Dietsch on

Sort of. A week ago, I went to a pork-butchering demo at Brooklyn Kitchen in Williamsburg. Tonight, Jason Kottke linked out to my extensive photoset from that demo.

Needless to say, the number of people who’ve viewed those pix has now gone through the roof.

Jason notes: “If you want to know where your bacon or ham-related food comes from, here’s your chance.” Lemme be honest, that’s exactly why I went.

When I was a child, my grandparents Dietsch raised pigs and, every year, everyone would turn out to help butcher those pigs–even to the extent of going out in the morning and shooting the pigs dead (as opposed to letting someone else slaughter the animals). My sister, cousins, and I never saw the slaughter, since we were all pretty wee, and we didn’t see much of the butchering, although I clearly remember watching the adults making sausage.

What sticks closest is how damn good that pork tasted. Every butchering, my grandmother would fry up tenderloin medallions for those who’d helped in the butchering. Only once or twice did the kids get them, but we certainly got to feast on fresh chops that night. I know how good, fresh pork should taste–pork that’s been raised on a small farm, given room to roam and root around, and fed good stuff.

I’ve seen live pigs, scratched their heads, watched them play and run, and fed them. I know where pork comes from–or at least where it should come from. Frankly, I don’t want to know where Smithfield pork comes from. I guess for that, I could read some Upton Sinclair and assume that things have only gotten worse since his day.

What I didn’t know, because I was never there, was what went on during the actual butchering. I didn’t know how the pig was carved up and taken apart. So when Jen offered to buy me a ticket to the demo at Brooklyn Kitchen, you can bet your hairy ass-crack I went.

I was heartbroken as an adult, when I could only get the factory-farmed shit from Smithfield and their ilk. The other white meat, indeed. It tasted like nothing and was tough and dry. I thought I had fucked things up by overcooking it, but my mother reported the same disappointments. Only later did we realize that it was the pork producers to blame, not the cooks.

I never had pork I liked again until one of our first meals at Marlow & Sons, in Brooklyn, when I had braised pork–Jen and I think it was belly, but we can’t remember for sure. I can’t say this without lapsing into cliche, but it honestly did bring me back to my childhood. I closed my eyes and remembered meals at my grandparents’ table. I finally had pork that tasted like pork, that tasted like what I remembered and loved as a kid.

As we were leaving that night, the chef, Caroline Fidanza, was chatting with one of Marlow’s owners. I gushed so much I embarrassed not only myself but also them. Luckily, my social skills are just good enough that I realized I was about to cross into stalker mode, so I faked a cough and ducked quickly out the door.

So it’s only appropriate that the butchering demo I photographed was led by Tom Mylan, butcher for Marlow, Diner, and two locations of Bonita. I’m going to get gushy again, but you gotta love people who can really help you remember your roots.


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