Pigs make you do strange things.
It's a cold, cold January morning, and fifteen people are standing on a freezing cold concrete floor in a cold abattoir a few miles outside of Kanturk, in north County Cork.
We are watching and taking notes as Jack and Tim McCarthy, father and son butchers, fourth-and-fifth-generation father and son butchers, are showing us how to dismember a pig. Seven or eight porkers are hanging from hooks at the door of the abattoir as we are shown how to bone out a belly, how to French-trim a rack of pork, how to cut McCarthy's signature pork t-bone, how to take the aitch bone out of a shoulder, and a whole lot more.
Would we do this for a bevy of lambs, or even pedigree cows? Would the sheen of an Angus bull get us out of bed in the darkness of mid-winter? No way. With lambs and cows we would surely wait until the afternoon, after we had all enjoyed a good lunch, before venturing out into the wilds of County Cork.
But pigs are different. Pigs make us obsessive. The gathering is a mixture of urbanites and rural dwellers, chefs and small-holders. We are all wannabees, pig wannbees. We want to look out our window and see some porkers oinking, and rolling in the mud. My pigs. We have visions of rings of perfect sausages, and porcetta. Mention the word “bath” and we ask what the saline content is. “Brawn” for us isn't a macho term: it's what you do with the pig's head. We can see our hands, dripping blood as we make our own black pudding, and it's a delightful imagining.
Jack and Tim McCarthy have tapped into our imaginings and, creative and dynamic guys that they are, have started to do Pig In A Day classes. After the abattoir, we head back to their shop to talk about nitrates and nitrites, then in the afternoon it's sausages, and then puddings bring the day to a close. Salt and sugar and blood and flesh, and aphoristic mutterings from Jack – “It's hands, you need hands to judge an animal, you need the hands.”
Suddenly, we all want to have “the hands”, all of us account exec's and writers and cooks have a new ambition: not just the pig in the field, but the judgement to know when the pig is ready, to have “the hands” to know when it's time for the chop, to have “the hands” to know when it's time to say goodbye.
Pigs. They make you do the strangest things.
The next Pig In A Day course is planned for April 26th, and there are plans for the courses to be held in Dublin. www.jackmccarthy.ie