"Pigs," Winston Churchill once said, "look us straight in the eye and see an equal." Portlanders, however, look our equals straight in the eye—and ear, cheek, and hindquarters—and see dinner. With nearly every imaginable bit of the animal finding its way onto Portland restaurant menus (pepper with pig’s rectum, anyone?), we may have to consider switching the t to a k in our city’s name.
What’s behind this whole-hog movement? And how did pork join salmon and beef in the front ranks of the Northwest’s most craved flesh?
"We’re going back—thank God—to the beginning," says Adam Sappington, butcher extraordinaire and the brains behind the whole-hog entrée at the Country Cat Dinner House & Bar.
The beginning—the real beginning—goes back some 9,000 years to domesticated boars in China and the Middle East. Although pigs made it to the US with early colonists, they never curried as much favor as beef. Until recently. The Great Recession might have something to do with that: as the market has toughened, it’s no longer economically feasible for small farmers to sell only the prime cuts of pig to restaurants and toss the rest; so local chefs, wanting to support local farms, have become creative about integrating all of Wilbur’s bits into dishes.
As Aaron Silverman, co-owner of Tails & Trotters charcuterie, who’s earned local adoration for his hogs finished on a diet rife with hazelnuts, puts it, "We’re returning to older roots, when people needed to eat every part of the animal."
Of course, "need" is a relative term for a plate of $19 deep-fried pig knuckle. It could also be that pig parts are simply trendy—the skinny jeans of the culinary world. Now that we’ve spent some time with the lofty avant-garde of foams and molds, perhaps we’re ready to return to the pig.
"We’re returning to older roots, when people needed to eat every part of the animal."
Whatever the reason for pork’s ascent in Portland, we can at least concur with another famous Englishman, George Orwell, that when it comes to all things plated, "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others."