Slicing the pig in half.

Organs and viscera removed. Christoph cuts through the center of the spine with saw and cleaver. (I took all the photos and the video below.)

Christoph Wiesner, the Austrian butcher who raises Mangalitsa, is always tense before the kill. Last year, he told me, yes, he was nervous because it wasn’t his pig, the pig didn’t know him, he couldn’t know what the pig would do. Under normal circumstances the pigs have spent their lives with him and the week before they are done in, he brings the captive bolt, the stunning device, into pens so the pigs are used to even that. The pigs are calm throughout. This year, at Pigstock in Traverse City, MI, Christoph was not only unfamiliar to the pig, he was miked so that his every word echoed through speakers. Furthermore our crowd gathered around to witness the kill. Our Mangalitsa was clearly thinking “This can’t be good.” But it was over quickly (the full video is at the end of this post, along with Christoph’s careful and descriptive evisceration; if you need to know how, here it is).

A half hour after cleanly stunning the pig, with the pig on the table scraped of all its wooly fur, Christoph showed signs of ease. His clenched jaw and uneasy eyes were gone. He smiled and said, “The stun was good, the stick was good, the hair is off. Now, I am happy.”

No small thing to kill another animal, one that weighs more than you, no less. His stick was perfect—”you learn by doing,” he said—this was clear when he split the hog. He showed us where the bolt had penetrated the skull into the brain (not much there, by the way, each lobe about the size of an apricot). The muscle showed no sign of stress, and the organs were evidence that the pig had been well tended and was healthy.

Would that more chefs had access to this kind of experience because, for those who cook and serve and eat meat, it encourages careful and thoughtful treatment of our animals, of all our food. Thank you Christoph and Isabel, and Chip Hoagland and his team for organizing Pigstock yet again.

Two things I came away with this time was how well the Mangalitsa, which is out of favor with chefs here due to the overabundance of fat, can be used when broken down properly (Christoph removed each rib individually, to preserve the meat between the ribs, for example). A restaurant wouldn’t want to only bring in Mangalitsa, but they could be a useful part of a larger pork program. Also, I was reminded of the importance of practice, of doing the same thing over and over, when I watched Polcyn work; he has become a masterful butcher since I first met him in 1997.

I truly hope that readers here will seek out their local farmers for humanely raised and killed and thoughtfully butchered meat.

Below are pix from a big pig week with my partner in Charcuterie and SalumiBrian Polcyn, beginning in Stonington, Maine, where Brian lead a two-day pig demo for chefs and food enthusiasts (one chef, bless him, drove up from Philadelphia) to promote a culinary institute on that island.

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The Mangalitsa shortly before the kill at Black Star Farms (an extraordinary place, worth visiting if you’re ever in northern Michigan).

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Captive bolts, the typical stunning device, cost I was told about $1500. The single pig in Maine was put down with this rifle.

IMG_2326After removing the liver and examining it for signs of parasites (none), Christoph cut pieces of it for observers to taste. It was warm and only mildly livery, pleasantly succulent and minerally.

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Christoph and Isabel Wiesner, husband and wife farmers since the mid-1990s, when they decided they wanted to grow more of their own food. It’s now how they make a living for themselves and their four children. This is before the kill and they are both nervous.

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Fresh pig’s blood makes extraordinary blood sausage. Brian made the best I’ve had in my life in sort of a last-minute demo in Maine.

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Brian in Brooksville, Maine, demonstrating both American and Italian hog breakdown. The woman who raised the pig is at the right. She was nearly in tears at the end of the communal meal, grateful for once to be able to share in the cooking and the eating of the animal she had raised with people who treated it with such care.

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Christoph talks with the chefs before he demonstrates his method of hog breakdown.

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This was a small Mangalitsa, but still, you can see the abundance of fat and relatively scant amount of meat (thus the need for careful butchery).

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I posted on this earlier, but the difference between a factory hog and a farm-raised Berkshire-Duroc or Mangalitsa is enormous, as Brian demonstrates here. Notice the paltry belly at left. Now that was a poorly treated pig, and shame on us for it.

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Isabel’s footwear.

The Kill

This is a video of the kill. The pig is clearly nervous because of all the people and the scary Austrian with the captive bolt.

The Evisceration, part one

This was a male, so Christoph took care of that part first (it had been removed long ago, but the interior part needed to be separated), then works his way down the pig in a clean evisceration, organ by organ.

The Evisceration, part two

Conclusion of the evisceration (showing the gall bladder, which you can put down your disposal to help remove grease; which is what it does in our personal disposal).

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© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

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19 Wonderful responses to “Highlights from Pigstock TC”

  • DJK

    Right now I’m wondering if a Mangalitsa pork shoulder would make for an even more perfect version of Carolina BBQ.

