The modern renaissance man has quite a bit on his plate. In a world with little sense and even less sensibility, a gentleman is expected to be well-versed in the arts and roundly educated, sartorially smart and eloquent, career oriented and financially sound, among other social constructs. Still, there are certain pursuits that deliver a primitive and uniquely fulfilling sense of accomplishment. Butchery is one of them.
Long before the renaissance man set the social bar, the well-rounded neanderthal man of the world was carving dinners, honing stones and his butchery skills. Much like men's hairstyles, preferred methods of butchery have evolved, but the foundation is the same among traditionalists, those who respect the whole beast.
Working under such auspicious sensibilities at The Greenhouse Tavern, chefs Jonathon Sawyer and Jonathan Seeholzer led a highly informative, concise educational program cum butchery clinic cum cooking demonstration cum dinner on Sunday, March 21, which I was kindly invited to attend. "We'll demonstrate to you what a farmer does and what you look at when you go to the market," said Sawyer. "With a little bit of education, you can get a lot done at the farmers market." The class, which met in the GHT downstair's area in full view of the kitchen, had nearly 300 pounds of education.
Ohio locavores know the name Aaron Miller, as he's the purveyor of Miller Livestock Co., Inc, in Kinsman, Ohio. His farm raises grass-fed, free-ranging cattle, lamb and pork, in addition to chicken and turkey. Miller, who Sawyer met at last year's Terra Madre, was in attendance, able to answer questions about the subject of the class: a 5 1/2-month-old Yorkshire hog that originally weighed nearly 325 pounds. (It still weighed in at a hefty 228 pounds after being eviscerated.)
Miller detailed the humane slaughtering of the animals on his farm, and how it stands in stark contrast to methods found at macro processing centers. More than a morally just method, the process reduces stress on the animal, which many claim produces a higher quality meat, untarnished with the release of biological chemicals that impregnate the meat when the animal is under duress. The hog was delivered scalded, wherein the skin is kept intact and then scrubbed with paddles to fully clean it. Most often, hogs are skinned prior to delivery. It was an impressively graphic illustration of Sawyer's farm-to-table vision. "Thanks for supporting a local restaurant that supports a local guy," said Miller.
I don't know that I'll be ordering a 200-pound pig anytime soon. I've neither the space, nor the need. However, Miller does offer any number of ordering options geared toward home use. At the very least, I'll have the knowledge to do the job, should the need ever present itself.
Chef Seeholzer supervised the butchering process, though maneuvering a 200-plus pound hog often necessitated assistance from Sawyer. Seeholzer toiled for nearly an hour, sweat beading on his brow, engaging the attendees, answering questions and keeping things lively. He capably demonstrated a mastery of butchering technique while highlighting the various cuts most consumers are familiar with. The process involved a curious combination of surgical precision and strong man tactics.
Seeholzer explained how a basic understanding of anatomy goes a long way when butchering a whole animal, as knowing the placement of bones and naturally occurring flex in joints provides convenient guides for dismemberment. The chef began by finding the crease where the hams meet the body, quickly dispatching each. Moving to the opposite end, Seeholzer tackled the front shanks, working around the bone and cartilage to reveal two generous picnic cuts.