March 1st was “National Pig Day”, a day dear to our charcuterie loving hearts. We were lucky enough to spend this most delicious of holidays at Loews Hotel for Minneapolis’ first ever Cochon 555 : a celebration of all things pork. The event takes its name from the French name for a domesticated pig (cochon) and its main attractions: five star chefs, each given one of five heritage breed pigs, each preparing five dishes devoted to crispy, salty, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth pork, each competing for the title of Porc Prince/Princess and a shot at competing in the Grand Cochon in Aspen this June.
The cheese shop crew arrived early, ready with sharp knives, piles of cheese, and empty stomachs. Our tasks were simple: build the most beautiful cheese table Cochon has ever seen, eat some fabulous pork, and feed 500+ attendees delicious cheeses. Our weapons: twelve wheels of Bent River Camembert, two logs of Leonora, three squares of Grayson, two wheels of Paradise Blue, six boxes of cubed Pleasant Ridge Extra Reserve, and an entire eighty-four pound wheel of farmstead Parmigiano-Reggiano. (Don’t miss the time-lapse of our cheesemonger Calder breaking down the wheel!) It was going to be a good day.
Although the event is largely a blur of friendly faces, amazing food and loud music, meeting Brady Lowe, Cochon 555 co-founder and mastermind of the event, stands out. You’d have to really work to dislike someone who just happens to have some of Alemar’s delicious fromage blanc hanging around in back, and immediately starts wondering how it would taste with the raw Bare Honey we’d brought to sample with our cheeses. Five minutes later, plates were being passed. The bites, simply that light fromage blanc and honey smeared on a thin slice of baguette, evaporated.
Another treat: we were stationed just around a corner from the Parma Prosciutto table. Getting to swap stories (and bites) with our peers is one of the reasons events like this are so great. Their swoon-worthy fire engine red slicer on wheels zipped around the hall, offering bites to beleaguered chefs, but the real stand out was watching the artistry of hand slicing 20 month aged prosciutto, each slice as translucent and perfect as the last. Needless to say, we’re all working to bone up on our knife skills.
Getting to participate in an event like Cochon 555 highlights for me just how lucky we are here in Minneapolis. The newest stop on the tour, it appears we acquitted ourselves admirably. Mike Phillips of Red Table Meats was there to judge and dispense bacon like an elder statesman of all things pig, all the chefs cooked their hearts out, and we had a chance to highlight some truly special local producers. Serving cheeses like Hook’s Paradise Blue and Alemar’s Bent River Camembert to a crowd of people who truly care about where their food comes from is always a joy and a privilege.
Although chef Thomas Boemer from Corner Table (PSA: go, go!) holds the current crown as Porc Prince of Minneapolis, we’re already dreaming and scheming about how to make next year’s Cochon 555 cheesier than ever. Hope to see you there!
(Photo Credits: | 2015 COCHON 555 MPS © 2015 Galdones Photography (galdones.com) for COCHON 555)