From Home sapiens to Homo erectus, reasons why Cochon’s Heritage Fire & Heritage BBQ is making a difference in the food industry.
Just like a good man named Ed Mitchell, I believe in honest food, real flavor and tasty BBQ. Believe it or not, the Cochon 555 Tour is actually a by-product of reading Pollan’s A Omnivore’s Dilemma way back when. After reading it, I was inspired to evolve my successful business model of pairing artisan wine with craft cheeses for private and public clients, which of course included great chefs cooking great food, to include the story of heritage breed pigs. This was a new frontier, a place where no one was focusing on the importance of educational content – and I believe this is why trends fizzle out and die. They are cool, but we don’t stick around for the core meaning, or to support those busting their ass to do it the right way. Hard work slips to a new exciting trend, and that my friends is why traditions fade, why the work preservation is only reserved for museums and libraries. So I enter the game, applying a sexy, appealing event around the subject of Heritage Breed Pigs, all awhile touting artisan cheese, amazing wines, and great producers of independent ideas.
Backing up to the genesis, the pairings business of wine and cheese (Taste Network) grew to include my Kudzu Supper Club, where the start was all about doing dinner events differently. It was all about the “handshake”. I saw a ton of chefs and farmers missing the connection due to an impatient model of cell phone cut-offs for 2pm next day (anything from produce to protein), to slashing food costs, to minimal patience of where real, honest food was coming from. I loved what Jim Denevan was doing with Outstanding in the Field, and that combined with reading Pollan’s book, I was set me on a path.
After a year of Kudzu Supper Club, Cochon came to mind during a meeting, an opportunity to take my education background in wine and cheese, the “love for the handshake” of pairing farms and chefs together, and the chance to openly discuss the benefits of using whole heritage breed pigs in the kitchen without being a preacher or salesman. The health benefits were staggering, not only did my favorite feel good UMAMI of knowing where your food is coming from, the farmer, feeling the handshake on the palate, but this was an event rich with new friends, people who cared about everything from a clean napkin upon your bathroom break to the handshake culture I breath, eat and feel. It’s not been easy, trailblazing on tour has its many MANY sacrifices! The reward is knowing that the 400 farms I have worked with and promoted in the past five years is making a difference. Its funny to me, 95% of people are not getting what this tour is all about. A few people, who have pledged to help me keep the 2000 thousand conversations and relationships alive each year, all enjoy the same thing, FLAVOR from HONEST FOLKS! I will say though, when Cochon 555 ordered the first pig back in 2008, it was less than 1% of consumer that had ever heard of pigs, today, Cochon 555 is more commonly known in chef and foodie communities around the country and for that, we have educated folks to the point where I say we have pushed the conversation with a love and romance for all things swine. We are getting somewhere which means more friends, more great food and more love for supporting those putting honest food on the plate. Thanks to my buddy Adam who sent me this article. It came full circle 🙂
THOUGHTS ON -> Michael Pollan on How Reclaiming Cooking Can Save Our Food System, Make Us Healthy & Grow Democracy
AMY GOODMAN: So tell us about your trip to North Carolina, to the barbecue maker.
MICHAEL POLLAN: Well, I wanted to start with fire because fire is where cooking starts, probably two million years ago, according to the current thinking, which is before, of course, we were Homo sapiens. We were still Homo erectus at that point. And when we acquired the control of fire and the ability to cook meat especially over fire, but other things, as well, we unlocked this treasure trove of calories, of energy, that other animals didn’t have, because when you cook food, you basically predigest it outside of the body, so you don’t have to use as much energy—your body doesn’t have to use as much energy to break it down. You don’t have to chew it as much. And it’s a huge boon, and it probably led to the larger brain that we have compared to other apes our size, and the smaller gut—although we seem intent on enlarging that gut right now.
But so I figured what was the—what was the cooking most like that? And it was whole-hog barbecue as practiced in eastern North Carolina. You know, barbecue is very balkanized, and every region in the South has very different rules on what constitutes barbecue and an abhorrence of all other forms of barbecue, which they won’t even call barbecue. So I went to North Carolina, to eastern North Carolina, and I worked with a man named Ed Mitchell, who is a pretty well-known pitmaster, African American, who’s been at it for many, many years, after being a Vietnam vet and working as a Ford—in the Ford dealership network. And I went—we did a couple barbecues, where we cooked these whole pigs over wood and very slowly, and then we had these amazing public events, where you have to take an entire pig and chop it up, mix it with various spices and vinegar, and turn it into sandwiches. It’s actually remarkably simple kind of cooking. It’s like pig, heat, wood, time. That’s the whole recipe. But you need a whole pig, and you have to be able to move it around, which is a little tricky.
What I liked about Ed is, unlike almost every other pitmaster I could find, he cared about the pigs and where they came from. Barbecue is an incredibly democratic food. It’s cheaper than McDonald’s in many places and far more delicious. On the other hand, the only reason it can be that cheap is they use commodity hogs, the worst of the worst, which is—you know, it’s an industry kind of ruining North Carolina. Ed Mitchell is a little different in that he really cares where the hogs come from. And in fact he’s paid a price for that with the industry. And—
AMY GOODMAN: In what way?
MICHAEL POLLAN: Well, you know, they—when he started kind of evangelizing about using small farmers’ hogs raised outdoors, all of a sudden he had tax audits and prosecutions for various business practices. And, you know, no one’s been able to prove the quid pro quo, but the timing is awfully suspicious. And he lost one of his restaurants because of this initiative against him.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what his concern was about commodity hogs.
MICHAEL POLLAN: Well, you know, hogs today are raised indoors in brutal conditions in these confinement—CAFOs—confinement operations. They’re—the sows live in little cages too narrow for them ever to turn around in their entire lives, because they don’t want them to crush their babies, and it just makes it easier to inseminate them, which they do over and over and over again. And these pigs, you know, go crazy gradually. I mean, I’ve written about this before, and that’s one of the reasons I had trouble celebrating barbecue that wasn’t in some sense humane or sustainable. And Ed has figured out how to do it. And, of course, he has to charge $9 or $10 for a sandwich. Other places charge $3. But on the other hand, it’s a whole meal, so I don’t begrudge him that price.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain how he does it.
MICHAEL POLLAN: Well, Ed does whole hog exclusively. He thinks the way they do it over in, you know, the western part of the state, where they just do pork shoulders, it’s good, but it’s not barbecue. And he does it in—over wood and charcoal very slowly. So you—the key to making barbecue is getting the temperature consistent and low, like 200 degrees. None of us cook at 200 degrees. That’s like a hot tub—I mean, it’s a hot hot tub. But when you do that, the fat kind of slowly renders into the meat, and the meat gradually breaks down. And after 20 hours or so, you could pull the whole thing apart with a fork, and it’s really delicious.