By the end of the week, stock, lard, foie gras, Italian sausage, bratwurst, breakfast sausage and rich salami would be plentiful around the premises of caterer Kitchen Porch. But on Tuesday morning, it was all bones, soft fat, lean fat and dark red pieces of lean flank meat, neatly stacked in individual piles in front of Francois Vecchio.
Mr. Vecchio is a world-renowned master of artisanal meat, and this week he tutored nearly a dozen farmers, chefs and amateurs in the ways of the fine art of salumi making.
Salumiere (Italian), charcutier (French), wurstmeister (German), whichever way you slice it, Mr. Vecchio is one of the most sought-after meat teachers in the world.
Tuesday was the second day of the weeklong Porks and Knives event held at Kitchen Porch. This was a series of workshops taught by Mr. Vecchio that began with slaughtering of pigs and ended with curing of meat.
A third-generation salumiere, Mr. Vecchio has over 50 years experience in the meat industry across the world. But now the master wants to pass the torch, and America is one of his greatest challenges.
“I am responding to something happening in America, which is caused by the regulation of the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture],” he said of the agency which oversees meat regulation. “The result is very mediocre product that you find in your supermarket . . . there is no respect for [animal] life. The focus is on maximizing the return.”
“People need to rediscover the relationship of products through their taste buds and not through believing the brand that is hammered on us by the marketing kids, because the marketing kid is under the order to make the most return.”
In the process of seeking more information, chefs have “discovered the old guy” who has taught in Switzerland, Germany, France and Italy.
“Chefs are now into the rediscovery of salumerie and the old tradition of Europe, because they want to do something by themselves. They want to know what the meat is and where the animal comes from. There is that responsibility and identification with the product and they want to do something.”
For Mr. Vecchio, who now lives in Alaska, quality over quantity starts with the animal and ends with consumption. American meat companies tend to use a bandsaw to butcher their meat, Mr. Vechhio said. But the old European traditional technique is the “natural form,” following the lines of the animal with a knife to maximize the amount of meat from the carcass while maintaining the highest quality.
Students participated in the slaughtering of the eight pigs, which were donated by Kitchen Porch owner Jan Burhman and her husband Richard Osnoss. Mr. Vecchio pointed to several pig legs, waiting to be cured into ham.
“In America . . . they separate the sirloin on the ham and the sirloin is an essential part of the ham,” he said. “We respect that and make a ham that will be dry cured . . . most American hams are completely void of fat and instead injected with brine to make them juicy. That’s the kind of ham on a sandwich that you need at least one inch thick to feel something because you just mostly added water.”
“In this case it will be dry-salted, which will extract the moisture and develop an aroma over time,” he continued. “In the industry it takes 24 hours. This will take over three weeks to be done and you will get the old fashioned ham flavor, much more dense...and leave the fat and everything in its natural state.”
Students used their knives to the best of their ability.
“They’re doing pretty well, so far they haven’t destroyed anything,” he laughed. “This guy is using his knife in reverse.”
“Leave the seam on the back fat,” he said to a student. “Look to the seam one notch beyond. No, no, the other side. There, that’s the place.”
“These guys have never held a knife before, it’s really extreme,” he said. “Then you have chefs with experience of holding a knife, farmers who do their own pigs and want to learn a bit more.”
Even with some novices under his tutelage, Mr. Vecchio offered praise. Vineyarders are “definitely intelligent, smart people” who are “focused on the solution and not just talking about it,” he said.
“They want to learn and to understand how to do it,” he said. “For me, it’s fantastic to talk to people like that . . . and they want to share. So they have that open, giving attitude as opposed to just taking advantage of a new skill.”
This weekend Porks and Knives gives way to Swine and Dine, held at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. Tonight, Nov. 16, Everett Whiting and Tim Laursen serve up Local Smoke pulled pork sandwiches, with Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish serenading eaters.
For a complete list and prices, visit kitchenporch.com.