Friday, June 18, 2010

Missouri Trip

I'm back from Missouri.

Thanks to Swiss Meat & Sausage Company, Wooly Pigs finally has Speck like what I ate in Austria 3.5 years ago. There's speck from the belly and from the jowl. Ours is a dry-cured, cold-smoked bacon, hung until it loses around 30% of its weight, making it shelf stable. It is flavored with juniper, so it tastes quite Austrian.

I'm delighted to have a bunch of Speck - the sort of Mangalitsa products that inspired me to found Wooly Pigs in the first place. Looking at all that goes into the product, I can't believe how many things we've had to get right to make the product the best it can be.

On Wednesday, we had our big day at the slaughterhouse. Various chefs and media from Missouri (invited by Josh Galliano of Monarch Restaurant) got to see how Swiss kills and cuts our pigs. Josh did a great job getting a bunch of heavy hitters out there. They all had to get up early and drive out to the middle of nowhere.

We started by feeding them the Speck and lardo, so they'd see right off the bat that the pigs are special. This mirrored my own experience, in early 2007.

Then they saw some pigs get slaughtered. Because we'd killed pigs the day before, the visitors got to see those pigs cut. Swiss did a great job accomodating and educating the participants. I did my best to explain the various things that Swiss does to give us what we need.

The visitors weren't freaked out by the slaughter, which was a concern that Mike and I had. l'm happy that got to see what a dirty and dangerous job it is, and what a good job Swiss does.

We concluded with a lunch, where people ate the Speck, lardo, cooked meat and other things like cookies made with lard - and some incredible baked apples (made with lard).

When it was all over, a few chefs bought meat. We had special prices that day to encourage the chefs to buy.

I'm grateful to all the chefs who chose to purchase meat. Of them, Jimmy Fiala really stood out, because he bought so much. Jimmy is the owner of The Crossing and a few other STL restaurants. He's bought our products before, via Foods in Season, so he's quite familiar with our products' capabilities. I figure the visit to the new plant, plus the nice new cuts, convinced him to buy a lot.

Of the various guests, I'm betting Kevin Nashan and Josh Galliano will make it out to Swiss again, to learn seam butchery techniques from Swiss. It wouldn't surprise me if Keven even works on the kill floor too, to get the entire experience. I'd like to do that myself one day.

After the show-and-tell, I visited two major Missouri meat processors, to explore opportunities related to our pork. It really helped to have the speck for them to sample. Quite simply: given a product, meat processors can imagine how they'd produce something similar, how it compares to what's in the market, etc. They can't necessarily do that if you just bring them some raw material - e.g. a raw belly or jowl.

Finally, the first load of chilled meat heads to New York today (Friday). Hopefully that will go smoothly. It is a big deal to start sending chilled meat anywhere; obviously we'll have to do that to sell lots of pork.

I'll write more about the trip later.

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