What's Good Here 

Proof in the pork fat

Getting close to the source of your food is one thing, but jumping on the back of a bleeding, screaming pig and slitting its throat is an entirely different way to appreciate where a meal comes from.

"Our experience was the nightmare experience," says Abe Jindrich.

He and his partner, Cathrine Walters, are launching the new Cloven Hoof whole-animal craft butchery. (Full disclosure: Walters is a frequent contributor to and former photo editor of the Indy.) Cloven Hoof's aim is to provide local and humanely raised meat, and Walters and Jindrich say they're well aware of what that really means. They started raising hogs together on a small acreage in Clinton in 2011. When it came time to slaughter their first pig in the week before Christmas, they thought they'd done their homework.

"They tell you to draw a line between the ear and the eye, and then wherever those lines meet, at that 'X,' is where you shoot with a .22," Walters says. "They didn't say how far away or close you should be. Just put some food down, let it eat, and then shoot it. And it didn't go that way."

Jindrich remembers vividly that when he shot the pig, the bullet angled too low and shattered the sinus cavity instead of hitting the brain. The wounded pig ran around the pen, squealing.

"I had to jump on it and slit its throat with a knife, like, just stab it, and literally wrestle it," Jindrich says.

Meanwhile, Walters—who's spent 15 years as a vegetarian, because of her concern for animal welfare—stood by bawling.

"You raise it for nine months," she says. "It's like killing your dog."

  • photo by Cathrine L. Walters

Slaughter might not always be neat or easy, but it has to happen to every piece of pork, lamb, beef or any other meat that winds up on a dinner plate. Jindrich says recognizing that fact has been crucial to the Cloven Hoof ethos—and they did eat that first pig, though it took a while to get over the bloody event.

"Because if everybody had that experience that we had of this nightmarish moment, after you've spent a whole year with an animal, and you're destroying a life to eat this great product—which it is it's one of the greatest things that we're lucky to eat," Jindrich says. "But there's this moment where you have to realize that you're going to cause something to die so you can enjoy the fruits of its body."

Walters and Jindrich learned their lessons about slaughtering, but decided they weren't ready to settle down for the dedicated farmer lifestyle, which demands being home to feed animals twice a day, every day. Jindrich continued to study the art of whole-animal butchering, including spending last summer at a three-month training program at Fleischers Craft Butchery School in Brooklyn. Even in farm-to-table-obsessed Missoula, he sees an unfilled niche for freshly butchered, local meat.

"I called around to every store, every shop. There are some stores, and Good Food Store by far is the best," Jindrich says. "Their stuff is regional or Montana, but in terms of close local, an hour-out-of-town local, there's nobody."

Cloven Hoof plans to collect freshly slaughtered sides of pork and lamb from Tucker Family Farm in Victor on Thursdays, butcher on Fridays and serve fresh cuts at the Clark Fork Farmers Market on Saturdays. They've repurposed an old pony-keg fridge from the southside Kettlehouse as a deli case.

Jindrich and Walters say they feel good about being able to assure customers that Cloven Hoof's products come from animals that spent their lives outside, munching grass in a Bitterroot Valley pasture. Tucker Farm raises Berkshire pigs, a sturdy, black-skinned English heritage breed with more intramuscular fat marbling than Yorkshires, the standard "pink pig" used in industrial-scale agriculture.

They add that humanely raised pork tastes nothing like chicken.

"When we get Tyler's pigs, we leave all the fat on the chops, and it tastes like candy," Walters says. "I've never had meat like that."

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