To kick off 2014, I went on a bit of a foodie sojourn for an experience I’ve coveted for some time.
Living in Boise, I’ve gotten to know quite a few people of Basque heritage – and they rival my Italian family for great foodie traditions. Case in point – the Annual Pig Killing in Central California.
My friend Julie Sarasqueta Hahn comes from a proud Basque family. While they now live in Idaho, their roots are in the agricultural mecca of central California. It’s where her mother’s and father’s family - along with many other Basque and Patterson-area farm families – have been gathering since the 1960′s on a long weekend in January to slaughter, butcher and process pork. Of course, in a very hands-on, often traditional manner.
This year, the boy and I tagged along with a few other Boise friends and headed West – butcher attire at the ready.
Like all traditions that you randomly insert yourself into, it was a bit of chaos and a lot of ‘figuring it the heck out’ and ‘just jump in and do something’.
In other words, awesome.
This wasn’t a stand back and observe kind of foodie adventure. It was a roll up the sleeves and prepare to sink your hands into a lot of… stuff… kind of weekend. No, I did not participate in the pig slaughter. Though it was an interesting process to watch by some very adept butchers and fascinating contraptions. But I was there for the end of the 10 pigs lives and the start of their transformation into deliciousness.
I probably should mention we ate. A lot. Lunch and dinners were hosted by different families at the farm and were often grill-centered.
The pigs slaughtered on Day 1 rested overnight in a cool barn off property, while we worked on prep work, like prepping sausage casings (intestines) and lots of garlic (for chorizo)
Day 2 was all about butchery. There was the traditional way showcased by the French Basque brothers Jean-Pierre and John Baptiste.
And then the commercial butcher..
While I would have loved to practice some of what I learned at Portland Meat Collective, there was no way that was going to happen. First off – it is a tradition passed down through families and you have to put your time in to get to the head of that table. Secondly – I still have no real idea of what I’m doing without a lot of guidance. So I was quite happy to stare at the men making quick work of the sides of pork and get to wield a knife at the trim end of the table.
Of course, there wasn’t just one thing happening at a time… or even two. More like seven. While the sides of pork were being broken down into primals and subprimals in the front of the garage, cleaning and packaging of cuts was occurring in the back.
And in the small kitchen through the doorway, a crowd was sorting the leftover cuts and fat to cut down and grind for chorizo. At that same table a few hours later, the guys would get hands on to custom spice & mix the chorizo.
The cuts of meat – mainly the hams and bellies – that didn’t get packaged to be frozen were tagged and tied and put to bed in delicious salt cures.
The final task on the morning of the third day was the all important chorizo-tasting (I definitely think the Boise Basques represented the best with some serious spice.) Our freezer is now stocked with a variety of cuts and bags of said chorizo.
Pictures and words don’t really seem the do the experience justice. It’s amazing to be able to truly see farm to table and witness the transformation of an ingredient like this. Especially when that occurs in the midst of a decades-long family tradition. Endless thanks to the Beltrans, Sarasquetas and Patterson farm families who invited us in and put us to work. Eskerrik asko!