Day Five as a Stagiaire at The Fatted Calf
Tied Up in Knots
Knots serve valuable purposes in life whether you are a sailor, boy scout, survivalist or butcher. I am none of these things. However, I come from a long line of knot tying experts. My great grandmother on my mother’s father’s side (that’s a tongue twister) was reported to be a the knot tying champion of Indiana. And my grandfather inherited some of these skills from her which, as a farmer and fisherman, both came in quite handy. Regrettably, none of these skills were genetically passed on to me and hence, I suck at tying knots.
Knots can be simple or beautifully complex – but many challenge me. Sure, I can tie a bow or a simple granny knot and can even do a few others. But when it comes to things like tying fishing lures onto line I have an app installed on my phone which shows me how to do it in slow motion animation. It is a mental crutch and I’m not ashamed to say I love using it. Maybe I have spatial recognition issues? Or maybe I killed too many brain cells in college and can’t remember simple things like ‘over, under up and through’?
All this being said, as a butcher (or even a lowly stagiaire) you really don’t want to be taking the easy way out by saying, ‘hey wait, stop for a second while I take out my app to show me how to tie a butcher’s knot’. I would be immediately disgraced. And so, I plow forward trying to learn how to tie loop knots, bubble knots, slip knots and butcher’s knots. All with varying degrees of success…
What I Accomplished Today
Friday’s at The Fatted Calf mean salumi curing and tying meat (hence, the diatribe on knot tying). It’s what I’d been waiting for all week and I was excited to have a chance to get my hands into the salt and start curing different cute. It also marked the return of Taylor and Toponia from their recent trip to Italy so the place was abuzz in anticipation of their arrival.
My day also started with a surprise – no jerky! Alas, my new old friend was no longer needed today. Apparently I’d banged out enough during the week to earn a reprieve. Instead, I was given a choice of two tasks – de-veining duck liver or trimming jowls for guanciale. I wisely took the latter as de-veining duck liver is a complete pain in the ass. I’d rather remove glands all day long.
Next up was marinating and vac sealing thick cut pork chops with diavolo rub that looked and smelled delicious. Not a difficult task but one that needed doing. I wish I could get my hands on the recipe for this rub as it looked like a winner.
After this came a few menial tasks – moving chorizo on the drying rack to make room for the next batch, picking 3 quarts of sage and peeling shallots. Joy.
Then came some fun and frustration all wrapped up in one. First we started with casing lonza in beef bung and then tying it off. I learned how to tie loop knots up and down the loin while also tying a bubble knot at the end to hang the lonza to dry. This was followed by casing and tying off bresaola (cured beef bottom round) which proved to be a more difficult task. The challenge with bresaola is that as you tie loop knots the cased meat tends to form a rounded surface which makes it difficult to tie knots across. The string slips down from the rounded part of the meat and then the knot either has to be reset or you have to pull the loop back in place to create even spacing between knots. I did two of these and by the end of the second I was frustrated and done. Despite my challenges, I actually did a pretty decent job.
Moving on, I pulled out some guanciale that had been cured and used a butcher’s needle to run string through the corners for hanging. Then I tagged it with the date and lot number and it went on to the curing room to hang. Later in the day, I applied the cure to the jowls I’d trimmed in the morning. I also pulled cured lardo and wiped it down before it was returned to the curing room.
The highlight of the day was working with Taylor in the curing room. We went through several batches of salami feeling them for firmness to determine if they were ready to be pulled and cut. I was able to ask several questions about the curing process for salumi, the grind sizes for each, and about good and bad mold. One of the things I learned was that they use no starter cultures at The Fatted Calf. Everything is fermented based on what’s floating around in the air and what’s naturally occurring in the chamber. It was explained to me that this was part of what makes the salumi special at The Fatted Calf. It does, in essence, have its own terroir and it also explains why their salumi doesn’t have the tangy-ness of many other commercially produced products as it relies less on starter cultures which produce larger amounts of lactic acid. Interesting stuff.
My day concluded with a lovely game of tetris in reorganizing the walk-in as well as prepping 48 duck legs for confit.
Time to Unwind
It was a long day and week but well worth the learning opportunity. It has also been a long time since I was so physically exhausted from work. The standing, the one 20 minute break, the tables that are about 4 inches too low for me to work comfortably on, the taxing nature of learning many new things at once. It’s a lot to handle if you haven’t played this game for awhile.
Lest I forget the cracks in my hands from working with so much salt and string during the week. Yes, all of these have added up and I’m very much looking forward to having a weekend to recover and heal. To unwind the knots in my brain and to regain the energy to do it all again next week. And hopefully better than I performed the first week.
For Day 4 – click here
For Day 6 – click here