LOS ANGELES. – Increasing interest in whole hogs among culinary students in Southern California is the latest trend in the never-ending quest for connection to where food comes from, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. As a result, some restaurant menus throughout Southern California are featuring pig parts never before featured.

Pork belly is showing up everywhere, the report states, particularly on upscale menus. And there are Thomas Keller's famous trotters on the menu at Bouchon in Beverly Hills. Downtown,  pig ears braised and then fried at both Church & State and at Lazy Ox can be found. In the South Bay, Remi Lauvand sold out a whole pig menu at Manhattan Beach's Cafe Pierre, the article points out.

The passion for pork has shown up in surprising places. On StyleForum, a men's clothing website, there is an article devoted to homemade sausage and cured and smoked meats.

A confluence of several strands has elevated the pig, the L.A. Times article relays.

Pork offers a variety of tastes and textures no other protein can match. Until now, concentration has primarily been on one cut – the loin. Fabricating and processing parts of the whole pig, or making the most of the so-called lesser cuts, takes real hands-on processing and cooking skills.

“Nothing pleases a certain kind of modern transgressive diner as much as seeing an obscure pig part or piece of offal on a menu,” the article states. “There's a certain go-for-the-gusto bohemian quality to it. It is to today's restaurant customer what copious amounts of garlic was to a previous generation.”

One chef said a good menu needs to have menu offerings everybody will enjoy, plus several things that are controversial. Regarding pig ears, for example, people are either appalled by them or love them.

There's a lot of sausage-making and meat-curing taking place in Southern California restaurants. Chef Chad Colby at Mozza2Go recently sent friends an e-mail with photos detailing his experiments breaking down a pig at the restaurant and creating unique dishes, including a dish of lentils with zampone (Italian sausage made from a whole stuffed pig's foot).

Southern California is a fertile place to explore unusual pork offerings, due to its proliferation of Asian and Latino grocers. Almost any cut of pork can be found there, from nose to tails, and restaurants are now offering interesting dishes such as pig ear salad.

Almost all of these more unusual pork cuts are less expensive than traditional cuts – priced at $3 or less a pound, the article concludes.