It was Thursday afternoon in the last week of October and inside the Kitchen Porch Catering cookhouse, Kari Underly, a master butcher, traced a thin, sharp blade along the length of a loin, pulling it free with her bare hands. The flesh unfurled onto the industrial kitchen counter, right next to a plump slab of pork belly.
Ms. Underly was with her sidekick for the day, chef and caterer Jan Buhrman, who was mixing herbs, garlic and lard in a stainless steel bowl to create a paste.
They were making porchetta — pork loin and pork belly stuffed with lard and herbs rolled together and tied up with string to set and then roast. It was dinner for the night. The duo had a live audience of eight — restaurant owners, executive chefs, sous chefs, oystermen and rising butchers from all over the country.
The porchetta demonstration would end with a group dinner on day two of Ms. Buhrman’s four-day culinary adventure held Oct. 29 to Nov. 1 called Porks & Knives, a series of workshops for professionals and amateur cooks alike to learn about all things pig, from slaughter to butchery to culinary preparation. The workshops include farm tours as well as hands-on training for slaughtering pigs, removing offal, breaking down and deboning animals, creating smoky stocks, rendering lard and curing meat. This is the third year the event has taken place.
Day three and four include events open to the public. On Friday, a local smoke out was held at the Harbor View Hotel where people paid $35 to eat pulled pork sandwiches from locally raised pigs, drank Bad Martha beer and got down with live country music.
Tonight at 6:30 p.m. is the Heritage Pork Grand Gala, a culmination of the Porks & Knives adventure that will take place at the Harbor View Hotel. A six-course meal (bacon ice cream is on the menu) with discussions on the different techniques and lessons learned will be led by Ms. Buhrman, Ms. Underly and Nathan Gould, the Harbor View Hotel executive chef, who also participated in the week’s pork adventures.
“We’ve been breaking down pigs that we slaughtered yesterday,” Ms. Underly said Thursday. “We’re teaching everyone to use all parts of the pig.”
Why? “A lot of restaurants are looking to make sure nothing goes to waste,” she said.
Mr. Gould, who trained at Johnson & Wales and joined the Harbor View in 2012, already puts the practice to work. At his hotel, pork cheek bolognese and charcuterie plates appear on the menus.
Mr. Gould works closely with local farmers. “I use a lot of meat from the Grey Barn and the Good Farm,” he said. By getting to know his farmers, he learns more about their animals — how they were raised, what they ate and how they were killed.
“Porks & Knives is all about building connections with local farmers and educating yourself about the challenges of what farmers go through,” said Ms. Buhrman.
Ms. Underly, a third generation butcher whose grandmothers and father were all butchers, is the author of The Art of Beef Cutting: A Meat Professional’s Guide to Butchering and Merchandising, which was nominated for a James Beard Award and an International Association of Culinary Professional’s Award two years ago.
“Education is so important,” she said, which is why she jumped at the chance to come to the Vineyard when she met Ms. Buhrman back in March at a women’s chef and restaurant convention in Chicago, where she lives. They have been planning the event since April.
“She told me about Porks & Knives and asked if I would be interested in doing some teaching for it and I said yeah, of course,” Ms. Underly said. She had never been to the Vineyard before, but it wasn’t a hard sell. “It’s really beautiful here,” she said. But what really brought her to the Island, she said, was a chance to teach people about her profession: butchery.
“There aren’t many true butchers — people who break down the whole animal — left,” Ms. Underly said.
“Chefs don’t have a lot of time and a lot of restaurants are looking to make sure nothing goes to waste,” she added. She’s been teaching butchery for over 20 years, and she shared tips throughout the week with the eight chef participants at Porks & Knives.
“People should talk to their meat cutters, their butchers,” said Ms. Underly, adding: “You can ask for special orders. You can ask your butcher what his favorite cut is. I think there’s a hesitation because there’s this big burly guy in the back, and that can be intimidating, but it’s good to get to know him.”
Ms. Underly has taught the art of butchery to women and men of all ages.
On Thursday, four students from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School culinary arts program visited the Kitchen Porch for an hour to learn about butchery and cooking from Ms. Underly, Ms. Buhrman and Mr. Gould. They got a front-row seat for a lesson on making Chinese pork sausage.
“I’ve never seen sausage getting made before,” said 16-year-old Amber Willoughey, a junior from Vineyard Haven, as she watched Chef Gould unravel a lamb casing a few feet in front of her.
“I’m thinking about being a chef,” she said of plans after high school. “Cooking makes me happy.”
Another young chef watching was 17-year-old Dakota Fogg, a senior at the high school.
“I grew up watching my mom cook in the kitchen and I thought, I want to do that. So now I’m just learning as much as I can,” Dakota said.
Later that day, the eight Porks & Knives participants untied their aprons, took off their chef coats and swapped cooking clogs for tennis shoes to make a trip up-Island to the Allen Farm. Ms. Buhrman led Ms. Underly and the chefs around the farm and introduced everyone to farmers Clarissa Allen and Mitchell Posin.
There are no pigs at the Allen Farm this time of year, but Ms. Buhrman wanted to show participants a good example of successful biodynamic farming to supplement the message of knowing your food and your farmer.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s pigs or oysters or sheep,” Ms. Buhrman said. “It’s sustainability and what you put on your plate.”
Participants watched a compost tea demonstration, looked inside the farm’s greenhouse and roamed the oceanfront sheep farm where pasture-raised lambs grazed on rich green grass.
Gazing across the rolling hills, Kendra Smith a sous chef from Canada, and Theary So, a chef de cuisine at an oyster bar in Washington, D.C., smiled.
“I’ve learned a lot here,” said Ms. So.
“Me too,” said Ms. Smith. “I can’t wait to go back to work and apply some of this.”
The sun began to set and the chefs grew hungry so the Swine & Dine group headed to Ms. Buhrman’s house to feast on a delicious porchetta dinner.
The Heritage Pork Grand Gala is Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at the Harbor View Hotel. Tickets are $125 and can be purchased online at kitchenporch.com.