Photos by Tray Satterfield, Portland Meat Collective

Maybe I was more cranky in Portland than I realized.  It put me on something of a tear about how everyone’s too damned busy to cook if something’s going to take longer than 3 minutes, but my last morning at the IACP conference turned me around but good.  This is a post to thank those enormous spirits who presided over the pigs:

Adam Sappington, Kate Hill, and Dominique Chapolard (can you guess which one he is?).

Dominique runs a farm with his wife and brothers, “seed to sausage,” as they put it.  Everything their pigs eat from birth to slaughter is grown on that farm.  The Chapolards sell all their meat at market and make their own fresh and dry-cured sausage.

Kate Hill runs a culinary retreat in Gascony nearby.  She sets up six-week butchery apprentices at the Chapolards, so that cooks can learn the waste-nothing old school French method of butchering and using the pig.  I’m going.  I don’t know when, but I am going—life will not be complete if I don’t walk where these people work and live.

We had side by side hog halves from nearby Sweet Briar Farms.  Adam, chef and co-owner of Country Cat Dinner House and Bar, broke his down first.  I liked how he used a big-ass cleaver and a mallet to go through bone (shoulder blade and spine to separate shoulder from and front leg from the rest of the body, American style).  I also liked how he removed the belly from the ribs with skirt steak connected, which gave him an especially big cut to roll and tie.

Dominique then demoed his hog, first removing the tenderloin, then taking the back ham off, then removing the entire spine and rib cage from the animal in a way I wish I’d videoed for the elegance of his cuts.  This method gave him a long, long loin that segued into the coppa, which he then separated from the loin (he would dry cure this).  The other part of his technique that I really admired was the way he separated the big back ham, which in it’s sheer abundance can be problematic unless you’re cooking for thirty, into four beautiful boneless cuts. (The award-winning Hank Shaw goes into excellent detail here.)

Adam and Dominique took turns demonstrating how they personally handled each cut.  Dominique’s cuts were determined by how they sell at the market, Adam’s determined by how he can sell them at his restaurant (he’ll but the whole pig on single plate).  People asked questions.  Portland chefs had joined the group and offered their perspective and asked their questions, Vitaly Paley, of Paley’s Place, and Elias Cairo, who has opened the city’s first USDA approved salumeria, at Olympic Provisions, where I would have dinner that night. Everyone in the room tasted sausages Kate had smuggled in, we drank wine, we talked more about how they do it in France and how we do it here.

Three hours of intense interaction with people who truly care about this world, the earth and the animals, who care about cooking, about serving people, who do it the hard way, the long way, these grounded wonderful, big big souls.  When I walked out of there, I felt as if I’d come out of a world that was impossibly good, could-never-happen good, and yet there they had been, cutting up that miracle creature raised by a farmer who sat three chairs in, the Gascon farmer-butcher, Kate, a passionate teacher, Adam, Elias, Vitaly—swear to god, I wanted to collapse right there at NW 8th and Burnside and weep.  Just fall into a fetal curl and have a really good confused cry.  I still can’t explain it.  Maybe it was just too much concentrated goodness, to full of hope, too vast for a Saturday morning so far from home.

Kate, Dominique, Adam, thank you, and, you, too, Camas Davis (top photo, at left), writer and apprentice butcher, who put it all together. Thank you.


62 Wonderful responses to “The Saving Graces of Pigs and Charcuterie”

  • Nathan Pralle

    It looks like an awesome experience. I’d have to say that your feelings arise from a combination of the sheer knowledge present in the room combined with a deeply profound respect for the flesh provided by the hog. It’s one thing to be good at cutting up meat, but entirely another to fully understand it, fully appreciate it, and to treat it in a way that ensures it does not go to waste or be presented in an unappealing fashion.

  • Rose @ The Bite Me Kitchen

    It is such a joy to see events like this occurring in a world where people are too lazy to cook for themselves, care about their food, and easily criticize the wrong things in regards to food. What a great experience!

