Knowledge, not strength, is the secret to skilful dismembermentby William Skidelsky / September 19, 2012 / Leave a comment
Nathan Mills, aka “the Butcher,” is standing in front of a large wooden cutting block in a converted railway arch in Bermondsey, southeast London. On the block is a side of Gloucester Old Spot pig—half an animal, split lengthways, innards and head removed—and a selection of implements: a boning knife, a slicing knife, a saw, and a cleaver. Mills picks up each in turn, explains its function, and then demonstrates the correct motion for using it. The boning knife (“your most important tool”) has a long thin blade which curves up at the end. Mills raises it in front of him and brings it down in a series of short stabbing motions. “I call this the Jack the Ripper grip,” he says. “It’s what I use, but you can hold it whichever way feels most comfortable.”
It’s one o’clock on a wet Sunday, and I and my three fellow-attendees of “Punish the Pork, Praise the Pork” have several hours of dismemberment ahead of us. Mills’s classes—which he runs as an add-on to his main business selling meat to restaurants and, on Saturdays, the public—are the longest and most intensive in London. (The beef one takes a whole day, as opposed to the mere afternoon required for pork and lamb.) Butchery classes have become increasingly popular in recent years, a response, I think, to growing curiosity about what happens to meat before it ends up in people’s shopping baskets. Certainly, my motives for signing up have something to do with wanting to be a more responsible meat-eater, though I also suspect that the experience will be great fun.
Mills now leads us into his cavernous walk-in fridge, in which are hung a dozen or more carcasses, as well as shelves containing miscellaneous animal parts (a huge ox heart, several tongues). He unhooks two more pork sides, one of which I carry—a shade unsteadily—back to the block. The class is divided into pairs, and each pair is allocated a side. Our project for the afternoon is to turn these slabs of dead animal into cuts resembling those you’d see on a butcher’s counter.
The class proceeds on a watch-and-follow basis: Mills performs a series of cuts to his side, and we attempt the same with ours. The process by which a carcass gets turned into cookable parts involves, I discover, several stages of…