On our trip to Italy, Brian Polcyn and I saw a lot of new cuts we weren’t familiar with, so as soon as we returned, we made plans to break down a couple of pigs Italian style, bringing in chef Jay Denham, who was recently back from five months staging in Italy.  We wanted to see how he broke a half animal into primals and we also wanted to learn the culatello cut.  Jay had spent many weeks staging at Massimo Spigaroli’s operation, learning this technique for producing what some consider to be the finest version of prosciutto di Parma there is.

From left, I, Brian and Jay tasting salumi

Jay and Brian arrived Tuesday evening and we started with a salumi tasting from American producers.  We tasted salamis from Knight Salumi in San Diego, I had some Mangalista belly and lardo from Mosefund farm, Brian brought some of his prosciutto di Michigan, as well, and I also had some of Jay’s coppa (Jay is the head salumi-maker for a new venture called Woodland Pork).

The following day Scott delivered our pigs, we headed out to Bar Symon whose chef, Matt Harlan, gave us some kitchen real estate to work in.  Thank God for big kitchens (and for all your work, Jon Bito on our behalf).  Jay did the first hog, demonstrating the way Italian breakdown is designed to make best use of the cuts for curing.  The American way of breaking down a pig, designed to focus attention on the center of the pig and on roasting cuts, slices straight through the coppa (the muscle that goes from the neck into the loin), one of the most important cuts in Italian salumi.

Jay Denham, salumi maker for the new Woodland Pork, traveled from his home in Louisville to show us how he butchers pigs. Here he bones out the middle section of the spine and ribs, leaving the loin and belly.

As Jay noted, “Breaking down a pig is a lot like cooking. Everyone has their own interpretation.”

We had several chefs on hand to help and to learn and it was all well documented with photography and video.

The best part of the day was learning the culatello cut.  I have to wait for closer to the time the book comes out to post about that—too important!

Jay, many thanks for traveling all those miles to cut pig in Cleveland.  We’re all truly grateful!


34 Wonderful responses to “Salumi in America”

  • matt

    So did the technique here vary much from the French butchery that we both saw from Dominique and Kate Hill?

  • Sandy Netherton

    Is it cool that I hate you right now? Because I so hate you right now. lol
    That looks Amazing!

    • ruhlman

      i got these pigs from scott, new creations farm in chardon, oh. he sells at the north union farmers market or google and order by phone. he does grass fed beef as well.

      see comment below on knight salami.

      also, we were supposed to have boccalone salumi, but fed ex screwed up. highly recommend it. based in oakland/SF

      salumeria biellese in nyc has some of the very best in the country

  • Karen Downie Makley

    i love the last picture in the lot. so “dude-like”. guys watch guys tuning motorcycles, customizing cars, handling power tools, and yep, butchering hogs.

  • Georgia Pellegrini

    I have this whole part on culatello in my book… do you know Marc Buzzio in New York? He introduced me to it while I was writing about him and taught me to eat it with Lambrusco. Changed my life. Utterly and completely.

    • ruhlman

      we know marc well. his salumi is the best in the country. when’s the book out?! look forward to reading!

      • Georgia Pellegrini

        It’s out September 1st : ) “Food Heroes” is the title… tells the story of 16 people living in different parts of the world who have devoted their lives to preserving a culinary tradition. I love how much Marc fights for his salami, spends money to fight the government and gets so animated. Plus you’re right, it’s the best in the country… It’s a salami worth fighting for.

  • Jason Sandeman

    Wow. The thing I like about you Michael is you walk the talk. You inspire me every single day to keep to the philosophy. You have also shown me that one CAN make the living doing it.

    I cannot wait for your follow-up to Charcuterie. Rest assured, I will preorder it as soon as I can!

  • Rachel (Hounds in the Kitchen)

    Now that I have the experience of butchering a hog American style I can see why other primal orientations would make more sense. Isn’t it fascinating how one process (in cooking or otherwise) can be done so many ways across the world?

    • Deann

      Re: Pig Breakdown in Denver on Saturday, is there a hands on aspect to this class at all?

  • Victoria

    Believe it or not, BOTH of my grandfather’s were butchers.

    My American grandfather had a butcher shop on the Upper West Side about seven blocks from Columbia University. He developed a technique for removing the tendons from turkey legs so they were easier to eat.

    My English grandfather was a pork butcher! His butcher shop was in a town called Bebbington located in the Wirral peninsula. He made those lovely pork pies that you so enjoy, Michael. What I remember most is how differently they bacon a pig in England from the way they do here. Last week I found beautiful rashers of Irish bacon that reminded me of his bacon, and I made Eggs Benedict with it on Sunday morning.