  • Vivian

    I honestly can say I was never truly envious of you until now 🙂 I have been a long time admirer of Kate and Dominique and now Adam as well. I am glad that you got experience this. I was hoping to join Kate and Dominique at the Herbfarm where they are doing a Charcuterie Class but I had too many other events scheduled at the same time. I will definitely try to see Kate when she returns for Duckfest this Fall at Neal Foley’s farm.

  • Morgan

    My wife and I had lunch with Kate and Dominique at the Ferry Market in SF before they headed up to IACP. Before parting, Dominique filled my bag with some of his noix de jambon (I *think* it is the same cut of the ham that cullatello is made from) as well as a link of salume–both cured with only salt and pepper. It is without a doubt, the best charcuterie I’ve had Stateside. Such honest food.

    We will also be high-tailing it to Gascony ASAP. Very exciting to see what Kate and Dominique are doing. Great, great people.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Believe it or not, I truly get the passion you must be feeling from the emotion your words are probably just eking out…in fact it is almost contagious in that I can see how humbled you were by their abilities. That is a wonderful feeling – to feel that drive. It emanates.

  • cherie mercer twohy

    i felt exactly the same way. as i (over)shared during the q&a, it was perhaps the best saturday morning of my life. to watch adam and dominique take turns with their beautiful pigs, and the rapt attention each gave to each other’s techniques–it was like watching spectators at the slowest tennis match ever. i spent the walk back to the hotel on the phone with my punk-rock-chef son, reliving the experience, and scheming on how we could do that class at my cooking school, sans walk-in. we must make this happen. changed my life, that meat revival. thanks to all involved.

    • ruhlman

      thanks cherie, i didn’t realize it till i left the kitchen and was alone…

  • Big Red

    I have a great respect for people that take the time to do things in time honored fashion. Especially in the Culinary world. I recently began pre-buying my meats, pork, beef and poultry from a local, all natural farmer. His brother butchers them for me and takes the time to sit down with me and explain the differences in styled cuts, and learns how I will use it so he can cut it the best way possible in terms of my needs in order to create the least waste. If I want to watch him work I am welcome to do so as well. When I get my meat delivered, I too want to weep with joy. It is the same feeling my husband gets when he gets his hands on some rare wood at the re-claim center. (He makes furniture as a hobby.)
    So I concur with this pure moment of almost orgasmic joy you had. I love a man with a passion!

  • Peter

    Nice post. Love the seed-to-sausage.

    Good thing you have a professional editor for your books! OMG. Grammar 101, please.

      • Carey

        please don’t be concerned with grammar, it would ruin the personality shining through in your writing.

  • Rob

    How do I get copies of those amazing posters of the two pigs behind the speaker in that last photo? Those are GREAT!

  • Karen Downie Makley

    wow. sounds like that really was an amazing program. read this on the heels of just returning from a brief stay in north carolina, where i ate the best pork of my entire life.

  • Rhonda


    I think this may be my most favorite post of yours that you have ever written.

  • Christie Ison

    Good for you, Michael, for being truly passionate about food. Not just about the plate put before you at a restaurant, but about where it comes from and the love put into its path to that plate.

    I, for one, am not to lazy to cook. Most days. 😉

    Thanks for your writing and opening up these corners of the food world to us.

  • Mike Kropp

    Awesome. Kind of an odd coincidence, I did my first half pig today though the only whole pieces I had were the ham and the loin. I was happy with the results but could have learned a lot.

  • Andy

    Wish I was there. La charcuterie est la meilleure partie du cochon.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Tony Spagnoli

    The reason I make pasta, bread and charcuterie in my kitchen, is to teach my cooks about these arts that are being lost by our fast food society. That pig makes my mouth water.

  • Rob

    By the way, I watched the video and read the referencing article at the ‘Huffington Post’ and I just have to say I agree with you 1,000%!

