Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Flavor from heritage pork

Red Wattle Sow

 Jeff Duba  asked us,
(1) Are there heritage pig breeds that are regarded as producing exceptional meat?
(2) Are the breeds listed on the Conservation Priority List the only breeds that are considered "heritage"? I keep bumping into farmers who say that their Duroc or their Kurobuta pork is a heritage breed. And I notice that Heritage Foods USA lists Berkshires in their pork product offerings.
Mulefoot sows
With the pork, the first big dividing line in flavor is confined and grain fed vs. pastured.  The second dividing line is fatter vs. leaner.  The breeds on our list are old fashioned and have more lard and marbling than the modern breeds.  They’re also slower growing.  Slower growing, pasture raised pigs are more flavorful, and that difference is especially noticable in the fat.  Studies have also shown the meat and fat of pasture raised pigs to be more healthy, with higher levels of vitamins and heart healthy fatty acids. 

There are differences between breeds, and once upon a time breeds were known as bacon breeds vs. lard breeds.  The long, lean breeds were bacon breeds. The bacon breeds have fat, but are thinly muscled  (Ironically, today’s Berkshire is long and lean, but in the early 20th century it was known as a lard breed.  Look at the old pictures, it is quite a change!).

young Ossabaw pigs
Of the breeds on our list, in general, Red Wattle and Tamworth  are leaner, with Tamworth well deserving of its reputation as a bacon pig (yum).  Large Black and Gloucestershire Old Spots are also considered bacon pigs, but have more lard than American consumers are accustomed to (also delicious).  Mulefoot and Ossabaws can go either way, it depends a lot on management. If not managed properly, they can gain too quickly and get fat.  Guinea Hogs are very much a lard breed, with abundant and firm lard that is perfect for charcuterie.  Herefords are similar in conformation to modern breeds, and have good sized hams. 

Berkshires are not endangered and therefore not heritage by our definition, but are being widely used for pastured pork and do well in that scenario.  Sometimes you’ll find pastured Duroc too.  (See dividing lines, above.)

Two references we like are:
“Homegrown Pork” by Sue Weaver.
“Lard” by the Editors of Grit Magazine.
The recipes are guaranteed to make you smile! 

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