  • Ruthy @ Omeletta

    Absolutely fascinating. Very much hope I get a chance to attend Pigstock next year- and the images of the people who raised their pigs before the slaughter are why it’s so important to be mindful about your food.

  • ABB

    This is very interesting – thanks for posting. Why do they stir the blood in the bowl as the pig is being drained? Will it coagulate or separate otherwise?

  • former butcher

    Interesting. We would have split the brisket and removed abdominal and thoracic viscera together in one motion. My best butcher could do that in about 30 seconds. I think it would have been better if he had all the viscera out before separating the spleen, caul fat, etc. But I’m being picky, speaking of which, the knife handle in the mouth drives me crazy.
    My main issue is with the stunning and bleeding. I’ve used the “squeezing in the gate” method of cornering a hog thousands of times; but it still gives the hog freedom to move its head, which you don’t want. A head restraining device was not to my liking either, since a hog would never stick its head into one without harsh measures of persuasion, and once you closed the gate tight the hog would scream bloody murder. I won’t go into detail, but the hog stunning box was life changing. Hog discomfort was kept to a minimum, and I didn’t have to worry about my butcher hitting a non lethal part of the hog (or himself). The target is about the size of a quarter.
    I was surprised at the amount of time he allowed to lapse between the stunning and sticking. It was my experience (and that of every butcher I knew), that if you didn’t stick the hog almost immediately after stunning, you were likely to find “agonal hemorrhage” throughout the meat, but particularly in the neck and shoulders.
    All in all, though, he did a good job. I particularly liked the small stick wound. Not an easy thing to do.

    • Michael Ruhlman

      Remember he was demoing this for 40 people. I’m sure if you saw him do it on the farm, it would be better. though chirstolph will always hold the knife in his mouth. bad habits hard to break.

      • former butcher

        Something ALWAYS goes wrong during a “demo”. Especially if media are involved. I would certainly hire a butcher with Christoph’s skills; but the knife in the mouth would have to go….

  • Joe Wiercinski

    My German uncle directed the hog slaughter I watched in fascination as a curious 6-year-old. I had already seen – and helped – with chicken butchering by that age on our farm so the adults didn’t mind my being present for the kill and butchering. This video took me back to those days and the making of kielbasa, kiszka and all the other processing that was directed by my Polish grandmother. Christoph, Brian, Michael, et. al., you guys and gals rock!

    • former butcher

      Bile….when you throw up, vomit…..that harsh taste in the back of your throat? That’s bile, from your gall bladder. It breaks down fat, so your digestive system can incorporate it. Otherwise fat would clog your gut long before it had time to enter your bloodstream and do damage to your arteries.
      There was a time when gall stones were worth some serious money in Asian markets, and we used to strain beef gall (the gall bladder lies right atop the liver on red meat animals) in hope of finding gall stones. Following slaughter house lore, we would dump this bile on things like the viscera pans; where we would find that the gall (bile), had dissolved the fat, and we wouldn’t have to scrub it with a steel wool pad.. I never tried in a disposal, but I imagine it would work there too.

  • Bob Drinkrow

    Man.. I live in Traverse City and had no idea this was going on. I wish it would have been advertised better, I just checked their BlogSpot page. I wish I would have made it.

  • scott

    Did I miss it, or was there a scalding or other hair removal step that wasn’t shown in the videos? (Incidentally, those are some HAIRY pigs!)

  • Daniel mungai

    Hi all. you should all visit this part of the globe {AFRICA} where animals are raised in the natural environment. There is a lot for you to learn.

  • Diana Johnson

    Hi Michael! I totally have such a tender heart, seemingly more so now that I’m a mom. I eat animals, but local ones who have been raised humanely. I feel like I need to attend some slaughters because I don’t feel like I should eat them unless I’m willing to experience that part of the process. SO, my question is, it seemed like the pig was moving during the stick. Did the bolt kill it instantly or does it take a little while for it to die? I was surprised at how quiet and peaceful it actually was. Not what I was expecting. Hope you and Donna are doing well!

  • Elisabeth Heinicke

    This was by all accounts a marvelous day – but I must say that I’m very disappointed to see that Deborah Evans, the ‘woman who raised the pig’, is not credited at all other than the careless comment above, that not even mentions her name.
    She runs a small organic farm, Bagaduce Farm in Brooksville, ME, with one cow, some hogs, chickens and quail, and sheis extremely committed to local, wholesome food – as the quality of the pig attests to. There is no mention of the fact that she DONATED the pig to the event. In the caption to the image of the pig blood (the blood that made the ‘extraordinary sausage’, the ‘best I’ve had’,) you fail to mention that she hand-stirred the blood for several hours (that’s her hand in the picture) so that it wouldn’t coagulate.
    To simply refer to her as ‘the woman who….’ appears to me elitist, narcissistic, and negligent.