    I am a father of five kids. I have a full time job, as a technology coordinator at a local school district (40+ hours) in addition I teach night classes at a college (1 hour away from my residence) and I still have time to tend and plant a 9,000 square foot garden, I make bacon monthly from your recipe in “Charcuterie” in 20 pound slabs, AND I still have time to squeeze more than an hour into a meal. My wife has a home business that keeps her occupied most of the day and we homeschool our kids. I get tired of hearing that crap about ‘dual income’ families having no time to prepare a decent meal. We are dual income and we still have time to sit around the table, enjoy our meal, and enjoy each other. Maybe if we killed satellite TV and cable we could focus on more important things like our stomachs, our bodies and our taste buds.

    I can’t tell you how many times I hear some student (whether it’s an 18 year old with no job, or a returning student working part time) say, “I just don’t have time for (insert thing here)”. To which I echo your sentiment. BULLSHIT!

  • HankShaw

    Russell: I was there the following day, at the Portland Meat Collective, for an even longer, hands-on demo. Same people, same great experience.

    Morgan: Noix de jambon is the opposite side of the ham from culatello. It is the long, rhomboid-shaped ham that corresponds to our quads; the culatello corresponds to our ass…

    Michael: Let’s both go! I want to study the area’s duck and goose cookery. You do hogs, I’ll do ducks. Sound like a plan?

    • ruhlman

      hank, first, thanks for your awesome post describing in detail dominique’s method.

      second, I was taught that the culatello is the top loin, that big muscle on the inner thigh. wouldn’t the gluteous maximus be the round? I defer to you, who have taken apart more whole animals than I.

      and yes, let’s go!

  • Cowgirl Chef

    I wasn’t in Portland with you, Michael, but I can only imagine how moving it was. I’ve spent time with Kate in Gascony, at her side, at the markets, with Dominique and his family, and in her kitchen. It is a transformative experience. Validating, grounding, inspiring, and altogether wonderful. Such passion and attention to detail — the committment to the process itself — I’ve not found elsewhere, anywhere. You must go. But consider yourself warned: you may never want to leave.

  • John K.

    It’s clear how much this experience touched you, as this post was some of your best, most inspired and passionate writing. I enjoy all of your posts and writing – this one stands out.

    I’m in Akron – how I wish we had a retreat like Kate’s in North East Ohio – I’m be there!

    Thank you for always inspiring me Michael.

  • Paul Kobulnicky

    One of the constant tensions in my life is between my interests in so many things (and even in so many variations on food) and my realization that to be really good at something you have to be really focused on it … which means that you have to limit the number of things that you spend time on. I try to do that by focusing on bread and my gardens but even within these I have so many interests. I try do do fewer kinds of bread; grow fewer veggies. Maybe that too is the reason you want to curl up and cry … to be those people, to be that grounded, you can’t be you at the same time.

  • Darcie

    All I can say is “Amen, brother!” Maybe you should start a church, call it the Church of the Immaculate Charcuterie. (Imagine the potluck dinners!)

    I often bring treats to work. Between that and my food blog, my coworkers constantly ask “how do you have time to do all this?” No one HAS any more time than anyone else. I MAKE the time to do what is important to me. How about NOT watching that episode of Jersey Shore & making some damn dinner?!

    The priorities of my fellow Americans never cease to amaze, repulse and even frighten me.

  • Chuck Shaw

    Somewhere in there Michael, you started channel Tony or Tony channels you. Anyhoo, great story. Portland is a hidden gem of the West Coast for just about everything. Too much rain for me, but that is why it’s so abundant with good stuff. Next time you’re on the left coast drop down one Southwest leg. Anita and I would love to see you.

  • david S.

    For my birthday a few weeks ago I went to a farm about 2.5 hours north of my house and I slaughtered and dressed my own sheep which I rotisseried whole the next day at my party. It was both great and a shame. Great in that I got to process the animal I ate and a shame that the closest place I could find was a five hour round trip. I’m now looking at taking a a lamb butchering class that is offered at the fatted calf in Napa.

