With so many neighbors getting together to purchase whole carcasses from local meat CSAs, area food educators have stepped up to offer courses in “nose-to-tail eating.” What’s the deal, and why should you care? Omnivores, read on.

So, What Do I Do With This Pig’s Head?

The phrase “nose-to-tail” was coined by London chef Fergus Henderson in his instant 2004 classic, The Whole Beast. But the philosophy hearkens back to the days when much care and passion went into preparing meat dishes and not one juicy bit was spared.

A good example? Porchetta, the unofficial darling of the Portland foodie crowd, is a traditional Italian preparation. You can find porchetta sandwich interpretations at food carts (Lardo, The People’s Pig), or you can learn to prepare it on your own. It’s the entire body of a pig, deboned, carefully taken apart and stuffed (herbs, meat, fat, vegetables), then put back together in its original shape and roasted on a spit. Whew. Makes me tired just thinking about it.

And maybe it should. That’s what nose-to-tail enthusiasts say.

Tressa Yellig of Salt, Fire & Time slicing pork liver.
Tressa Yellig of Salt Fire & Time slicing pork liver.

“Using every part of the animal not only honors the life and death of the animal and encourages a no-waste mentality but from a nutrition perspective, this truly satisfies a philosophy of whole foods eating,” says Tressa Yellig, of Salt Fire & Time. “All parts of the animal are intended to be eaten in the course of its breaking down, because in collaboration they digest better. The fats, proteins, enzymes, and minerals are all in different concentrations in different parts of the animal, and are [all] needed to finish a complete protein profile.”

Nose-to-tail eating not only offers greater nutritional integrity and a broader range of flavor, but it engages the chef in a more holistic cooking experience.

“As people learn more about whole animal butchery, they are exposed to just that, the whole animal,” says Portland’s own Berlin Reed, The Ethical Butcher. “Scrambled brains and pâtés, learning to use caul fat, creating the perfect bone broth—these are all techniques one picks up along the way.”

Watch his site for announcements of upcoming dinners, classes, and events, part of his Bacon Gospel and Heritage Breed Supper Club series, and consider one of the following offerings from Portland’s whole-animal experts.

Portland Meat Collective

Portland Meat Collective butchery class. Photo: © Lisa Teso 2011
Portland Meat Collective butchery class. Photo: © Lisa Teso 2011

Founder Camas Davis learned classic butchery techniques from a family of traditional butchers in France, then brought the art home to Portland. PMC is a self-billed meat CSA and “traveling butchery school,” offering a wide variety of classes all over the city. Choose from: Lamb Butchery & Cookery, Ladies Only Butchery Class, Basic Pig Butchery for Home Charcuterie, Sausage Making, and something called French Seam Butchery (coming up on March 16) which is a traditional European method of breaking down animals according to their muscle seams (American butchery tends to cut through muscle).

Various Locations

Salt Fire & Time

Preparing organ meats is on of the skills you can learn at Salt, Fire & Time.
Preparing organ meats is one of the skills you can learn at Salt Fire & Time.

To cover nose-to-tail cooking skills within the context of a balanced dietary philosophy, consider SFT’s four-day Traditional Foods Cooking Intensive, “a hands-on crash course... in all the tools needed to embrace this style of eating as a lifestyle change.” Learn to prepare organ meats and pastured meats, fermented dairy and pickled vegetables and more, in addition to the basics of seasonal eating and menu-planning.
At Yellig’s Portland kitchen: April 7-10, 10am-5pm, and in Austin, TX May 19-22
(See website for a full list of other courses)

1902 NW 24th Avenue
Portland, OR 97210

Kookoolan Farms

Learn how to butcher your own chickens.
Learn how to butcher your own chickens at Kookoolan Farms.

Learn to humanely kill and butcher a chicken in your own backyard, just like grandma used to do. How to Butcher Your Own Chicken gives you the “opportunity, but not the obligation, to actually kill a chicken.” BYOC (bring your own chicken) or butcher one on the farm. As of press time, there were two seats left in the March 12th class. Spaces are available for the May 14 class.

15713 Highway 47
Yamhill, Oregon 97148

Portland’s Culinary Workshop

Portland's Culinary Workshop Snout to Tail class.
Portland's Culinary Workshop Snout to Tail class. Photo: Portland's Culinary Workshop

It doesn’t get much more direct than Snout to Tail (lamb, pig, or chicken) a basic course coming up on March 19th. Or consider Mind your Meat Mistress, and learn basic animal anatomy for the benefit of both your plate and your wallet. As the Workshop hosts put it, “if you know how it’s put together, you can take it apart with ease.” Or impress your friends with the poultry equivalent of porchetta, Turducken:Part 1.

807 N Russell Street
Portland, OR 97227

Hmmm….What If I Don’t Want to Do It Myself?

Portland Meat Collective.
Portland Meat Collective. Photo: © Lisa Teso 2011

Not ready to invest in a class?

“Grab some books, read some good blogs and watch YouTube videos, grab a few sharp knives, and jump in,” says Berlin Reed. He recommends Primal Cuts by Marissa Guggiana and the new national organization of butchers, the Butcher's Guild. Also check out Nose to Tail at Home, one man’s chronicle of preparing everything in Henderson’s cookbook.

For the flavors of nose-to-tail without the commitment to DIY, visit Chop Butchery for offal (organ meats), The Country Cat for porchetta as part of the Hog Plate (four different cuts from different parts of the animal,) and Laurelhurst Market for sit-down dinners and award-winning butchery.

Melissa Reeser has been a vegetarian/pescetarian for 15 years, and found herself seriously tempted while researching and writing this piece