For a brief time, there was a whole pig’s head on our kitchen counter today.
This afternoon, we drove into town. Danny was so excited he had to tap out a rhythm on the steering wheel as he drove. We were on our way to pick up a pig’s head from Seabreeze, the same pig farm we visited a couple of weeks ago.
Actually, I’m pretty sure this was one of the older pigs we saw walking around that day.
I kept flinching my feet on the floor as we talked with Matt, the manager of Seabreeze’s farm store. After all, I was a vegetarian for 10 years, for all of my 20s. Those days are long gone now. (obviously.) And I’ve come to love sweetbreads and make sausages with real casings of intestinal linings. Living with a chef who loves meat has changed me even more. I decided long ago that, if I eat meat, I want to know how it lived, and where it comes from.
Still, I never expected to be staring down at a whole pig’s head through the lens of my camera, on our kitchen counter.
I feared that breaking down the head into component parts would feel like watching Sweeney Todd. But actually, watching Danny at work was a thing of beauty. He loves butchering. Whenever we to go to Don and Joe’s in the Market, he just stands there with his mouth open. “I could be a butcher,” he says as we walk away. So even though he had never broken down a pig’s head before, he felt confident. Excited. As I typed next to him, he bent down his head and applied the knife to every part. Watching him, it doesn’t seem like he’s cutting. Just sliding the knife, this tender touch while he focuses down. Everything before him.
He did stop to show me the brain, smaller than the palm of his hand.
And then he had to go to work, so he left me the cutting board to clean. I was still squeamish. (I was a vegetarian for 10 years, after all.) But watching him, and cleaning up afterward, it became clear to me that this was right. At least we’re using the head, with reverence, instead of it being tossed away. As Danny said, “We’re doing traditional French cooking.” (He just held the ear aloft from the brine for me to see, as I typed this.) We’re using everything. Funny how we say some parts of the animal are tender and succulent, and the rest we don’t want to see.
So it has been fascinating. He has made a stock with the bones, and it has been simmering all day. He rendered the fat down, slowly. And he will be brining the meat overnight.
He’s making head cheese.
Next week, we’ll be sure to tell you all about it.