coconut oil. Sear the tenderloin on all sides, adding more coconut oil as needed to prevent sticking, about 1-2 minutes each side or until golden. Turn off heat.
You can now either bake the tenderloin, by placing the entire cast iron into the oven at 400 degree F, or place it on a grill. Bake or grill for about 15 minutes or until you reach an internal temperature of 140 degrees. Use the excess marinade to drizzle over the pork before baking or grilling. Once removed from heat cover with aluminum foil to retain heat and moisture until ready to cut and serve.
Bryan Terymane and Primal Cuts: http://www.primalcutsmeatmarket.com
Thor Erickson and Cascade Culinary Institute: http://www.cocc.edu/cascade-culinary-institute/
DD Ranch: http://ddranch.net/