Monday, January 25, 2010

Austrian Artisans

One of the unique things about meat cutting is that each culture has its way of breaking down carcasses into the final product. The US style of cutting is well established in our food service purchasing culture and chefs are used to buying cuts a certain way. But worldwide we find a variety of methods that reflect the cooking or curing style of the meat. For instance in the US we cut our pork shoulder directly in half without regard for the muscle structure. This is done because it is very fast for the processors to break down the carcass and the end resulting primal Boston butt and picnic are often slow cooked as BBQ or pulled pork. In retail, the Boston butt is often cut across the bone to make "pork steaks" and both cuts are often boned to make a huge variety of sausages. In other cultures the cuts are divided with more regard to muscle structure and natural seams.

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending one short session of Pigstock 2010, a three day seminar put on by Mosefund farm. was interesting to watch an Austrian butcher, Christoph Wiesner, break down a half of a heritage breed Magalitza hog. His techniques reflected the end use. Cristoph and his wife Isabel raise this very unique breed in Austria and sell to a number of very high quality shops and restaurants. Besides raising the pigs they are involved in making many sausages and specialties from the by-products.
So how is Austrian butchery different than the US style? The shoulder was separated similar to beef or veal isolating the shoulder clod away from the chuck roll and brisket. The shoulder is divided into the Dunne und Dicke Shulter or the "thin or thick shoulder". The cuts are often cured whole, pressed and smoked and sliced like ham. My grandparents were Austrian so I had a chance to talk about some of the terms my father, a life long butcher, uses when talking about pork cuts. We sampled homemade headcheese and bloodwurst for lunch and Isabel was cooking a skin- on section of the shoulder for dinner.
Leg cuts are cut longer to include the entire sirloin so the ham is bigger and stays more moist when cured. This is similar to the style of the Serrano of Spain and the Italian Prosciutto.

The Austrians don't cook BBQ ribs the way we do so the belly or bauchfleisch is boned with all of the rib meat left intact. This results in a much meatier belly and a thicker bacon.
The loin is typically cut away from the shoulder between the fourth and fifth rib so the shoulder is longer resulting in a long " cottage" butt section that is excellent for curing, similar to the Italian Osso di Coppa or French Echine. It is known as the Schopfbraten in Austria.
Austrian food culture, especially cured meats and sausages are influenced by their neighbors. There are some similarities to German cutting but also to Swiss, Italian and Hungarian / Slovic styles. Even though Austrians speak a Germanic dialect they have a nomenclature for cuts that are quite different than Germany. Their curing and spicing techniques are different also. The sutble differences in salting and packing will change the flavors. Austrians will often smoke their cured meats creating such things as Schinkenspeck. Plus the pigs themselves will have a flavor profile that makes the bacons and hams unique. As shown in these photos the Mangalitsa has a very thick fat covering and makes for some very tasty bacon.
Some "artisan"butchers here in the US are starting to cut in these old European styles to create unique cuts and better utilize the entire carcass. It was fun to discuss these techniques with a room full of them. Thanks to Cristoph and Isabel for the chance to talk Fleisch and to Micheal Clampffer for allowing myself and my TA, Steven, to join the cutting. He ran a great program and I would suggest anyone wanting to learn some alternative cutting styles to join a future seminar. Also thanks to the folks at Wooly Pigs for chatting about the pigs and answering questions. They are responsible for bringing in this unique breed into the US.