Whole hog hoedown with Il Mondo Vecchio's Mark DeNittis: the piggy food porn
On Saturday, Il Mondo Vecchio's Mark DeNittis, Denver's high priest of salumi (and the newest member of FIVE), ushered a half dozen meat-heads into his laboratory, as part of a whole hog hoedown that exposed voyeurs to a 190-pound, Blue Butt beast that sacrificed himself in order to feed us enough flesh to fatten us for weeks: Bone-in, double-cut, skin-on Frenched pork ribeyes; pork t-bones/porterhouses; fresh ground pork; baby-back ribs; leg cutlets for pork schnitzel; hot Italian sausage; Spanish chorizo; dry Italian sausage; dry Spanish chorizo; Stranahan's Whiskey-injected breakfast sausage; Stranahan's Whiskey-cured top round roast; porchetta roasts; pancetta; lomo; porchetta di testa; and a semi-boneless foot of prosciutto. In other words, very literally, the whole hog.
Lori Midson Pleased to meat you!
"I started doing the classes last year at Il Mondo Vecchio to connect with people and to further appease my passion for teaching," says DeNittis, a former instructor at Johnson & Wales University. "I'd like for people to walk away from the classes with a better understanding of where their food comes from and with confidence, so that when they go to their local butcher or market, they know how to buy the best cuts for the best applications."
We stood there -- five men and me -- with rapt attention, silenced, awed and stupefied by DeNittis's thwaks, boner blades, muscled forearms, sexy (at least for me) hands stained with blood and raw with abrasions from the twine he used to tug -- mightily -- the excess meat off the bones while Frenching, perfectly, his ribs and ribeyes. "I love being on stage," admits DeNittis. "It's my connection to my high school pipe dream of being a showman like Vince Neil or Alice Cooper."
Butchery began to lose its luster in the 1960s, when cuts of pork and beef began littering supermarket shelves in plastic trays, superficially wrapped in cellophane to disguise where our meat actually comes from -- the carcass of a slaughtered animal. Neighborhood butchers who once supplied the cold cuts for a kid's sandwich began to see their lines grow shorter, the long-time loyalists tapering off to sneak away to a commercial grocer, where the meats were cheaper, their glory cloaked in camouflage.
But artisanal butchery is thriving, and DeNittis, along with several other chefs like Elise Wiggins, the exec chef of Panzano and Eric Skokan, chef/co-owner of Black Cat in Boulder, is bringing the old-school craft back to the forefront. DeNittis's whole hog class -- four hours of intense focus, fun and sometimes squeamish footage -- isn't cheap at $220 per person, but that includes the demonstration, a hefty informational packet with recipes and a whole lot of meat to take home and a variety of dry sausages to collect at a later date. "I want to give people an appreciation for simple practices, such as sausage making, and an elementary introduction to age-old practices of utilization, like curing," says DeNittis.
We brought back a field of photos from Saturday's whole hog splendor, the squeals of which are on the following pages.