    By the way, Michael, I am always able to make hollandaise without it breaking, but I am never able to keep it over hot water for half an hour, which makes getting the eggs poached and the hollandaise all ready at the same time difficult. I am wondering if getting a good widemouthed Thermos would be the ticket.

    • ruhlman

      thermos works or just make it ahead and reheat it a little before serving. it’s not a sauce you can serve piping hot

    • ian

      Poach your eggs for 3 minutes and shock in an ice bath. make your hollandaise, keep in a warm spot then reheat your poached eggs in simmering water for 1 minute.

  • Karin

    Almost jealous at the thought of not participating in the outcome. That opening shot reminds me of the butcher shops in Cleveland on the Westside when I was growing up.

    Every Saturday, my mother would go to get the week’s supply. Slab bacon, real blackforest ham that is very similar to prosciutto. Salty and smokey and almost tough as leather if it wasn’t cut thin enough.

    My grandfather was a butcher back in Europe. (Never knew him, he passed before I was born.) There were minor efforts that he left behind.

    Fresh sausage, the knowlege of how to butcher a chicken or larger piece of meat; those were the gifts he passed on.

    Thanks for showing us that those skills are still around.

  • Steve


    Could you give us a bit of additional information on your upcoming project? Expected release and general theme (other than charcuterie pt.2)?

    Understood if you can’t, I figured I would ask because I am really looking forward to it. Thanks.

    • ruhlman

      ms due to publisher this sept., meaning a fall 2011 publication most likely.

  • Jim Colwell

    How is the Italian breakdown, different than the Austrian (aka Seam Butchery) that was demoed at Mosefund Farms last year?


    Seems that they would be pretty similar as both designed to maximize product to be cured.

  • lectric lady

    I am completely ashamed to think about the things I would have done in order to have been at that tasting,.

  • Andy

    That pig that Jay is cutting into is definitely not “the other white meat.” Nice post. We still have much to learn from our fellow butchers on the other side of the pond.

  • Ken Albala

    VERY cool. I’m pretty sure I tasted Jay’s coppa at Bob Perry’s house in Kentucky a couple of weeks ago. And I can vouch it was the best I have ever eaten here or in Europe. I nearly fainted.

  • Lindsay

    If you do a tasting again, you should check out some salumi from Salume Beddu in St. Louis. It’s relatively young and they started a few years ago in our farmers market and just opened their shop less than months ago. They make some very tasty stuff… http://www.salumebeddu.com.

  • John

    So many hogs, so little time!
    My grandfather and great uncles were, also, butchers;
    First in Alsace-Lorraine then in Loudonville, Ohio.
    We ancestors of butchers seem to be drawn to you Michael.

  • Alan Hays


    What did you think of the product from Knight Salumi? Love the site, keep up the great work!

  • Lisa S.

    Out here in the middle of the country we like La Quercia salumi from Iowa. Have you tried it? Yum. Pigs and acorns seem to go together.

  • Heath Putnam

    Jim – from what I’ve seen of how Italians cut pigs, they don’t get as much out of the shoulder, because they cut through a bunch of muscles. They get out the coppa – but you could do pretty much the same by taking a shoulder butt and cellar trimming it: http://www.berksupreme.com/berkshire.nsf/x/13BD463AD1EAE6D18625718C00539716

    You can see that in this video showing an Italian cutting up a pig:

    The guy in that video doesn’t derib the first few bones, so the intercostal meat isn’t attached to the neck – as on this cut: http://woolypigs.blogspot.com/2010/06/samuel-adams-boston-lager-cut.html

    Nor does the Italian produce a paleta or paletilla, as you can see here:


    When your pigs are cheap, cutting them up quickly and making a bunch of salami or sausage from the trim is the right thing to do.

    If anyone is really interested in learning seam butchery, I recommend they send me email at hp@woolypigs.com. If you can get to Swiss Missouri when we are killing Mangalitsa pigs, you can learn from a crew that regularly cuts pigs up this way.

    To my knowledge, it is the only USDA-inspected slaughterhouse that cuts pigs up this way.

    Mosefund Farm – based in NJ – recently sent their Mangalitsa pigs from NJ to Swiss, MO to get them killed and cut – because they were the only slaughterhouse that could cut the pigs correctly.


  1.  Internet Tasting Session Friday June 25th 2010