A Seattle butchery class that has attracted protesters in the past returns to Pike Place Market. What’s it like to watch an expert ply her craft, up close?
It takes a long time to cut up a pig. The butcher needs assistance getting it the few feet from cold storage up onto the stainless steel table — it’s bigger than she is. The pig weighs 155 pounds; yesterday, it was running and rooting on Bittersweet Family Farm in nearby Stanwood. Today, it is the subject of Kristina Glinoga’s Seattle class Butchery 101: Whole Pig and Lunch. For the next four hours, 16 people will watch her skillfully, methodically dismantle it.
Who goes to such a thing? Clearly, it’s a particular, self-selecting group: those who want to witness exactly how a whole beast goes from animal to meat, to begin to learn how to do it themselves. You could call them “foodies,” if the term weren’t so inadequate. A couple of them cook for a living; some of them already make their own sausage at home. But there are moms who want to think more about how they feed their families, someone who works for Starbucks, someone in IT. Going around the long counter of the Atrium Kitchen at Pike Place Market, they introduce themselves in turn. “I want to learn more about how to eat better meat,” one person says. An engineer wants “to get to the heart of the matter,” to reverse-engineer what ends up on his plate. One woman jokes, sort of, that she wants to have a skill to offer when the apocalypse comes.
As Glinoga begins, the students are riveted. “I like to start by taking off the head,” she says. She is matter-of-fact — as she describes it, this is how bacon happens in an ideal world, with a beast lovingly raised, fed wholesome stuff, humanely slaughtered and handled with care. She will speak, carefully and specifically, of respect for the animal’s life, of the hard work of the farmers. As she begins, the silence from the group feels reverent. Every face is intent. What is happening here is bigger than this room: The pig was five months old. There was summer sun, there were autumn leaves, with the pig getting treats from the garden and foraging in the woods; it was darker and darker when the farmers got up, more and more rainy. The meaning of the meat is undeniably more apparent when the whole being is right there — the hooves and the ears and the snout, its life and the lives of its caretakers and the life you will get from eating it inextricably, viscerally intertwined. Glinoga visited the farm, she says, and pet the pig.
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Protesters have come to the class before, standing and chanting right outside the Atrium Kitchen’s wall of windows. (It is private property, so eventually Pike Place Market security escorted them out.) This time, only passers-by stop to look, and a few of them come right in, squeezing into the back of the room, curious to see more. Glinoga tells them politely that it’s a private class, inviting them to the next one. “People are getting a little bit less afraid of seeing this stuff,” she says. “A few years ago, this class wouldn’t have existed.”
Glinoga believes that “those of us who support good meat actually have very similar principles to those who do these protests.” Industrial meat producers — the way that the animals that end up in your average grocery store are confined, what they’re fed, how they’re treated — this is the real problem, she says. She sees her class, supporting small farmers, as an avenue toward “reconciling what’s on your plate and where it comes from… The animal lives a nice life and you get nice pork.” You can go visit Bittersweet Family Farm, meet the farmers, meet your meat. You wouldn’t want to visit a factory farm.
Glinoga’s work is sure-handed, her knife swift. She doesn’t quite break a sweat, but the process is laborious. When her glasses slip down her nose, she pushes them back up with the side of a gloved hand. “I have to roll the pig back and forth really often because I’m so short,” she explains. You don’t want to fight it; rather, you let gravity help you, sliding your knife along and letting the weight fall away. Understanding the various cuts of meat is easier, Glinoga says, when you realize the animals’ bodies aren’t dissimilar to ours.
She explains as she goes, working from her cut list — like a road map, she says. It starts: “Shoulders: Picnic Butts, 8 lbs. for stew (class lunch); Boston Butts, 4x semi boneless coppa roasts (skin/fat on); 2x trotters; 2x hocks (skin/fat on)…” Equipment matters, but not in the way you might think: Glinoga favors a cheaper model Wusthof knife with a rubber handle that doesn’t get slick. (She got it at Bargreen Ellingson, and she hones it as she goes, but for professional sharpening, she recommends Seattle Knife Sharpening & Supply, where Bob Tate “takes fantastic care of your knives.”) A hacksaw comes into play — a standard-issue, Home Depot-style one, but it’s “devoted to the cause,” she says. She also doesn’t use it much, preferring the European style of butchery. She studied in a medieval town in Tuscany with butcher Andrea Falaschi. Another mentor, Brandon Sheard of Farmstead Meatsmith on Vashon Island, transmitted to her the philosophy that “We should turn the animals into meat with as little coercion as possible.”
Suddenly, still inset into the rest of the animal, the pork chops are visible, as is the bacon. The rosy darkness of the meat today is “indicative of a pig who got to run around a lot,” Glinoga says — pork like this will have beautiful flavor, unlike the factory-farmed version of “the other white meat.” Her ultimate goal is to connect local consumers with local farmers, to promote the sustainable and humane way of doing this business, and to get better meat into the hands of more people. She highly recommends seeking out local animal-share programs through places such as Nash’s Organic Produce, Hidden River Farms and Lost Peacock Creamery. You can also, she points out, support homegrown meat by buying direct at our farmers markets. Meanwhile, she’s doing her best to build a network. “There should be, like, a Tinder for this stuff,” she says. “A Grindr!” someone quips, to laughter.
Generally, the class remains rapt, only occasionally calling out a question. Did she cut herself a lot learning to do this? “Oh, yeah,” she says. For a time, she did cow butchery at Seattle’s celebrated nouveau steakhouse Bateau, where, she says, the hardest part was all the heavy lifting. The process there is done with the carcass hanging, known as “cutting off the rail.” She wore a chain-mail apron, because it’s not too hard to end up stabbing yourself in the belly.
Now Glinoga butchers a pig a week for the restaurant Radiator Whiskey, also in Pike Place Market, little more than a stone’s throw away. Order in advance and you can get a smoked whole pig’s head there, if you really want to try the front end of nose-to-tail. If you’re less into extreme meat-eating, it’s just a good place to support the (very rare) practice of whole-animal butchery, Glinoga points out (as is its across-the-hall sibling, Matt’s in the Market — she’s a chef at both). What parts of a pig’s head are good to eat? There’s lots of great meat on there, she says — the cheek (“So good!”), the jowls, more. The eyeball doesn’t taste like much.
At the end, lunch is served — a surprisingly delicate soup, relying on lots of vegetables for a little sweetness, on pieces of the pig’s shoulder for richness of flavor. Then there’s the literal wrap-up, as the ribs, the hams and every bit of the meat gets enveloped in fat packets of white butcher paper. Everybody gets to take home a share. One person gets the head.
Kristina Glinoga’s Pork Pot-au-Feu
Kristina Glinoga based this throw-it-together recipe on one in the cookbook “Pork & Sons.” For specific amounts and so forth, see the original version.
Slice pork into 1- to 2-inch pieces. Place meat in a large pot with sliced onions and leeks, and cover with stock or water. Bring to a boil then simmer 30-45 minutes. Add cut parsnips, carrots, turnips and a bouquet garni (thyme, parsley, black pepper). Continue to simmer 30-45 more minutes, until meat is tender and vegetables are cooked.
For fried ginger topping: Peel and julienne ginger, saute in oil until golden brown. Drain, then sprinkle on top of soup.
For horseradish cream: Peel and grate fresh horseradish. Stir into sour cream, season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Serve with cornichon, fried ginger, and horseradish cream on the side.
Kristina Glinoga’s Seattle butchery classes
Feb. 24: 11 a.m., $150/person
March 24: 11 a.m., $200/person