  • Engred

    Thank you for a lovely post – one of your best yet, and not just because I live in Portland! Wonderful to hear your description of what we are lucky enough to see, feel and experience on a regular basis in our little golden pocket on the west coast. Living in a town that is full of professionals and “regular people” so dedicated and interested in REAL food and ingredients certainly gives me a different perspective than most Americans, which is why I often have a similar reaction to culinary-related experiences in other towns and countries. In Portland we often feel like we are the “hippie” oasis in a sea of mass-produced garbage and it is refreshing and soul-sustaining when we can find other like-minded dedicated people in other parts of the country and world. Thanks again, Micheal, for your dedication and appreciation. We will toast to your experience over a plate of Vitaly’s charcuterie tomorrow night!

  • kate hill

    Michael, I will have too work hard to diligently translate this post, not just for Dominique, but for the entire Chapolard family who stayed behind to work the farm, butcher, and sell their great fresh pork and charcuterie at the weekly markets. It was a team effort to get us their. And as Dominique taught us all- butchers, chefs, teachers, mentors, colleagues and IACP members, ‘tout seul, tu meurs’ ‘work alone, you die’. Coming to PDX from deep country Gascony was to come together with you, Adam, Camas, Jonathan, Vitaly, Elias, Tray, Robert, Hank, Ken, Mike, Scott…
    See you in Gascony.

  • Jeni

    Thank you Michael for this post. It is very inspirational and comforting to see anyone that is that dedicated in taking time to breakdown a pig, cook, preserve, bake- making sure that everything is purposed and honored in a way that their efforts to raise or garden is not in vain. It is the ultimate expression of love.

    I’d love to learn more about this subject. Going to take one of Kate Hill’s classes will be a dream come true. My sister just started raising ducks in her yard and we would resort in reading books instead to turn them into foie, confit and rillettes…

  • Tenina

    Love your passion as always…and the Huffington Post article as well…we are what we eat, is that not enough incentive to make sure what we eat is worthy of becoming part of us??

  • Ledah Carlin

    This account of this is amazing. I love your way of describing things.. I am glad you could share this!

  • Al W

    Did you make it out to McMinnville for the Pork and Pinot meal at Nick’s? They do wonderful things with pork, breaking down about a pig a week. I’ve been lucky enough to make it back into the kitchen to watch and learn. You are not alone in your frustrations, whenever a TV commercial describing reheating packaged crap as “cooking” comes on my kids all scramble because dad’s about to go on a rant.

  • Bert

    This is mostly directed at the first sentence or two of your blog post.
    As a college student, most of my friends do not cook, or they cook rarely. Based on my conversations with them, I think that a huge portion of the non-cooking population doesn’t actually claim busy so much as it’s just time consuming enough for them to be too bored and lazy to do it. Additionally, most of them don’t know how to cook, so they don’t want to spend time getting sub-par results. One wonders why they don’t simply read a decent recipe, which WOULD allow them to get good results while still a beginner at cooking. It also perplexes me that so many of my fellow students constantly eat out at restaurants and take-out places, since the only thing that college students have less of than time is money.

  • Kimber

    Most don’t feel a connection to their food or take time to cook and enjoy the process but stay ignorant of food sources and preparation. I see a move in health and wellness to label read, calorie count and push organics. But what fuels the average Joe is without recognition or respect beyond convenience, taste and swallow. Whereas, the true culinaries are fueled by their fuel and this passion deepens desired learning,knowledge and understanding of the whole process where they endeavor to become virtuosic in preparations as joy inspired with care and deep consideration taken to a higher level of bounty, and, like the hog, God given provisions whose part in life sustains us. Cry and be grateful. We are all connected, yet, beyond the farmers and foodies little comprehension exists. Yet, posts like this is a good start.

  • Jennifer S

    This sounds like great fun. I’ll continue to dream about such visits while I’m making sausages at home.

  • JR Prospal

    Posts like this are just amazing. i’m so happy that more and more events like this are happening. And, more often I am seeing the impact of revived charcuterie from friends, who I didn’t even know cook, are making their own bacon, pancetta, sausage, and smoking meat beyond the common ribs.

