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Knife your hog before you fork it

In a bid to get closer to their food, more people are learning how to butcher meat on their own. Read on for more.

india Updated: Jul 30, 2010 01:07 IST

Cooking enthusiasts and eco-conscious food lovers are signing up for classes where they learn how to carve up whole hogs, lambs and other farm animals — the latest trend among foodies who want a closer connection to the meaty morsels on their forks.

On a recent evening in San Francisco, a dozen men and women met at a rental kitchen in the Mission District to break down a

77-kg hog under the guidance of Ryan Farr, one of a new breed of “artisan butchers” who’re bringing the art of butchery to meat-loving masses.

After Farr and his assistant plunked the slaughtered pig on a sprawling stainless steel table, the students — wearing white aprons and brandishing cleavers, saws and hatchets — took turns cutting up the carcass. They sawed through flesh, chopped through bones and sliced off tendons until the animal was reduced to hundreds of individual cuts of meat.

The students who attend Farr’s classes are mostly avid home cooks and self-described foodies who want to know the origins of their pork tenderloin or lamb shanks.

“It’s rewarding to know where the animal comes from, and the process it goes through, to get to my plate,” said Marcus Berry, who works at a private equity firm in Newport Beach. “Now, when I go to the butcher and look at the butcher case, I know what I’m looking at.”

“More and more people are taking responsibility for the food they put in their mouths, and they want to know where it comes from,” said Lori Callister, co-owner of Callister Farm in West Concord, which holds butchery lessons. “If they’re going to eat meat, they feel they should see for themselves how it’s done and what it's like.”

Common Threads Farm in northern Washington state offers a “Hands-On, Heads-Off” workshop where students can pay $15 to learn how to “efficiently and humanely” slaughter and butcher chickens and turkeys.

In San Francisco, Farr teaches a handful of butchery and sausage-making classes each month. He also brings his craft to “butcher parties” at local bars and restaurants where patrons sip cocktails and beer while watching him dissemble a hog.

Callister agrees that the process, especially the kill, is never easy. “We realise it’s the first step, it has to be done, so we try to do it as humanely as we can.”

First Published: Jul 29, 2010 19:45 IST