Scenes From the Porktastic Cochon Heritage BBQ in Memphis

[Photographs: Ben Carter]

When I heard that the folks behind Cochon 555 were coming to Memphis for a Heritage BBQ event, I immediately sprung into action. I called my old friend Paul, who lives in Nashville, and asked if he'd tag along for the adventure and assist while I juggled a camera, notebook, cocktail, and various plates of pork. "There'll be six teams, and each one gets an entire heritage breed pig to cook—" "Done. I'm there," he said. "—and each team cooks six dishes, using all parts of the pig—" "Dude, I'm drooling." "—and one more thing: they're also celebrating National Bourbon Month," I said.

"You're killing me, Carter!" was the only response I needed.

The goal of the Cohchon 555 events is to celebrate heritage breeds of pig, and to create a lavish display of the many different ways that pork can be prepared. At no point during this event did anything look remotely like the pale, lean, dry pork chops that seem to dominate many grocery stores. Nor did the event stick to the mainstream American cuts: organs and skin and feet and jowls and many other tasty bits found their way into many dishes.

Four of the teams used Newman Farm Berkshire hogs, while a fifth used a Berkshire from a different source and the last used a Berkshire-Red Wattle cross. There was no side-by-side comparison using the exact same preparation, but there was no denying the depth of flavor and richness of fat in these heritage breeds.

All Six Categories

There are six categories in each competition: Pull covers shoulders and legs that require low and slow cooking, Muscle focuses on loins, hams, and other parts that are served sliced, Bone includes our city's beloved ribs as well as broths and soups, Stew celebrates frugal preparations that include scrap parts, Mayo is for sides like potato salad, but all cold salads I had included ample pork products, and finally, Mustard is a fairly wide category that covers anything with mustard as the primary flavoring.

In total, 36 recipes were presented for the judges. (I was not a judge, but got to try a pretty wide sample of what was served.) In addition to the formal menus, additional appetizers and goodies were handed out left and right, bringing the total number of porcine dinner options to somewhere north of 50. On top of that was the the free-flowing wine, cider, beer, bourbon, and cocktails...suffice it to say, nobody went home hungry or thirsty.

We also got an education while milling around the terrace of the newly constructed Beale Street Landing on the banks of the Mississippi River—a whole hog was butchered throughout the evening, broken down into the component cuts. (No organs or blood, but still bearing the head, feet and all meat parts.) I've included one photo of this, but it's not graphic. Like everything else associated with Cochon 555, it's about contemplating and appreciating where your food comes from and how it makes your way to the table.