Monday, March 14, 2011

Czech Pig Butchering {Zabijačka} - Part I

Well, it happened, and I made it.

I made it through the long day required to completely butcher one pig. As I wrote here last week, I was really looking forward to learning about the process - start to finish. Not to spoil the story, but I think I'll start with the ending and give you the best of the finished products.

Zabijačka Product #1: Head Cheese {Tlačenka}

It is so very unfortunate that we have this word "head cheese" in English. It sounds terrible. And does anyone even know what it actually is? I never did. Maybe it was chopped up pig head mixed with cheese. Who knows. When I moved here, the hubs introduced me to one of his favourite foods - tlačenka. Little did I know this was head cheese. And I tried it. And I liked it. Until I found out what it was. Head cheese.

In order to get over this little glitch in my relationship with Czech beer food, I thought learning exactly how it's made would help. I greatly appreciate the concept of using the entire pig. Nothing goes to waste save for the feet. Head cheese is one of the better-quality products to come out of a pig-sticking (as compared to the lard and cracklings/pork rind, which I didn't find appealing enough to photograph.)

Tlačenka is made by combining the best pieces of the organs (pre-cooked during a long boil) and the skin so that it gels together nicely. It's stuffed into a long plastic tubular bag and kept cold. It's ready to slice and eat almost immediately. Best enjoyed on rye bread with mustard, onion and a wee splash of vinegar. And with beer, of course.

Zabijačka Product #2: Blood Pudding {Jelito and Jitrnice}

The puddings are another zabijačka specialty. Many Americans eventually learn that pudding is not just something sweet in a little plastic cup, but something to be wary of when travelling in the UK. Travel books urge us not to make the mistake of ordering white or black pudding and expecting whipped cream on the side. I'd had this while in Ireland, and on various English breakfast platters, so I was fairly prepared to encounter it here. 
The difference between the puddings and the head cheese is the quality of the fillings. I was told that the puddings are made with lesser quality organ pieces. This doesn't necessarily mean it's considered a lesser quality product. Actually, it seems more enjoyed than the tlačenka. But because the puddings are made with pre-cooked meat and then afterwords baked, fried, or roasted, the flavour is so enhanced that the highest quality organ pieces are not absolutely necessary. Whereas they are necessary in tlačenka, which is not cooked after it's made. It's like the difference between sushi-grade fish and some other really fantastically cooked fish. Different strokes for different folks.

White pudding primarily contains a selection of organs, and garlic (really though, all these products contain heaps of garlic.) Black pudding contains less organs, but also the blood, barley, and - the family secret - a glass of red wine. To eat, it's cooked, sliced, and topped on rye bread with onion and possibly vinegar. And, or course, beer.
After seeing every step of the zabijačka (details here!) was I more inclined to rekindle my physical taste for such things? To be honest, not really. 

It's interesting, fascinating even, and honorably practical to still be making such products at home. But I just don't like the taste. Childish? Girly? Maybe. I wish I did like it, and maybe in the future I will. At the moment, I am content to promote such endeavors by allowing a good part of my refrigerator to house packages upon packages of zabijačka products for my hubs to slowly savour over the coming weeks. Yes, I am content with that. 

Dobrou Chut'/ Enjoy.
-- Jo

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