With Pig Island 2012 just a few days away, it’s getting to be prep time for the chefs who will be cooking on Governors Island for this annual porkfest. On Tuesday, at the invitation of Jimmy Carbone of Jimmy’s No. 43, I showed up at the J. Baczynsky East Village Meat Market, an old-school, traditional-style neighborhood butcher, to see the pig that he’d received from Violet Hill Farm in upstate New York being cut into portions to be brined and cooked, ready for the hungry masses to consume on Saturday.
From the minute you walk into the store, you feel as though you’ve stepped back into another world. Labels on the products are in Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, and English. White-attired and -aproned men assist customers with their orders in any one of those languages, making you feel like you’ve walked into another era in New York’s history. Containers of Jellied Pig’s Feet, Red Beets with Horseradish, and Tripe, along with several varieties of sausage, smoked meats, and even head cheese fill the counter space. In addition, they carry the usual cuts of meat and poultry, and I saw a steady stream of customers dropping by to purchase their sliced meats and prepared salads. The selections reminded me a bit of Gene’s Sausage Shop in Chicago.
We were there, however, on business specifically with George, their butcher. A master of his craft, George has been working in this field for 50 years. Originally from Bialystock in Poland, he was a sausage maker at the shop and made many of the cured meats for which the store is still known. Now, he does more of the butchery and attends to customers.
The pig was already slaughtered, the head removed, and the body cut into half before arriving at the butcher shop. George showed us the pig in the meat locker, so that he and Jimmy could discuss how it would be broken down and prepared. The animal weighed about 190 pounds, and they went over briefly what cuts George would make so that each part could be used and very little would be wasted. Then, George set up his table and began to work.
In just about as much time as it took you to scroll through the pictures and read the captions, George had portioned out the first side of the pig. Then, with the same efficient precision and care, he went to work on the second side. When he was finished, the ribs, belly, shoulder, ham, and trotters were all stacked on the table, along with some of the organ meats and extra fat that he’d removed during the butchery process. He and Jimmy discussed how the pork would be brined and when it would be ready to be picked up so that the chef team cooking for Jimmy’s No. 43 could continue their work to get this to the grills for Pig Island.
As Jimmy and I walked from the store to head on to our next errands, we discussed how there are so few of these craftsman left. “This is real old-school stuff,” he’d told me, “There aren’t too many of these guys left.” It was really a unique experience to witness someone like George carry out his work, and it gave me a new-found respect for the people who put their skills and labor into preparing some of the great products that we’ll be eating at this event. I will definitely be thinking of him, along with the farmers and the pigs on Saturday.