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Following the early morning slaughter, we headed back to the shop in Kingston to learn how to transform the sides of pork we’d just seen cleaned of entrails and other very identifiably animal parts into the tasty morsels we regularly pick up at the market.

After a delectable (and yes, pork-filled) lunch of sandwiches made with a selection of Fleisher’s deli meats and dry goods, we pulled up chairs and eagerly awaited our next lesson on whole animal butchery.

Our ability to grasp the concepts Hans was instructing us on through the thick but charming German accent served as a constant reminder of the grace, skill, and wisdom of a man who has clearly become a true master of his trade. Seamlessly fulfilling the role of both educator and butcher, Hans put down his scabbard in favor of paper, easel, and pen- the better to write out what he would be showing us on the butcher block later.

He wrote out various forms of meat we are familiar with- pork (of course), chicken, lamb, beef, turkey, duck, rabbit, etc. and explained the various practices associated with the rearing of these animals under modern industrial conditions. He covered what Fleisher’s carries (beef, lamb, pork, chicken, a few seasonal poultry items) and what it does not (rabbit, venison, other game meats). He also informed us of the basic diets and anatomy of these animals: chickens don’t eat grass; there’s only one hanger steak per steer.

After a good hour or two of lecture as well as question and answer sessions, we were ready to move to the large wooden table that had been nearly ignored throughout our engrossing discussion. Hans, a man easily well into his 60s, emerged from a nearby walk-in refrigeration unit with a side of pork -nearly identical to the end product of the morning’s pig to pork transformation- casually thrown over his shoulder.

The next few hours were spent learning the various cuts of meat you can get from a pig- hands-on, step by step instructions on just where to cut, how to trim, remove skin, and debone.  When the side of pork was completely disassembled into the pork cuts we conscious carnivores have come to know well, Hans had us rearrange the various parts into the same (now disassembled) half hog we recognized from our earlier lesson.

After a brief foray into lessons on at-home sausage making (make sure the meat is very cold, guide the meat into the casing slowly and carefully the first time around) we were joined by Fleisher’s co-owner Jessica Applestone. She detailed the various processes that make the term “nose to tail” come to life: the soap made with rendered beef tallow sold in the shop, training staff to communicate with customers on rarely-seen or oft-forgotten cuts of meat, and a philosophy on using whole animals that includes writing up recipes for dishes like ‘beef tongue tacos’ and roasted liver treats for pets.

Following the discussion about sustainability at Fleisher’s we helped ourselves to the second pork dish of the day: spicy pork stew with mixed winter vegetables and a cool spring salad. Pints of Brooklyn Brewery beer proved the perfect way to finish out a long, learning-rich day in the world of sustainable, informed meat eating.

This concludes our two-part post. Part 2 brought to you by Meghan McDermott.

For more information on our classes please send an email to anna(at)fleishers.com.

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Hans Sebald at Pig to Pork

I’m not a fan of birds.  Maybe it’s Hitchcock’s fault.  Maybe it had something to do with the time I got cornered in my car on my way to work by a couple of geese nesting in the parking lot, pecking at my door, daring me to get out. So when it came time to do my first chicken slaughter, I was ready.

The pig slaughter on the other hand, I was worried about.  I am not opposed to killing animals for food; I definitely believe in that whole ‘meet your meat’ thing we preach at Fleisher’s.  But pigs, at least for me, have always been a cute, cuddly animal begging for affection. So, even though I am a bacon fan and work at a butcher shop, I was still nervous about watching the death and evisceration of a pig.

We met at a farm in New Paltz, a group of 15 aspiring butchers and bacon fans, all curious to see how their favorite breakfast side makes it to the table.   Our instructor, Hans Sebald (former CIA instructor and a master butcher) was the one responsible for turning the living, snorting animal into our butchery master class that day.  Hans was at the scene when we arrived, clad in a flannel shirt, rubber apron, knife scabbard and boots.  He introduced himself and said a few words, the kind of thing you’d expect from a man whom you know has grandkids.  “We have to remember that this animal was raised for food, and if you think about all the starving people out there, this animal’s life is not being taken for granted.”  A gentle reassurance—the accent helped.

The pig had been living a cushy lifestyle for a few days, solo in the back of a trailer (quite roomy, actually) and noshin’ on old winter squash and apples from the farm.  It was a happy pig up until its very last second of life.  Hans entered the trailer and closed the door shot the pig in the head, killing it instantly.  The door was closed and I am okay with that.

The pig was dragged out of the trailer. Hans proceeded to slit the throat so that the still beating heart could do the work of pumping out the blood.  And as the last bits of energy shook their way out of the animal, a farmhand helped Hans tie chains around the pig’s legs.

The chains helped transport the pig to the bath, where the idea is to pour boiling water over the flesh so that the pig’s bristles will come off easily.  However, on this freezing cold day in January (I think temperatures topped out at about 15 degrees Fahrenheit that day) this was no easy task.  They had been having some difficulty bringing the water up to boil in the 50 gallon drum . . .the water was close, but not hot enough.  We were freezing and decided to proceed anyways.  We dropped the pig into the bath and poured water over the animal. The water was not hot enough though, so the bristles were sticking.  Hans had to shave the pig, and without a Schick handy, it wasn’t easy. It took awhile but the pig was clean in about 15 minutes.

They pulled the pig out and hooked its hind legs to a large John Deere tractor that raised the pig to eye-level view. Hans then made a cut below the throat to pull out the tongue, paving the way for removing the head. Next, Hans made a swift incision from the crotch to neck.  The organs fell out gracefully.  With care, they are removable in one fell swoop.  I’m not sure I remember exactly how this happens, but Hans was able to remove the innards completely, efficiently.

The heart was next. Hans took out each organ and placed it on a white table.  This is how he teaches, by taking the organs out and arranging them so that we can see how the parts relate to one another. There was food still stuck in the small intestine.  We could see remnants of butternut squash, the pig’s last feast.

There was talk of how to prepare the various parts of offal, and participants calling dibs.  I am pretty Midwestern, so I let someone else go after the pork kidney.  I was holding out for pork chops, or tenderloin, if I was lucky.

Hans sawed his way vertically through the carcass, leaving two sides of pork.  It was amazing to see how fast this beast was turned into something we recognize as food.  A few incisions and I could already begin to recognize pork chops, ham, bacon, and shoulder.  Sights I see every day in the butcher shop.

Considering my anxiousness in regards to taking the life of this animal, I was astounded by how quickly I was able to see it turned to food.   In a strange way, the transition from living energy to consumable energy seemed painless. And without my even realizing it, my world was expanded multifold by allowing myself to become part of the intimate process of turning pig into pork.

Part one brought to you by Anna Carnahan- stay tuned for part two!

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