Getting Hands-On: Learning to Butcher Hogs

by Bethy Whalen

1890988_10152203830574568_563579801_nThe picture that I sent my mother and sister was captioned: “I made a new friend!”  It was a picture of me, holding up a massive hog’s head in a plastic bag.

On February 15th, I joined my friend Sarah and her family in Ruckersville, Virginia for their annual hog butchering.  Every year, they purchase whole hogs from Buffalo Creek Farm and carve them into delectable portions for the year to come.

Early that morning, Sarah’s parents arrived at the house with two massive hogs in the back of their pickup truck – both split down the middle with heads off and organs out.  We dragged the halves onto a tarp-covered table and got to work.  My first job was to process the heads.Nov 2013 035

It was amazing and strange to hold the head of a recently slaughtered animal in my hands.  This hog still had its eyes in its head, and the first time I looked at it, all I could think of was the terrifying animatronic pigs from the 1999 movie version of Animal Farm I had watched in my high school English class.  I had never been that up close and personal with a hog before.

Sarah’s family had decided not to make pon haus this year (known in different parts of America as scrapple – a loaf composed of, amongst other things, meat scraps from the boiled whole head), so my job was to take the hogs’ heads, cut out the jowls for bacon, and remove the rest of the head meat for grinding into sausage.  Step one of this process was to cut the heads in half – not the job for a dainty knife, but rather, a hefty axe.Nov 2013 033

I’m definitely no woodsman; trying to split a hog head down the middle with an axe is pretty difficult. Thankfully, I’m not squeamish either, because by the time I was done, there was pig brain splatter all down the front of my overalls.  Once the heads were processed, I helped trim the cuts which were being carved off the body.  It was incredibly fulfilling to take the large pieces and make them look like something you’d find in a grocery store.

All in all, it was an incredible day.  We started with two hogs and ended with an abundance of gorgeous meat cuts and plenty of sausage.  It was a great adventure to process these magnificent animals, and fascinating to see exactly how the other white meat goes from animal to food.1010107_609086520066_389161179_n

Bethy Whalen is a second year Gastronomy student concentrating on food policy. She is an enthusiastic food activist and avid supporter of the school breakfast and lunch programs.

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