Cochon 555: 5 Chefs, 5 Pigs, 5 Winemakers

COCHON 555 is a national event series that takes place in 14 major cities across the country created by Taste Network’s Brady Lowe in 2009 in response to the lack of consumer education around heritage breed pigs.  Every January, C555 embarks on a 10-city culinary competition and tasting tour where 50 chefs are selected to prepare a ‘snout -to-tail’ menu created from heritage breed pigs. The 10 winners of each regional event are flown to Aspen for the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen for the final competition, Grand Cochon.

What’s great about Cochon 555 is that it promotes the idea of slow food prepared with respect for the animal, purpose and passion.

What is a heritage pig? Heritage breeds are traditional livestock breeds that were raised by farmers in the past, before the drastic reduction of breed variety caused by the rise of industrial agriculture. According to the Sustainable Table, today’s industrial farms rely upon a few specialized types of livestock and crops and thousands of non-commercial animal breeds and crop varieties have disappeared. Within the past 15 years, 190 breeds of farm animals have gone extinct worldwide, and there are currently 1,500 others at risk of becoming extinct. This is no where more evident than in the much maligned pork industry where today 75% of pigs in the United States come from only 3 main breeds.

It is within this context that C555’s mission grew:

It all started from a series of conversations. Brady met farmers struggling to keep their family businesses alive. He saw restaurants looking to source exceptional ingredients. And he heard from consumers wanting to know where their food comes from and how it has been raised.

A stand-up tasting event that features five chef stations on the main competition floor, C555 (by rules of the competition, C555 cannot add any food activities beyond to the main floor while chefs are campaigning for your vote). Five chefs will be in service from 5:00-6:30pm plating individually for each guest in line. Each chef’s bite is hoping to earn your vote for “best bite of the day”. Then each guest votes. Then a “second wave of swine” is released. A sixth chef will prepare two whole pigs for a family meal (the five chef teams are invited to eat with the guests during family meal). Then, right before awards, a family-style dessert course called “Swine & Sweets” is served. In each city the five chefs in competition have spent more than five days cooking these amazing heritage pigs and they will be campaigning for your vote. And everyone in attendance is a judge.

The beauty of C555 is that it confirms what I, as a meat eater, wants to know. That eating meat responsibly is possible. In the words of Brady:

It’s not just farm to table that matters–it’s what happens in between, the how and where, the history of what we eat. More and more of us want to skip the processing and get our foods straight from the pasture but we don’t always know how to get it, where to look, or what to ask for. The epicurean audience at every Cochon 555 event enjoys a direct link to the sources, a chance to learn from food experts.

For those of us interested in sustainable food and wine it doesn’t get much better than this.

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