Half a Pig’s Head

“‘I respect that you gave your life so that I could eat heirloom pork, I honor your existence by wasting none of your edible parts, and therefore I bandsaw your head in half.’ Lovely, sweetheart.”

That was my wife speaking, and she’d just crossed a hitherto unidentified line. Historically speaking, my departures from the most typical of American proteins—chicken, pork loin, steak, the odd slab of tuna—had provoked stoic resistance from her, and even when I dallied with organ meats L was simply grossed out: “Keep the chicken giblet pasta to yourself, handsome.” But the pig’s head—or, rather, the half pig’s head, sticking half-snout-first out of my biggest stockpot—had just dragged L into a whole new realm of reactivity to my food-and-wine obsession: defeated laughter.

“Isn’t that the philosophical essence here?” she was still asking, unable to let go of the joke.

And of course, she was right. I’ll have more to say about this in the future, but the finest possible primer to this line of thought is in The River Cottage Meat Book. I’d been reading about slaughterhouses every night before falling asleep, and L misses nothing. In fact, no matter what I read, she absorbs it better than I do. But that’s because she’s brilliant.

“Really, honey,” quipped L, suddenly on a roll, “aren’t you actually making half-head cheese?”

I’m not exactly beyond squeamishness myself. I’m just trying to be. In addition to The River Cottage Meat Book, I’ve read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Bill Buford’s Heat, and both make a big deal out of butchering and consuming entire pigs. It’s also just in the culture right now. (Check out the spot-on “Some Pig: The Development of the Piggy Confessional,” by Sara Dickerman). Still, when I finally got that stockpot to a simmer, with that half-snout poking a few inches out and the pig’s feet burbling somewhere below, I felt moved to reach for a lid—and not only to reduce evaporative loss and be sure I caught all the flavor. I reached for that lid mostly because I wasn’t at peace with what I was doing.

Yes, that bottle of Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé awaited, beckoning—an indulgence I’d never made before, and which I hoped would make a dream pairing with … head cheese. And yes, here too, I was living out certain unoriginal foodie fantasies: Domaine Tempier and Bandol occupy thrones of honor in the food-fantasy pantheon as defined by Alice Waters herself.

Nevertheless, there it was, waiting on the shelf, a rosé I could believe in. Did it really make sense to prepare and dream toward the drinking of that bottle by confronting all that is revolting about the philosophy of the holistic carnivorous gourmet?

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