Michele Princer, chef and owner of Toni’s in Winnebago, Ill., shows off one of several pork recipes she made for the Meat Trends interactive meat processing and cooking demonstration. The class, sponsored by University of Illinois Extension, Jo Daviess-Stephenson-Winnebago, was conducted at Eickman’s Processing in Seward, Ill., and included demonstrations on meat production, processing and cooking.
Michele Princer, chef and owner of Toni’s in Winnebago, Ill., shows off one of several pork recipes she made for the Meat Trends interactive meat processing and cooking demonstration. The class, sponsored by University of Illinois Extension, Jo Daviess-Stephenson-Winnebago, was conducted at Eickman’s Processing in Seward, Ill., and included demonstrations on meat production, processing and cooking.

SEWARD, Ill. — Her part of the demonstration happened last, but Chef Michelle Princer wanted her audience to know the step that is most important to good pork eating.

“If the product isn’t grown well, it will never be good,” she said.

Princer is the owner and executive chef of Toni’s in Winnebago. She was the final presenter for the “Meat Trends” interactive meat processing and cooking demonstration at Eickman’s Processing in Seward.

The class was meant to take participants through pork production to a hands-on butchering and meat cutting demonstration to the final step of proper cooking and eating.

That was Princer’s job, and she had a variety of dishes for the audience to sample.

“If it’s not butchered well, I can’t cook it to be good. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” she said.

Participants had only, moments before, been in the butcher room as Tom Eickman broke down a half hog into various cuts, from brains and pork cheeks and pig ears to ribs, roasts, chops and belly.

Jeff Sindelar started the demonstration by leading participants through the U.S. hog industry and explaining how modern pork is raised, from conventional pork production to specialized and niche production systems.

Eickman, with skillful knife work, turned half a roasting hog into the familiar cuts, literally from head to toes — and hocks.

Now, it was Princer’s turn to translate those cuts into real-time preparations.

“This is just a normal cracker with pork belly. You saw that pork belly butchered. This is a pork belly. The skin is on top. If we were to slice that, that’s where your bacon would come from,” said Princer as helpers from University of Illinois Extension, Jo Daviess-Stephenson-Winnebago, moved around serving guests trays of the picture-perfect delicacy.

Princer noted that different cuts, due to their fat or lean content and size, respond differently to various types of cooking.

“This is a rolled and tied shoulder roast. I marinated it in Asian seasonings and smoked it overnight,” she said as servers moved around with the smoked Char Siu pork shoulder steaks.

“A pork loin is meant to be sliced, pan-seared, seasoned a little bit or grilled and sent out. Some of these cuts that are cheaper, they have a little more muscle coming together. It’s a better application to do it long and slow and take your time,” said Princer, who grew up on a dairy farm in Michigan.

“I’ve been cooking 20 years. I realized that all of that growing up on a dairy farm and making chocolate pudding in pint jars kind of led me to this,” she said.

Princer emphasized that the process that happens before the meat gets to the consumer’s table is key to taste.

“When you talk about animal husbandry and the care of animals, even in the culinary field, it’s pointless to me to take all the time and effort to make this if I’m not going to have the right cut of meat,” she said.

Princer runs Toni’s of Winnebago, which serves lunch and dinner and does private and event catering.

She inspired the audience with her pork dishes and even mentioned how a regular pork breakfast staple can be taken to new heights with a little imagination.

“If I’d been thinking, this morning we would have had brioche with some homemade Canadian bacon and a little quail egg on top,” she said.