Underground, Whole Hog butchery

Garin Fons, left, coaches Matt Martini on how to separate the ham, loin, belly and shoulder on a side of pork during a recent Whole Hog butchery class at Underground Food Collective.


At only 145 pounds “hanging weight,” Charlotte was a relatively small Duroc hog. Alive, she probably weighed closer to 190 pounds and could put on up to a pound a day.

Knowing the food down to the specific details, from what a pig ate to what its last few hours of life were like and, yes, even its name, is one part of Underground Food Collective’s Whole Hog class.

In February, UFC offered two separate four-hour lessons in butchery, teaching groups of 10 amateur cooks about how to separate primal and sub-primal cuts and where bacon comes from.

The point of the classes, in UFC’s near east side kitchen, is less to train a new crop of butchers and more to foster a sense of connection between Madisonians and what we eat.

“You rarely get to see something like this, where you start as close to the source as possible,” said Garin Fons, a collective member and the teacher of the class. “With any meat, it’s like, ‘I didn’t know that’s where my rack of lamb came from, I don’t know how a pork chop comes off, I didn’t know it took that long to get bacon made.’ ”

At a recent class, Matt Martini was the first to volunteer. As Fons talked him through, Martini cleared the meat of small glands and detritus, cut off the leaf lard (gold to pastry chefs), removed the tenderloin and separated the ham at the joint.

“My concern right away was, I’m going to destroy this tenderloin,” said Martini, a business consultant who lives in Madison.

Martini’s nervousness wasn’t evident in the way he approached the pig, sawing through the rib cage and separating the meat into primal cuts. As he laid out the pieces, suddenly there were the pork chops, the ribs, the perfectly squared piece of belly for bacon or pancetta.

Fons usually works with Red Wattle hogs, which are better for ham- and shoulder-based cured meats. The Duroc has “a good distribution of fat and meat,” a quality prized in heritage breed hogs.

“We’re working with a farmer who helps us grow the hogs that we want,” Fons said. “It comes out to being anywhere from 20 to 30 percent fat. These are not lean hogs; these are not supermarket-style pork chops.”

Martini has a smoker at home and would love to someday learn how to cure meat.

“I do enjoy cooking so much,” Martini said. “Like (Fons) said, you take part in every aspect of cooking, from the killing of the beast to the butchering and the cooking.”

Similarly, Stacy Stocki was more influenced by her love of sausage and “Top Chef” than a desire to dismantle a pig. “I don’t anticipate ever going to a butcher and saying, ‘Hey, can I have half a hog?’ ” she said. “But to learn more about the food you’re eating and where it all comes from … I think people lack that.”

Class members left with some 12 pounds of meat — tenderloins, ribs, bacon, pork chops and sirloin cuts. Fons concluded the class with a spread of salami and other tasty bites, like pickles and local cheese.

“The culture’s changing,” Fons said. “People are producing really good quality meats in the U.S., and one of the spots that can really shine is the Midwest.

“It’s more than summer sausage and brats.”