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Splotch and Me


The author eating Splotch's shank.  

By November, Splotch had made it to 190 pounds. His haunches had grown bulky. He had jowls. A roll of telltale fat had begun to appear behind his head.

December 1 came weirdly mild—50 degrees—but windy and gray. The sun never really got up in earnest. At around 7 a.m., two farmhands—one with dreadlocks, the other a bespectacled student type—ushered Splotch and fourteen other pigs into a steel-sided trailer and parked it by the farmhouse.

The slaughterhouse Yezzi uses—Eagle Bridge Custom Meats—processes pigs on Wednesdays, beef on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and “small animals” (lambs, goats, sheep) on Fridays. Normally, Yezzi takes his pigs there on Tuesday night, so that they can stay overnight in pens and calm down from the stress of the trailer ride from the farm. This time, Tuesday rain made Yezzi move the ride to Wednesday morning.

The pigs picked for slaughter that day were the last of the year to come off the hill—the largest ones of the batch, plus one smaller one for a client who had requested an Old Spot. The trailer stood outside, hitched to Yezzi’s truck, while the farmer’s family finished breakfast. Jen had fried some bacon to go with the eggs this morning, a surprisingly rare treat in the household. “There’s not much bacon on one pig, and it sells for $15 a pound,” she said. “So I look at it and I think, This could be another $15 toward day care.

Charlie, the couple’s 4-year-old son, ran out and peeked inside the trailer. “Don’t touch the lock, or all the pigs will run out,” said one of the farmhands. At 7:30 or so, Jane, their 7-year-old daughter, got picked up by the school bus. Splotch spent most of his time in the trailer with his snout in another pig’s side. “At least they’re not cold and wet,” said Yezzi, climbing into the truck’s cab.

At the slaughterhouse, Yezzi maneuvered the trailer in reverse until the tailgate slid into the front of the wooden pen used to collect the animals.

“How many, twelve?” asked a bearded man in a yellow apron, opening the gate.

“Fifteen,” Yezzi said.

The pigs went from the trailer into the pen as if trained for the act—no confusion, no oinking, no backpedaling. Splotch was in the middle of the group. His mud-caked haunches flashed one last time from behind the plastic fringe curtain hung over the pen’s door, and that was it. Within seconds, Splotch and the others were gone. “They didn’t seem agitated at all,” Yezzi said with quiet satisfaction.

Slaughterhouse rules prohibit visitors from witnessing the killing process, but what happened next was basically this: Splotch and the others were led, one at a time, into a kind of narrow chute. The width had been adjusted from the “beef” to “pig” setting, giving the pigs just enough room to move forward but not to turn around. At the end of the chute, a man with a three-foot electric wand touched the wand’s prongs—positive and negative—to the fat roll on the back of each pig’s neck. The animal fell to the floor. Another worker then wrapped a chain around its hind legs, hoisted him up, and cut his throat. It was then that the pig was dead. The blood was drained into a stainless-steel pan. Next, the animal was placed in a “scalder,” a barrel filled with 150-degree water, to loosen its bristles; automated rubber paddles were used to scrub the bristles off. When the pig was hoisted back up, the workers pull off its hooves. The organs were carefully removed so as not to break the gut or burst the gall bladder (possible sources of contamination). The cavity was rinsed. A USDA inspector reviewed the carcass, and it was transferred to the fridge. By the time Yezzi had pulled the trailer away from the pen and put the tailgate up, Splotch had been slaughtered and processed.

For easier transport and sale, pigs are split in half, becoming “sides.” Most kitchens order a whole side and break it down in-house (unlike beef, pork is relatively easy to butcher). One side of Splotch would go to Telepan on the Upper West Side; the other was headed to Savoy, a Soho restaurant that helped pioneer the farm-to-table movement.

Last Tuesday at 8 p.m., accompanied by two guests, I sat down at a table at Savoy. When Splotch had arrived at the restaurant the previous Friday morning, chef Ryan Tate had praised the meat’s excellent marbling: “You get a nice sear on the outside and all that buttery fat.” The restaurant’s butcher, Jaime, had removed Splotch’s head and broken down his carcass into shoulder, ribs, and leg. The skin was peeled off, boiled, and cut into strips for chicharrones, or pork cracklings. The shoulder was boned, with thick white ropes of fat pulled off and reserved for housemade mortadella and chorizo. The rib cage yielded nine good-size chops. The ham, which Tate dehydrates for nine months until it reaches prosciutto-like texture, wouldn’t be ready until next August. Once fully cured, a ham lasts about three weeks at Savoy, meaning the last material bits of Splotch will likely be eaten on the corner of Crosby and Prince Streets sometime in September 2011. Splotch’s culinary afterlife will be several months longer than his life.

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