Snout to tail cookery is the Cochon 555 challenge.
Five chefs are asked to pick which farm and which breed of hog they want to use and then create a menu using as much of that individual pig that they can (think blood ganache and pig heart crudo). I had a chance to act as one of 20 judges for the Memphis Cochon (just one stop in a 10-city tour) and watched St. Louis' Kevin Nashan and his team from Sidney Street Cafe go snout to snout with some very accomplished chefs: Kelly English of Restaurant Iris in Memphis (as well as Kelly English Steakhouse here in St. Louis), Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Lee Richardson from Ashley's at The Capital Hotel in Little Rock and Michael Hudman and Andrew Ticer of Memphis' Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen.
This event celebrates and promotes the use of heritage hogs and the breeds each chef chose were vastly different:
- Nashan's Swabian Hall hog hailed from Rustik Rooster Farms in Iowa. This unique breed is a cross of the Wild Russian Boar, which is very lean, and the Meishan, an ultra fatty hog from China. Created in 1821 in Germany, this breed's meat is dark and intensely flavored.
- English chose a Tamworth from Old Thyme Farm. Tamworth is known for its ample belly, trim jowl and muscular hams. Considered the best hog for bacon, the Tamworth sports a reddish coat.
- Hastings' pick was a Mulefoot from Sequatchie Cove Farm. This breed's name reflects the non-cloven nature of its hoof and is considered an easy breed to "fatten up." Chefs look to this breed for good-quality lard as well as hams.
- Richardson went to Freckle Face Farm for his Old Spot hog. With a white coat that's covered in black spots, this pig is nicknamed the "orchard hog." Old Spots have big, floppy ears and a thick layer of back fat that makes the meat from this pig particularly flavorful.
- Hudman and Ticer sourced a classic from a classic: a Berkshire hog from Newman Farm. (David Newman was actually in attendance at the event and conducted a whole-hog butchery demonstration live for the crowd.) Certainly the most well-known and popular heritage breed pig, the Berkshire hog has meat that is sweet, nutty and creamy. The breed's fat cap is considered particularly delicious.
The five family-run wineries on hand poured throughout the night at The Columns at One Century Square in downtown Memphis. Chase Cellars, Elk Cove Vineyards, Scholium Project, Saldo and Davis Family Vineyards all highlighted their best vintages this night. As guests milled about, sampling everything the chefs created, I enjoyed company of my fellow St. Louis judges: Mike Emerson from Pappy's and Mike Mills from 17th Street. The evening meandered to a close at the Peabody, where the ducks were already nestled on the rooftop, awaiting Sunday's sunrise.