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Thursday, April 19, 2012

SloPig: An Evening of Pork, Punch and Competition

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Heritage pigs have a lot going for them over factory-farm pigs. Raised on small farms, they're fed a healthier diet and given plenty of room to roam, so they're more flavorful than factory-farm pigs, and their meat is moister and better marbled. Heritage pigs don't entirely sell themselves, though, since they're more expensive than their mass-produced counterparts, and they tend to have more fat—so much so that they can be difficult for some chefs to work with. When Dan Fox, a chef for the private Madison Club in Madison, Wis., began raising and selling his own heritage pigs, he learned this lesson firsthand: Most chefs didn't know what to do with them.

“As I was trying to sell these pigs, I felt some resistance from a lot of chefs,” Fox says. “People didn't really understand what we were selling and why these pigs were more expensive. And since some heritage breeds produce a tremendous amount of fat, some chefs had difficulty handling them.”

To educate chefs and the general public about heritage pigs, Fox put on an event last fall in Madison called SloPig, an evening of pork tastings and demonstrations. To showcase the meat's versatility, four chefs—including two from Milwaukee, Justin Aprahamian of Sanford and Paul Zerkel of Roots—were given a whole heritage hog and instructed to create five to seven small-plate dishes from it, which were judged by attendees and a panel of chefs. The chefs came up with some imaginative concoctions, including a pork-belly confit with quail egg and fried oyster, a heritage-pig corn dog with foie gras mustard, and a peanut butter sandwich with fig and pork jam.

For the Milwaukee installment of SloPig on Sunday, April 22, at the InterContinental hotel, the format will be much the same. The heart of the event will again be a whole-hog challenge, this time with six chefs competing: Jarvis Williams of Carnevor, Dan Van Rite of Hinterland, Tory Miller of L'Etoile, Nelly Buleje of Hilton Milwaukee, David Swanson of Braise and the returning champion of Madison's SloPig competition, Sanford's Aprahamian.

There will also be tastings of craft beer and liquor, a butchery demonstration from Scott Buer of Milwaukee's Bolzano Artisan Meats, and a punch competition. Supplied with a large punch bowl and an ice sculpture, eight mixologists from Milwaukee- and Madison-area bars will attempt to create a drink that pairs best with all those pork dishes. Like the whole-pig competition, attendees and an expert panel will vote for their favorite.

“The whole event is really just a huge cocktail party, with a consistent undertone of education throughout the night,” Fox says. “We're bringing together craft brewers, artisanal farmers, bartenders and food lovers to expand people's knowledge of heritage pork. The whole idea is to demonstrate what farmers in the region are doing and why they're raising these pigs, and let people taste for themselves how much better this slow-raised pork is.”

For ticket information, visit www.slopig.com.