Malcolm asks the eternal question: Why's my pork fat so mushy?

Feb 20, 2008 at 4:00 am
"It is a solemn thought: Dead, the noblest man's meat is inferior to pork."
—Mark Twain

Solemn? Perhaps.

I think it's comforting.

Then again, when it comes to the porcine-person distinction, I'll take my comfort where I can get it.

It's not that we're on course for a future where genetically modified pig hearts are interchangeable with our own. That's creepy, sure.

What bothers me, though, is our age-old anxiety over pigs.

From Deuteronomy and Mohammed, from trichinosis to its extended family of worms, pigs have always made us squeal. Sometimes that's a squeal of delight, as when we come upon a choice cut of slow-roasted pork shoulder. But just as often that squeal comes by way of a dietary restriction, ghettoizing our porcine brothers.

In the inimitable logic of Leviticus, we're supposed to give pigs a wide berth at the buffet in that "the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be cloven-footed, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean to you."

So it's the cud. That's why the gentiles are lost to Yahweh.

Later, the Old Testament's prohibition on the cud-free transgressor was updated with a new, scientific, belief: Yes, the pig was unclean, but not because of the cud/no cud dichotomy; it was unclean because pigs carried parasites — possibly a bigger demerit: No longer taboo, now it was simply cooked to death.

Of course, not everyone is so nervous about pigs. Winston Churchill, a man who no doubt ate his fill of rashers, once famously quipped: "Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals."

And I guess that's really the problem, isn't it? Pigs may not chew cud. Confined, they may be unclean. They may harbor parasites and eat shit, but in the end, pigs — social, intelligent, omnivorous creatures that they are — remind us of us.

It's said, after all, that roasted, we don't really taste like chicken at all. We taste like pig. Granted, there's not a whole lot of firsthand reportage here, but the comparison did get a big push forward a few years back when Japanese researchers unveiled a robot prototype that could "taste" foods by analyzing their chemical composition in real time.

Designed to accurately distinguish different wines and cheeses, the robot cannot only determine different brands of wine, it can also divine what cheeses would best complement the bottle and even the relative sweetness of fruits.

Nifty, no?

Less nifty: When an AP reporter placed his hand in the robot's tasting apparatus, the result came back loud and clear: The reporter was made of prosciutto. The cameraman, evidently a bit chunky, followed suit. His substance: bacon.

I can only wonder, then, what sort of beef-to-the-heel Slayer of Whoppers would taste like a can of TYWËHKA Pork and Gelatin Product.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against a bit of gelatinized pork, and there's a long Eastern European tradition of storing jellied pork, but the folks TYWËHKA are working with only the loosest definition of "gelatin," one that, evidently, includes this cloudy concoction of rendered fat.

Pâté de Campagne it ain't. It's more like one of those blue tubs of Morrell Snow Cap lard. Only here it's been blended with a handful of chipped ham, canned and shipped from the furthest reaches of Eastern Europe.

Prying the fatty pillar from its can made my inner cardiologist shudder, but even this visual prophylactic could not prepare me for the cool and creamy gel that now clings to my tines. I part my lips. I am gagging. I am gagging on a mouthful of pig fat.

Then it melts, and I could swear that my circulatory system has received, via osmosis, a fresh coat of plaque. But the worst is behind me. Now I know to be discerning. Using my fork, spade-like, I dig through the fungible layers of fat and gelatin until I discover a morsel of chipped ham.

I clean it off, pierce it with my fork, and place it on my tongue. I can now say that, generally, what little pork there is in a can of TYWËHKA Pork and Gelatin Product doesn't taste half bad.

Then again, Twain had something to say about generalizations, too.

Namely: "All generalizations are false, including this one."

Seen a foodstuff you're too timid to try? Malcolm will eat it! E-mail particulars to [email protected]