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Pat Sheerin, chef at the Signature Room at the 95th was a recipient of one of Stan Schutte's Mangalitsa hogs, which I wrote about last month. Last week he road tripped down to Chenoa, Illinois, to witness the slaughter of the woolies. You can tell the chefs who signed on for these animals are getting excited. Yesterday, Stephanie Izard giddily tweeted about the Mangalitsa bellies she received for the Vie-Boka-Perennial dinner on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Sheerin's dinner is also on Wednesday (get the details on all the wooly dinners here). This is his account of the trip to Chenoa and the meat that came from it:
"It was a pretty nasty day out, but well worth the effort. We went to the Chenoa Meat Locker and we were able to see the slaughtering process, the employees of the locker were very friendly and helpful and open—everything you could ask for in someone who processes our foodstuffs. To say the least it was a very humbling experience. It’s a small custom packer that does all kinds of animals; pigs, cattle, goats, lambs, and venison for hunters.
"We were allowed to watch just off the kill floor—it was a very humane experience where the animal’s welfare is very much taken into account. The USDA inspector—who was an extremely forthright about the process—checks on the animals first thing, their pens, access to water and food, etc. He has to be on the floor during the whole kill and gutting process and individually inspects both the carcasses and the entrails of each animal. He clearly takes his job seriously, but it would be easy to see how this could become an arduous task and overwhelming in the larger packing houses.
"They stun the animals into a vegetative state. This process was done extremely quick—with an oversized set of electrified pliers (for lack of a better term). There was a little jolt of the animal and then it laid itself down. They then hoist the animal by the rear haunches and bleed it out with a slit into its neck. There is some reflexive action, but it was a much calmer process than what I’ve seen when turkeys have been killed. After it has been bled out they are placed in a tumbler—very much like the video from Sky Full of Bacon—in a bath of 150°F water to remove the hair. This was probably the worst part of the process for me; the smell of cooked blood and hair—and it is really long hair—was the most unpleasant portion. I’d have a tough time of that on a daily basis. They are then hand shaved to make sure they’re clean, steamed, sprayed, and hung. Once they came out of the bath it really was no longer an animal we’d met at Stan’s farm, it was 'pork' now.
"One guy does the entrails part and he is extremely agile at it so as not to poke the 'bad place' and remove all of the innards in one piece. The inspector then went through the whole carcass and had them trim and clean areas he felt were not safe. He then also checked the through the entrails and discarded the unusable parts, especially those areas that would harbor bacteria and/or tumors—this is where the chef in me kicked in, I was pleading and prodding the USDA inspector to get us as many "parts" as he could—heart, liver, whatever parts he’d pass and not discard. The kidneys are gorgeous on these. So we did get blood and kidneys (I don’t know about everyone else).
"These truly are a special breed of pork. I’ve attached a couple of pictures after starting to break them down. Look at the color of the flesh—fuck 'the other white meat,' this is tasty goodness. We cooked up the 'skirt' steak. The flavor was so clean and rich and delicious I’m looking forward to the other parts.
I cannot stress how clean the Chenoa Locker was and how open all of their employees were about their processes. I hope mentioning it only helps people to understand the importance of small operators like this because they truly do it right with the best interest of the end user in mind."