14 June 2007


Most commercial pork is raised in industrial-style buildings, using one breed of pig. That's why hogs are treated as a commodity; every one is pretty much identical to every other one, and therefore interchangable. As Corby Kummer described in an excellent 2004 article for the Atlantic Monthly, the pork industry has spent decades developing a breed that is very low in fat --- but is also very low in flavor. That, by the way, is why these pigs must be raised indoors. They simply don't have enough fat to stay warm outside.

Small-scale sustainable farmers, however, can raise any breed they choose. Some of our neighbors do raise these "homestead hogs," and they're absolutely delicious. My wife, unfortunately, isn't a big pork eater, so we've never tried raising hogs --- and neither have we bought much pork from our neighbors. But don't dare get between me and the fried, breaded pork chop that Matthew, our homeschooled neighbor, gave me in exchange for putting a bullet in the pig's head for him on butchering day.

Anyway, there is hope that "traditional" pork (with all the fat) might be making a larger comeback. A recent story in the New York Times profiles a few different NYC restaurants that are serving "whole hogs", in the middle of a table, and letting everyone in the dinner party simply dig in.

They’re porky times, fatty times, which is to say very good times indeed. Any new logo for the city could justifiably place the Big Apple in the mouth of a spit-roasted pig, and if the health commissioner were really on his toes, he’d draw up a sizable list of restaurants required to hand out pills of Lipitor instead of after-dinner mints.

The list would encompass more than steakhouses, which have multiplied exponentially over the last five years, because what’s lumbered into particular favor with culinary tastemakers and the food-savvy set isn’t just beef and isn’t just any old piece of meat.

It’s a piece of meat that’s extra-messy, like one of the fat-ringed slabs of lamb at Trestle on Tenth, which opened last year. Sometimes it’s a mammoth cut, sometimes just gooey nuggets of animal parts less conventionally appreciated or lyrically named than the tenderloin.


Now ...“lardo is sought after, and it no longer raises people’s hackles,” he said in a recent phone conversation. “People finally realize that fat is truly delicious, particularly pork fat.”

The story doesn't discuss which breeds of pig are being raised for these restaurants, or how they're being raised, but I'd bet that these are not traditional factory-farmed hogs. And if these restaurants are currently settling for factory-farmed breeds of pork and lamb, just wait until they try a heritage breed that has been raised with a more natural, healthy layer of fat.

I'm getting hungry just thinking about it. And wondering if I have one of Matthew's pork chops left in my freezer.


Raindear said...

This Christmas, I bought a half a hog from my good friends(and neighbors) who raise Tamworths. They feed the hogs organic grain, raw milk and any unused produce from their garden. They also let them forage in a pasture for greens and in the woods for acorns. The meat is delicious! The ham steaks were entirely different from any ham I've eaten before and all the cuts were more flavorful and meaty than the typical grocery fare.

TYF said...

The forage and varied diet probably makes a big contribution. We do the same with our chickens; they forage whereever they want, they eat table scraps, excess milk, etc. You can't believe the comments we've gotten on how good the eggs taste.