If you were walking by Loews Hotel on Sunday, you might have noticed a distinctly porky scent in the air. Yes: Cochon 555 was here.
A national tour promoting heritage breed pigs, Cochon 555 provides five local chefs each with… a whole heritage breed pig. Each chef then creates and serves up a variety of plates, ranging, in this case, from mini pork pies to blood pudding to andouille sausage to chicharrón toffee.
Punch-making and wine-pairing competitions complemented the main event, as did a whole-hog butchering demo, performed by Fulton Brewing’s Scott Pampuch and culinary students from Saint Paul College. (Yes, it was a little like Lord of the Flies.)
The cuts from this hog were auctioned off, the money going to Piggy Bank, a nonprofit organization all about supporting independent farmers (and swine). As easier-to-raise commodity pigs have taken over, heritage breed ones are becoming rarer and rarer. It’s cause for concern, as porkers of the heritage breed variety are far more genetically diverse and usually require more sustainable and humane living conditions than their commodity cousins. Not only is heritage pork tastier, there’s a case to be made that it’s better for the environment. Luckily, the event on Sunday raised $10,500 for Piggy Bank, and the nearly 600 attendees--jostling for the many pork-centric plates--suggest heritage breed pork continues to be in demand.
For the Minneapolis competition, Daniel Del Prado of Martina, Timothy Fischer of Loews Hotel, Russell Klein of Meritage, Remy Pettus of Bardo, and Karyn Tomlinson of Corner Table served up rich, beautifully crafted dishes showcasing the distinctive flavors of their hogs. The winner of the competition was awarded four days in Rioja, Spain, and will go on to compete in the Grand Cochon in Chicago in late September.
It’s Karyn Tomlinson of Corner Table who will spend a few days in hog heaven; she stole the show with her menu of Swedish spareribs, a Sunday ham sandwich, and an apple pie topped with liver ice cream. Winner of the somm smackdown was Erin Rolek of Bachelor Farmer with Les Capriades, NV Méthod Ancestrale ‘Pynoz’ Rose from the Loire Valley in France. Dustin Nguyen of Martina took home the trophy for Punch Kings with his Murakami Tea, which combined milk-washed, tea infused Breckenridge Bourbon, makrut liqueur, spearmint, hibiscus, citrus, and carbonated water.
It’s true that heritage breed pork is not within everyone’s reach. Because these pigs take more time to grow, their meat is more expensive and harder to find. So how can this pork become more accessible?
Cochon 555 hopes, with its events, to spread the good word, encouraging attendees to shop for it and ask their stores and local restaurants to serve it. If demand increases, perhaps supply can, too. Plus, Cochon’s support of Piggy Bank offers a possibly replicable template for other organizations in other parts of the agricultural world. Genetic diversity in what we consume is important not only for our diets, but for our environment. The more we can support that, the better.