A Swine Time at Cochon 555

Last night in San Francisco, it was all about pig, pig and more pig.

Cochon 555, which pits five top San Francisco chefs against one another in a pork-off, rolled into the Fairmont San Francisco on Sunday night to a sell-out crowd of 450 carnivores.

Each of the chefs had to prepare a 140-pound heritage breed hog from head to toe. A panel of judges, as well as the public, got to taste the dishes to determine one winner who will go on to compete with nine others selected from around the country at the Grand Cochon at the Food & Wine Classic at Aspen, June 18-20.

In one corner, Anthony Strong of Pizzeria Delfina, whose weapon of choice was a Glouster Old Spot, known for its distinctive layer of back fat. In a second corner, Dennis Lee of Namu, dueling with a Yorkshire pig, known for its muscularity. In the third corner, Thomas McNaughton of Flour + Water, holding court with a Duroc (otherwise known as Berkshire), a favorite among chefs for its intramuscular marbling and thick fat cap.  In the fourth corner, Morgan Maki of Bi-Rite Market, with a Mangalitsa, a very rare breed famous for its high-quality lard-type fat and for having double the marbling of your average pork. Lastly, Staffan Terje of Perbacco with a Swabian Hall pig, the first time one has been shown in the United States. This unusual pig was created in 1821 in Germany, from the mating of the fattest pig in the world with the leanest.

It was a chance for folks not only to taste, but to learn about some heritage breeds rarely available at supermarkets or restaurants. It was an opportunity to get up close and personal with owners of small ranches who raise these now-scarce breeds, as well as with some elite San Francisco butchers, who have become veritable rock stars for bringing back a lost art. Indeed, you’d be hard pressed to see so many people at one place armed with knives, mallets and saws. There was something primal, even carnal, about it all.

Dave the Butcher, along with women butchers from Avedano’s Holly Park Market in San Francisco, got the pig party started by demonstrating how to take apart a whole pork shoulder. To emphasize just how healthful heritage pork is, Dave the Butcher even popped a raw sliver into his mouth.

He quipped, “When it comes to the pigs we use, we try to know where it comes from, what it eats, and what TV programs it watches.”

Next came Ryan Farr of  4505 Meats in San Francisco, who spent more than an hour breaking down an entire Meishan pig from Iowa, using knives, a saw and brute strength until the animal was disassembled into neat chunks all wrapped up tidy in butcher’s paper.

Then, the chefs got going, dishing up pig like no tomorrow.

Among the standouts was Bi-Rite’s focaccia sandwich with blood sausage, sliced thinly with the texture and flavor almost of pastrami; Namu’s musubi with housemade “Spam”; Delfina’s blood sausage and housemade sauerkraut; and Perbacco’s spicy ndjua spread atop crostini, as well as its audacious pig blood cupcakes with lard frosting. Trust me on this one — you wouldn’t have known blood was in it, as it tasted as if it were just a spectacularly moist chocolate cupcake.

The Fairmont got into the act by cooking a whole kalua pig that was rolled into the ballroom, its shiny mahogany skin glistening under an explosion of flashbulbs.

In the end, though, there could only be one boss hog. And that glory went to Perbacco’s Terje.

May he bring home the bacon in Aspen.

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  • Mmmhhh, I loove pork! An interesting event!



  • Fun! That focaccia sandwich looks incredibly delicious!

  • Wow, too cool. I believe you but a blood sausage cupcake is taking it to a whole new level.

  • How long was the event if you had to wait for them to cook after butchering the pigs? This event is like a rock concert tour, so funny how wild people go over butchering these days.

  • That looks like an absolutely delightful day of pork goodness!

  • Single Guy Ben: I think the chefs had a head-start, as the VIP guests started arriving at 3:30 p.m. By 5 p.m., when the doors opened for the start of the pig tasting for the public, the food stands already were set up, with each of the chefs doling out about three to six different pig dishes. The winner was announced a little after 8 p.m.

  • The sound of pig blood cupcakes isn’t sexy at all but I’m sure it was a food orgasm.

  • I bet it was all delicious, but when isaw the 1st picture, I didn’t wanted to scroll down for more,..silly me!

  • Pure Proper Pork! I am so drooling at the roast pork.

  • They worked for days…in one case Terje actually cooked the head for 48 hours very slowly. The Swabian Hall and Meishan came from the same farm in Iowa. In fact, the Swabian Hall was a half brother to the Meishan that was demonstrated. They both had the same mother but different fathers.

  • These are some seriously gorgeous pigs:)

  • Lucky girl!!! The photos look fantastic. My sister got to go to one of these events in Seattle and loved it.

  • Wow. That’s wild. That cupcake…not sure I could bite into that one. You are brave, food gal!

  • Food Gal—your summary of Perbacco’s audacious pig blood cupcakes with lard frosting…wouldn’t have known blood was in it…tasted as if it were just a spectacularly moist chocolate cupcake… definitely earns this comment: http://is.gd/cGICr So that’s what that pig’s oinking about!

  • Wow that sounds like heaven! I also really need to get me one of them knife holsters.

  • What a cool event! I really enjoyed reading the little snippets on the characteristics of each breed.. And that pig blood cupcake with Lard frosting… I can only imagine…

  • with all those weapons lying around, one needn’t worry about anyone getting rowdy, eh? 🙂 what an awesome event–thanks for sharing, carolyn!

  • A very interesting post…fun to read. Love all the pictures. I seldom eat pork here cos it has a weird smell, unless I add lots of spices and seasoning. Now I just wonder….am sure we also get a very special breed when someone fat and someone lean get married 😀

  • Wow looks like an amazing event… the butcher gear looks so intense… all those chains and knives! The food also sounds so tempting I must try the homemade spam.

  • With knives, mallets and saws, it is almost like a swine war! :O

  • Musubi with homemade spam – YUM. And count me in as a blood sausage enthusiast but not so sure about the pig blood cupcake LOL!

  • Great post and photos! San Francisco food lovers might want to know that Mangalitsa pork, bacon, and lard, rare as it is, is readily available to home chefs in S.F. from my company, Wooly Pigs.

  • Oooh I was so hoping that you’d cover this in a separate story! Check out the knives on his side pocket! The dishes look wonderful too 😀

  • My friend Mike e-mailed me to say he couldn’t believe I hadn’t commented on this one! He knows pig is my favorite.

    I loved this article and the courage to post pictures that show the processes most people don’t want to see, that take it from on the hoof to on the plate.

    Sure would like to find a local source for heritage pork. Great descriptions. I want pork with fat in it!!! Anyone know a south bay source?

    And to Mike I say: “Oinnk-oink” which is hog for “thank you.”

  • So jealous. Would love to have been able to go and taste all those goodies.

  • you got me thinking: how many breeds of swine are there? i never thought about breeds declining. what a great read. love the sushi pic though…

  • What a truly awesome event and wow – that food, those photos? I am swooning!

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