It's after-hours at the Huntington Meats in the Farmers Market and the canvas curtains are drawn. A dozen students sit on folding chairs circled around the worktable. On it lies splayed a whole hog, fresh from the farm, shaved naked, an apple stuffed in its mouth. Its nose is still a little bloody.
Want to know where your meat really comes from? Take a butchery class.
Over the next two hours, butchers Jim Cascone, Bob Ore and John Escobedo will take this whole animal and, using just a couple of knives and a band saw, reduce it to the cuts of meat you might recognize from the supermarket meat counter. Jar chef Suzanne Tracht is there as well, giving cooking tips and handing out samples of dishes prepared from the different cuts.
There's a lot of good practical information, but it's also an exercise in sheer carnality — coming face to face (both figuratively and literally) with the source of your meat and what it takes to get it into your kitchen.
So fascinated are we by meat these days that butchers and chefs are offering classes to teach civilians the ins and outs of breaking down whole carcasses. Mozza's Chad Colby regularly fills his monthly Whole Hog classes at that restaurant's neighboring Scuola di Pizza. Tuscan rock star butcher Dario Cecchini sold out two such classes on a visit to Los Angeles last month.
What's the lure?
For Neil Uchitel, a television soundman who lives in West Adams, there are a couple of things. First, it's part of the philosophical movement of learning where food comes from.
"People are bothered, I know I am, by large corporate farming. I know it's more efficient and saves people money on food, but it completely divorces you from the process of eating and consuming. To me, this is a first step in correcting that."
There are practical rewards as well.
"It's certainly changed the way I buy meat," he says. "Now I know what I'm looking at. You see these drawings, OK, that's where shoulder comes from. But you don't make the real connections until you actually see them do it."
For more information on classes at the Huntington Meats, contact the store at (323) 938-5383. For information on Chad Colby's Whole Hog classes, visit the Mozza2Go website at http://www.mozza2go.com.