On the morning of April 22, 2012 I was so excited I could barely contain myself. Cochon 555 had come to D.C. The only time I ever remember being this excited for a singular date was Christmas morning when I was three. I’d asked for a unicorn – I didn’t get it – thus ruining the miracle of Christmas. But this was different. This was about pork, not unicorns, and I KNOW pigs are real, so there was no chance of disappointment.
In an age when vegetarians, vegans, pescatorians, doctors, nutritionists, and scientists are singlehandedly shaming the rest of into denying our inner carnivores, there is one festival that is helping to keep hope alive in the most decadent of fashions. For all my bacon, neckbone, rib eating, pork lovers: this one’s for you.
Cochon 555 is a food festival dedicated to promoting heritage pigs. Heritage pigs are to pork what heirloom tomatoes are tomatoes ripened in green houses. These are lines of pig that haven’t mixed with other lines, some dating back before WWII. These are old pigs, that can produce wildly different flavors and textures: a pork lovers dream.
The experience started well before we entered the event. The day before I received an email with detailed instructions on how to best enjoy Cochon 555. The instructions contained tidbits of wisdom such as: “don’t stand in line: there is always more food to be had” or “if you are in line please note that there are wine and drink stations strategically located so that you will never be sober during the event”. That the producers of this event thought far enough ahead to give us advice on the best way to stuff our faces was amazing and let us know that we were dealing with foodies of an equal caliber to ourselves.
We arrived about 20 minutes early at the Liaison hotel. There was a line starting at the entrance to the festival that wrapped around the entire hotel lobby. The line allowed me to get a look at who was attending the event. The answer was everyone: young, old, skinny, fat, rich, poor: there were people from all walks of life, coming together to celebrate the unabashed love of food.
Our spot in line was conveniently located next to the bar, so the first order of business was to get a drink. I can imagine my readers shaking their heads in disapproval saying to themselves, “that’s a damn shame”. Why purchase a drink when in 15min there would be all you can eat & all you can drink inside the event. We couldn’t wait; so while my friend held our place in line I went to the Liaison bar and ordered something that they called a Session. Don’t bother looking it up, this creation exists only in the mind of the Liaison bartenders, but it is a concoction of pure imagination: Cherry infused white whiskey topped off with a splash of raspberry beer. I’m not a fan of sweet drinks, but was assured by the bartender and other patrons enjoying the beverage that the libation was pure alcohol and contained not one grain of sugar. I was further sold by the fact that it was served in a small jelly jar. It was delectable.
We entered the event: It was like entering a bacon infused heaven. There was pork EVERYWHERE. There were two rooms. The first contained an oyster bar & a section featuring locally made cheeses and pate. The fifth room contained the five stations with five chefs, each with five courses in addition to the five wineries that were present.
We went to the oyster room first featuring the Rappahanock River Oysters. These were hands down the best oysters I have ever sampled in my life. There were 3 types present, with representatives shucking them and putting them out as fast as possible. The oysters were free of any type of grit and were the most plump and succulent oysters I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. We had our choice of an herb sauce, lemons, hot-sauce, and of course horseradish. We went back twice within the first half hour of entering Cochon 555. We could have stayed all night, but were starting to get looks of gluttonous amazement from the other patrons.
Next we progressed to the cheese and pate section of the room, hosted by Belmont Butchery out of Richmond, Virginia. I did not expect to be impressed at this station. I was wrong. In the history of being wrong this might have been the most egregious offense ever committed. I couldn’t pronounce half the cheeses available, but I could eat them. Each one outdid the one before, but the goat cheese was by far my personal favorite: creamy, rich, succulent, & fatty in all the right places. It felt as if the teardrops of angles were landing on my taste-buds. The cheeses were accompanied by a pork pate, that was delightful and a bacon jam that was ingenious. We tried them both several times over. The proprietors seemed overjoyed at our enjoyment and told us that they would be willing to ship us some bacon jam: obviously the bacon gods had smiled on us yet again.
It was at this point that I took a moment to remember my comrades who had chosen for one reason or another not to attend the event. I felt truly sorry for them. I grieved their absence, and of course I sent pictures so that they knew what they were missing out on. If your favorite thing is bacon & you don’t attend a local pork festival you’re spitting in the face of all things swine and deserve to live a pork free existence like the rest of the vegetarians. But I digress . . . . . moving on.
