Santa Cruz Good Times

Apr 20th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

The Pork Club

dinin 7El Salchichero delivers a passionate mix of meaty, mouthwatering adventures

The first rule of Pork Club is: you do not talk about Pork Club, at least not to your vegetarian friends. Held after dark at one end of the Westside Swift Street Courtyard complex, the classes at El Salchichero have the feeling of clandestine meetings.

I expected a guy in a trench coat to float out of the shadows and ask: “Psst, hey kid,wanna buy some bacon?”

Some of us were nervous about butchering a pig in the tofu capital of the western world. The karma police at the yoga studio next door might catch a glimpse of our faces as we duck into the meaty oasis of butchery. Fear quickly dissolves like lard in a hot skillet, once you’re back behind the counter with a glass of wine in your hand and a creamy slice of pancetta massaging your tongue.

This was my second class with proprietor Chris LaVeque and head butcher Ren Hogue. The first one had my hands working salt into bacon and grinding out sausage. Tonight our subject hung before us in regal cleaved glory, a whole hog (actually half a whole hog) awaiting tender ministration by these passionate artisans.

This week’s Pork Club members included homesteaders and farmers with dreams of home-grown cured meats, two father-son culinary teams, local foodies, and a few food professionals. Some admitted their love of pork like a secret fetish, others were considering bacon tattoo options for their foreheads. We all knew we had found a home away from home: Pork Club—a.k.a. El Sachichero’s Whole Hog butchery class.

After introductions, Ren shared their culinary philosophy: quality before profit. Quality of meat is derived from the quality of the life of the animal, as well as the quality of attention and skill provided by the butchers. The crew at El Salchichero serves up only free-range livestock well cared for by the ranchers who raised them. After a moment of hearing them talk about their craft, it’s obvious they have a sincere respect for the animals they transform into prime cuts and knee-weakening cured meats.

An easy banter percolated as we circled around the night’s main attraction. Chris started by breaking down the carcass into prime pieces, sliding his knife through tissue like a wizard casting spells with his wand. Ren discussed the various cuts, their value and best preparation method. Nothing is ever wasted. “That’s one of the amazing things about pigs,” Ren pointed out. “Nearly everything on a pig can be made into food.” dining 10

Thick layers of pure fat contrasted pink meat that glowed with health. It’s hard to describe to non-meat-lovers what it feels like to stand before such an epic example of pork perfection. I might call it a religious experience if religions included lots of crispy bacon. Let’s just say a certain reverential bliss spreads throughout you as you reflect upon the many days of pork-heaven that lie before you.

The art of butchery is much more than just cutting up meat—a local butcher is the arbitrator between the rancher and their community. Before the FDA we relied on our butchers to acquire and prepare wholesome meat. I suspect many of us older omnivores miss the personal touch our neighborhood butchers used to bring to their art. A good butcher protects the health and well-being of their community, not to mention crafting food that nourishes and encourages us to celebrate life.

The two-hour class revealed new cuts, old favorites, and the many challenges facing would-be home butchers like me. Hang time, storage, equipment, attention to glands and tough tissue all came up within the context of proper care of harvested meat. Though this is not a hands-on class (serving novice butchers wine and then handing them really sharp knives is probably not a good idea), I still walked away with a feel for the work involved in transforming a large animal into a tremendous source of nourishment and pleasure.

You always leave the Pork Club with a bag of goodies. That night’s treasures included the best pork chops I have ever eaten, and chicharrón that taught me why people eat deep fried pork skin. These have as much in common with store-bought pork rinds as a glass of wine has with a bowl of raisins. As I write this my 4-year-old stands victorious on the kitchen counter after climbing up to swipe his second post-breakfast chicharrón. A new Pork Club member is born.

El Salchichero, 402 Ingalls St., Suite 5, Santa Cruz 423-6328, Open Tues-Sun 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (closed Mon).

Comments (3)Add Comment
written by a guest, May 27, 2012
Tim Flynn is such a talented writer! Thanks for this peak into a world I'd never choose to tred. Tim you can make butchering entertaining. Wow, just wow!
written by a guest, May 24, 2012
Chris LaVeque is one extremely talented, well-trained, and hard-working young man. This community is so fortunate to have someone of his integrity and passion.

Good to see him get the praise he deserves. (His whole family is great.)
written by Zosa, May 24, 2012
This put into words my experience of the class as well. Truly a game changing event when it comes to meat. And the chops? Yes..... best I have ever eaten as well!

Write comment
smaller | bigger


Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share


Cardinal Grand Cross in the Sky

Following Holy Week (passion, death and burial of the Pisces World Teacher) and Easter Sunday (Resurrection Festival), from April 19 to the 23, the long-awaited and discussed Cardinal Cross of Change appears in the sky, composed of Cardinal signs Aries, Libra, Cancer, and Capricorn, with planets (13-14 degrees) Uranus (in Aries), Jupiter (in Cancer), Mars (in Libra) and Pluto (in Capricorn), an actual geometrical square or cross configuration. Cardinal signs mark the seasons of change, initiating new realities.


Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.


Film, Times & Events: Week of April 17

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >


Growing Hope

Campos Seguros combats sexual assault in the Watsonville farmworker community Farm work was a way of life for Rocio Camargo, who grew up in Watsonville as the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her parents met while working the fields 30 years ago, and her father went on to run Fuentes Berry Farms.
Sign up for Tomorrow's Good Times Today
Upcoming arts & events

Latest Comments


Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

Breakfast takes center stage at Gracia Krakauer's Red Apple Cafe Before they moved to Aptos, Gracia and her husband Dan Krakauer would visit friends in Santa Cruz County and eat at the Red Apple Café all the time. Then they moved up here from Santa Monica five years ago, and bought the Aptos location (there’s a separate one in Watsonville) from the family who owned it for two decades.


How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management


Trout Gulch Vineyards

Cinsault 2012—la grande plage diurne The most popular wines on store shelves are those most generally known and available—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are all superb for sure. But when you come across a more unusual varietal, like Trout Gulch Vineyards’ Cinsault ($18), it opens up a whole new world.


Waddell Creek, Al Fresco

Route One Summer Farm Dinner You’ve been buying their insanely fresh produce for years now at farmers’ markets. Right? So now why not become more familiar with the gorgeous Waddell Creek farmlands of Route One Farms?