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,”
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
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
“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
“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
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
“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