    Yes, Michael, people are listening 🙂

  • Bert

    Mr. Ruhlman,
    Speaking of charcuterie, I just got your Charcuterie book and, so far, it’s awesome. Unfortunately, I can’t give it my undivided attention, as I have tests to study for, but I do have one question: in the bacalhau/bacalao/baccalá/saltfish/salt cod recipe, pretty much the entire process takes place in the refrigerator, uncovered. I live with a couple of other people, and they all have food in the refrigerator. Do I have to worry about my salt cod picking up fridge odors from their food, or is it a non-issue? Same goes with guanciale and anything else that requires days-to-weeks period of curing or resting uncovered in the fridge.

    I don’t actually know if your blog post is the right place to be asking you questions about your book, but I’m asking anyway.

  • Dan Glovier

    Today, my 6 year old daughter cooked dinner. Roasted chicken, with raw carrots and watermelon (her choice all around). I helped her prep the chicken, but she did all the work and seasoning. That took all of a 20 minute timeout from playing with her friends. We popped it into the oven, and she went out to play again. When the chicken was done, we melon-balled watermelon (with my 3-year old son) and sliced carrots.

    She plated after I carved, taking her time to “make it look pretty.” The boy wanted to plate his own. They couldn’t be more proud, we had a wonderful dinner, and she is talking about making another dinner. There’s nothing better than sharing a cooked meal, especially your daughter’s first dinner.

  • Mantonat

    I loved this article and the link to the farm & culinary retreat website (amazing photos!). I was really confused by several things though:

    If you are referring to the name of a city, could you include the state when there’s more than one city by that name? For some reason I got it into my head that this event took place in Maine.

    Also, you never actually mentioned that the Chapolard’s farm is in France, so I assumed it was near Portland. So when you said that the culinary retreat was in “near-by Gascony,” my first thought was that either Maine or Portland has a town named Gascony – which I started thinking was a little coincidental. It took actually clicking the links provided to realize that you were in Oregon watching a presentation by a visiting French butcher who runs a farm in France, not an immigrant butcher who moved his family to a farm in either Oregon or Maine.

    Sorry to be overly nitpicky; your articles are generally clear, concise, and well written. The rest of the story was great and I hope you do get to attend the butchering apprenticeship sessions so we can read all about it.

  • Loulou

    Dominique and Kate bring an amazing passion to the subject, which anyone who is interested in food should appreciate.
    You must go and do the 6 week butchery apprenticeship chez les Chapolards! It will be an unforgettable (and delicious) experience.

  • irene

    i recently acquired a fresh pig’s skull (leftover from a skinning the head demonstration). there is some flesh left on it and i would like to make some head cheese or similar. do i use the brains and eyes and other nasty bits? do i cook it whole with these parts? or do i remove them before cooking?

  • Ken Albala

    Can I second that this was an absolutely enthralling experience? And very well described Michael. I sat so close that little bits of flesh were flung from the cleaver on me from time to time. DOES it get more exciting than that?!

  • Ken Albala

    WAH! Now that I said that you can all gawk at the landing pad on the back of my head in the first picture.

  • Scordo

    I think it’s great to see the above stuff happening in the US. If I can be somewhat critical (sorry, I can’t help it) I think showcasing the above event as a “special and rare” type of meeting highlights how far we still need to go to appreciate animals and food in this country.

    On my grandfather’s Calabrian farm in Southern Italy, a pig is (was) butchered every year (as it is on thousands of small farms in Italy). The event is solemn as is the preparation/butchering of the meat for salumi/etc.) Our family doesn’t romanticize the event or argue the merits of butchering style or process, we simply do what Italians have been doing for hundreds of years; namely, grow our own food and “work” on the farm.

    My point is that if we truly want to change the food culture in the US, events like the one above need become commonplace and not some event that is romanticized and seen as somewhat holy. The question then becomes how do me move away from food and food culture as a spectacle (to be shown on TV and written about in books and on the web) to food as part of everyday lives?

    My two, philosophical, cents…


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