Bacon, and how it came to be

If you classify bacon as one of the world’s great treasures, I second that notion. Now, people who love their bacon … and ribs … and pork chops are  learning more about where their food comes from by taking butchering classes. Once restricted to the coasts, these classes are now offered at several locations in the Midwest.

Through these classes, students, mostly urban, from a range of professional backgrounds, are gaining an appreciation for the quality of products produced by America’s agricultural families.

Bacon, and how it came to be

By Ben Paynter, The New York Times

For Alex Swanstrom, an auditor at a financial firm, cutting into the dead pig wasn’t hard. It was what happened next that made him rethink whether whole-animal butchery was something he was ready to dive into.

Decked out in a black apron on a recent Sunday afternoon, Mr. Swanstrom, 27, slipped a six-inch boning knife into the carcass of a 275-pound Berkshire-Duroc hog that was splayed out in two large hemispheres on a table inside Local Pig, a butcher shop in this city’s industrial East Bottoms area. He was supposed to carve off the front shank, which requires separating the flesh and tendons around the lower shoulder to remove the limb. But even after dislocating a joint — it popped with the shrill squeak of compressed air escaping — the shoulder still hung together fibrously, causing Mr. Swanstrom to have to pull it over the side of the table for better leverage.

“Don’t force it,” said Alex Pope, one of the shop’s owners. “If you are in a spot that feels like it’s not going well, just move the knife around a little bit.”

When the limb detached, Mr. Swanstrom handed it over and took a swig of his beer.

“That was tougher than I thought,” he said.

Hands-on classes in butchering meat, created to give diners carnal familiarity with their food, emerged as a fad in the late 2000s, one confined largely to the coasts. That has since changed, with shops in places like Chicago and Milwaukee inviting students.

Mr. Pope, who opened his shop smack dab in the middle of the heartland a year ago, decided to offer hands-on classes after hearing about another shop that charged customers just to watch a demonstration.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “If you are going to learn to break down a pig, you should be able to actually do it.”

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