It was just a little piece of assurance coming from a voice at the back of the room on the evening of Monday, February 22, as we pressed fork and knife into the beautifully fatty porchetta prepared by Café Rouge executive chef, Rick DeBeaord.
The voice was that of Café Rouge executive chef and owner Marsha McBride, who was hosting a group of students interested in seeing how Scott Brennan, the café and market’s lead butcher, takes apart a pig.
Modeling for the occasion on a makeshift stage in the middle of the café’s dining room was a mere half a pig, but no ordinary half pig at that. This one had been raised by Potter Valley rancher Mac Magruder, who was there to tell about why it was special.
“It comes from a cross between European wild boar and Old Spots Pig,” said Magruder, as he explained that Old Spots are recognized as the oldest pedigree spotted pigs in the world. Magruder, who is first and foremost a cattle rancher, talks passionately about his interest in bringing cattle and hogs back into being functional animals, which is not the case with animals raised in industrial, feed-lot production.
“I’m bringing back the mothering abilities,” he said. He also explained that his pigs are lighter, which means they can move around in the pasture and support their own weight, unlike feed-lot pigs, whose back legs give out. He described the animals’ role in converting land or stopping the succession of grasslands to forest, and he reminded his listeners how an animal’s diet does affect the health value of that meat to humans.
Magruder’s challenges in raising small herds of functional animals sustainably on pasture are many, not the least of which is getting the meat to consumers. Café Rouge sells these products at its butcher counter, but most often, these kinds of superior meat products are available only at restaurants, such as Café Rouge, Chez Panisse, and Oliveto, here in the East Bay. At Oliveto, Magruder’s beef and pork have been featured in “whole animal” dinners that involve creating dishes using nearly every part of the animal, as is the tradition in the provincial cuisines of Europe.
The Monday night event at Café Rouge was one in a series of monthly butchery classes where participants meet the ranchers, the butchers, and the chef, learn about and discuss butchery, cooking, and taste generous samplings of the recipes. The butchery classes continue on the last Monday of every month through this spring, with a goat demonstration on March 29; poultry on April 26; and sausage making on May 24. Classes start at 6:30 p.m. in the Café Rouge Dining Room, 1782 Fourth Street, Berkeley. Class size is limited. Cost is $65 per student, with wine and tasting of the recipes included. To reserve, call Café Rouge at 510.525.1440 or go to OpenTable. More info at www.caferouge.net