Words and Photos: Katie Lew
"We learn about every cut of meat, from the chops to the trotters..."
On a recent Saturday in February, pork enthusiasts gather in Craig and Kellie McHugh’s large, sunny kitchen in Black Forest. Some are avid hunters, here to brush up on their butchering skills; others, like me, are home cooks interested in learning more about the meat we prepare. We are all here to watch a butchering demonstration by Jason Nauert of the Rocky Mountain Institute of Meat. A half-hog lies on the butcher block in front of Jason as he wields a very thin, sharp knife and points out the different cuts of meat. Over the next three hours, Jason uses this knife, along with a saw and a cleaver, to precisely remove different cuts for our inspection. We learn about every cut of meat, from the chops to the trotters, and also get tips on how best to prepare them.
The hog lying on the butcher block in front of Jason is not just any pig. It is a Large Black heritage breed hog and was raised right here on A Joyful Noise Farm, owned by Craig and Kellie. What started with a few chickens for a home-school project in 2007 is now a full-fledged farm. As Craig tells the story, “My wife saw the movie Food, Inc. and after that it was 'game on!'” The family soon expanded their food production, adding four-season greenhouses, goats, and hogs to their chicken project. They are now in their third year of raising hogs and they usually have 10–20 hogs on the farm at a time.
"You know, we ended up deciding that this isn’t what we’re about and we don’t want to support the commercial hog operations anymore."
When asked why they chose to raise heritage breed hogs rather than a conventional breed, Craig can think of a litany of reasons. “When we started buying conventional hogs from commercial hog farms, we found that commercial hog farms are just disgusting places,” he says, “and they feed the pigs medicated feed that contains an antibiotic. You know, we ended up deciding that this isn’t what we’re about and we don’t want to support the commercial hog operations anymore.” In addition to these philosophical concerns, Craig adds, they had a hard time getting conventional hogs to put on weight with the lean, all-grain diet used at A Joyful Noise Farm. “Conventional hogs are bred to be really lean,” Craig explains. “They pretty much have to pour carbs down them to get them to put on weight. Large Blacks are a lard breed, so we can feed them a really lean diet and they still put on the right amount of weight.” This tendency to leanness is one reason that pork from the grocery store often tastes tough and flavorless. Craig contends that one reason their pork sells so well is that people are tired of eating pork that tastes like “shoe leather.”
"Bacon broth with strips of dehydrated bacon, maple-smoked pork belly, and hay-smoked chops are all on the tasting menu, each one more delicious than the last."
Back in the kitchen, we get a taste of what the Large Black pork tastes like, and it is anything but shoe leather. Prepared by two skilled chefs, Kevin Campbell from Full Circle Cuisine and Mark Henry from the Ivywild School, this pork is the most tender and flavorful I’ve ever tasted. Bacon broth with strips of dehydrated bacon, maple-smoked pork belly, and hay-smoked chops are all on the tasting menu, each one more delicious than the last. Not only do we get tips on preparing conventional cuts of pork, but also ideas for using up all the scraps, so that no part of the hog goes to waste. The bones and meat scraps will be boiled for broth, the fat rendered into lard and lardo (a type of cured pork fat), and the skin made into cracklings. At the end of the class, each lucky participant leaves with several cuts of meat to try his or her hand at preparing at home.
For those who missed the butchering class, check out ajoyfulnoisefarm.com for information about upcoming classes and demonstrations. The website also has a page for ordering free-range eggs, goat’s milk, pork, produce, and more with two Saturday pick-up locations in Colorado Springs.
9895 Walker Road
Colorado Springs, CO 80908