We entered the second room: It was a literal smorgasbord of pork, in every form imaginable. Pork was both literally and figuratively in the air, inundating all of our senses. The first station was the most memorable and my personal favorite. I was an Asian themed pork bar by Chef Scott Drewno of DC’s Source featuring pork dumplings, a pork dumpling soup,and a curry pork served over a pork rind. Having grown up in Mississippi I was no stranger to porkrinds, but to seem the used so liberally in such a swanky setting, was a bit of sweet nostalgia. Both the flavors and texture were amazing. This station even featured bacon lemonade; as strange as it sounds this was one tasty cup of lemonade.
Event staff wandered the conference room floor with bouquets of bacon. I’ll say that again: bouquets of bacon. The second station also held wonderful delights in the theme of the South. I sampled Cajun Craklins, Andouille Sausage, Backbone Stew, Muffaletta, and Headcheese. But the coupe de grace was the Boudin. Words will only fail to describe the happiness this morsel brought to my mouth.
The following stations were a blur of pork in both ingenuity and tastiness. Mike Isabella of Graffiato’s green pork ravioli was definitely worth a shout out as was the blood icecream at the final station. There were pork biscuits and gravy and pork cocktails: porkbelly soaking in its own au jus.
There were cannolis made from pork lard that were light, airy, sweet in all the right places. Tender pork meatballs generously covered in a homemade marinara sauce; at the same station there were bits of porkbelly served with veggies, and pork rolls – all were amazing. There were also succulent pulled pork tacos and pork lettuce wraps. At a certain point I went Pork Blind, inundated with the massive amounts of pork everywhere: it was all I could see, all I could hear, all I could smell, and all I could taste. As a confirmed pescatorian I WAS IN HEAVEN.
Manhattan’s made of top shelf liquor were available to quench our thirst, as well as wine from 5 different local wineries. At one station a butcher gave a demonstration of how to carve up different types of meat. We met farmers, foodies, vendors, and chefs alike: no one left hungry, unhappy, or sober.
It was around the 4th station that my will to continue flagged. I tried to put on a brave face, but this came out more as abject misery. I’d made many mistakes in attending this event: tight jeans, cute shirt, high heels. The clothing choices combined with the 2.1lbs of pork promised had beaten me. I desperately wanted to quit, only the shame of quitting before my 90lb best friend kept me going. I tried everything, and lived to regret it the next day. Pork seeped out of my skin and into the wall of my apartment. Little pockets of grease dotted my bath water. I looked 5 months pregnant for the next week. It was worth it. The culinary delicacies I sampled were nothing short of amazing. In my mind the event will be forever marked not only by the food, but by my very tiny friends continued questioning, “you look miserable. Do you want some more oysters. I’m thinking of getting some more pate, do you want some.” She did this while continuing to eat, showing now signs of stopping to both my amazement and horror.
I found some respite following the first 90 minutes of the event, after which Chef Adam Sobel of Burbon Steak brought out his pork preparation. To be honest by this time I was too full enjoy the marvels of the Burbon Steak chef. I did however fully enjoy sampling the Laurent-Perrier that was celebrating it’s 200th anniversary at Cochon 555. In honor of this celebration, Laurent-Perrier was kind enough to provide samples of their champagne. At 7PM all guests were invited to participate in a toast of Laurent-Perrier’s Champagne, it was delectable.
Finally the moment we had all been waiting for had arrived: the awards ceremony. By this time I had given up all decorum and was standing barefoot in the main room. My friend pretended to be ashamed of me. Not only could I have cared less, I certainly was not alone in my apathy, there were several women in stocking feet and flats, unabashedly awaiting the announcement of the winner. There was hardly any surprise when Chef Scott Drewno took was voted best bite of the evening. After seeing Chef Drewno rewarded for his amazing culinary delights, my friend and I left as fast as possible to find flip flops and sweat pants. There were our rewards following an evening of marathon pork eating. I woke up sore the next day feeling as if I had just run a marathon 5 months pregnant.