Swine before Pearls

Mark deNettis and Chef Bob from Fuel

I’ve been wanting to attend a Whole Hog Hoe Down at Il Mondo Vecchio for awhile and this past Memorial Day weekend while most were putting their sausage on their grills we were making ours.

The owner and instructor is Mark DeNettis, who wields three knives and a steel in an easily accessible scabbard attached to a large chain wrapped around his waist over a maille apron.  He would look equally comfortable at a renaissance festival as to take down a 220 lb. hog.  His bald head is protected by a “Universal Semen Sales” baseball cap. He’s got forearms the size of Popeye and his family hails from Apulia, Italy.  He’s got pork blood running through his veins.  He clearly enjoys what he does.

The eight of us went into the production room and Mark wasted little time to begin his presentation.   He gave a small introduction about the pig and the slaughterhouse it was processed in and then with few deft cuts above its shoulders and around the pigs neck he exposed the vertebrae holding the head to the body.  He moved his body around to the front and twisted the head until it snapped.  A few more cuts at the vertebrae joint released the head which he moved off to the side.

Then he continued on the front of the hog and angling in from the second rib  outlined the front quarters and again hacked through the front quarters.

Head and Shoulders off, ribs and belly

Head and Shoulder removed. Rib cage and pork belly

He flipped the rib cage and backstrap section of the pig over and piercing between the ribs on the top part of the ribcage outlined where he would make his next hack saw cut.  He quickly removed both bottom sections of the rib cage. This is where the St. Louis ribs and spare ribs come from.

He moved to the back of the animal and began to cut from the belly to the lower back on both sides.  A few passes with the hacksaw and the hind quarters were removed.  In a mere 30 minutes Mark had dismembered the pig into head, front quarters, hind quarters and backstrap.

Under his work table were a line of grey bus tubs in which he would toss in bones and different meat cuts intended for grinding or curing.

He took every opportunity to demonstrate classic meat cuts even if the end result would be ground or turned into a whole cured section.

He showed us how to break down the legs and explained the different leg muscles.  No different than muscling out a veal leg or leg of lamb. One of the legs would be used for prosciutto.

He took down the Boston butt and Picnic Shoulder and showed the muscle, located at the top end of the Boston Butt, that is sectioned off to be used in one of my favorite Salumi “Capocollo” or “Coppa.”

He then demoed a spider rack, which is when you expose the rib tips of the whole rib cage section. Quickly he moved on to sawing down the vertebrae and creating two rib loin roasts.

Giving Bert a high heat shave

Following the contour of the pigs head with his boning knife, he de-masked the whole pigs head, remove the ears, put them in the center of the peeled head, rolled it into a tube and stuffed it into an expanding type of funnel and stuffed it in a fishnet sock. This is the “porchetta di testa,” which he will later cooks sous vide at 180º until it is very tender.

Porchetta di Testa

He put the hams and pancetta on cure and then proceeded to grind all the meat for sausages.  He divided up the ground meat, sprinkled them liberally with a chorizo spice mixture and an andouille spice mix and some of the participants worked the spices in.

Seasoning Andouille

Into the sausage stuffer they went and with a few cranks a coil of sausage furled.  Then two of the participants massaged the meat in the casing and spun the sausages into links in alternating forward and backward spins.

All the participants but one were male and there is nothing like stuffing meat in casing to lower the conversation down to penis and sex jokes.  And that’s saying a mouthful.

Throughout the demo his assistant, Joey, was wrapping meat, bones and skin and stuffing them into boxes for each of us.

The BIG one

The demo ended with a look into his curing fridge which is chock full of his cured meats.  When I first visited his shop over a year ago it barely had any sausages curing in it and now he is building another walk-in.

We grabbed our boxes and left with our memorial day bounty and the kicker is that we will get a call to come pick up our cured products when they are ready. A little over 3 hours elapsed with a break included.

Overall it’s a really great concept.  I would love to have it be more hands on, but I think I could handle the process on my own based on the demo.

He has created a professionally accredited meat butchery program through his Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat, which is hosted at Cook Street if you want to get your hands deeper into all types of quadrupeds and bipeds.

I must be on a whole animal kick as this coming Wednesday June 15th we will be roasting a whole lamb at Fruition Farms near Larkspur. We will be doing an Argentinean whole lamb Asador.  The lamb was raised at the farm. Alex Siedel will be making his famous ricotta that day and we will feast on the whole roasted lamb as well as with many other Argentinean side dishes.

A friend of mine from Crested Butte days, Paul Foxx, is coming from San Francisco to put it on for us.  He shipped the Asador cross over a week ago.

This is sure to be an event worthy of my blog’s name.


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