If you missed it, the roving heritage pork cookoff known as Cochon 555 hit San Francisco yesterday on its last stop before the finals in Aspen, where the winners from each of the 10 cities that have hosted it will be competing to be named the "King or Queen of Porc." Some of SF's finest chefs were battling it out for Sunday's event: Staffan Terje from Perbacco; Anthony Strong from Pizzeria Delfina; Dennis Lee from Namu; Thomas McNaughton from Flour + Water; and Morgan Maki from Bi-Rite Market.
I was a judge at the event, along with more than a dozen others, including rancher Bill Niman, chef Chris Consentino, and bean maven Steve Sando. Each competitor was assigned a different heritage-breed pig to cook, and he or she prepared something akin to tasting flights using all different parts of the pig. Lee's pork meatball with apple kimchee was a Korean twist on the classic pairing of apples and pork, and his kimchee stew with gooey blobs of pork-head meat was great. Strong's Italian riff on posole, made with pork ears, skin, leg, trotter, and chickpeas, was another highlight, paired with sfrizzoli, an Italian chicharrón. Maki served a tiny sandwich with lard emulsion taking the place of mayo; and a kidney, spleen, and heart mince on brioche with pickled shallots that tasted mild and nonorgan-y for being a little mound of mystery meats. McNaughton's summer terrine was light and almost refreshing, if you can call pork loaf that, with a little sprinkling of fresh vegetables on top.
But it was Perbacco's Terje who ended up winning the gold with his plate of pork cooked nine different ways. He was assigned the Swabian-Hall breed, a cross between a wild Russian boar and the Chinese Meishan. The Cochon folks said it was the breed's debut in the U.S. Highlights included spicy and salty nduja, a Calabrian salame spread made from the shoulder, ham, back fat, liver, kidney, and an assortment of chiles that's fermented and smoked. Blood and brain crema was served with pig's head confit that had cooked for 48 hours, and a traditional "Sunday gravy" made from ribs and shoulder sauced pasta that had been cooked in pork stock. And then there was a hot-smoked chop on top of German-style potato salad that had me gnawing off the fat chunks because it was so flavorful. Terje ended with bacon marshmallows.
The final will be held June 20 in Aspen. Go hungry.