“It could be said that European civilization - and Chinese civilization -
has been founded on the pig.” ~ Jane Grigson, notable English cookery writer
For most of us, if we were to pick a crayon color for pigs, the choice would be pink. For more than a century pigs have generally looked exactly the same - pink, with little hair. That is how pigs have been characterized and it is only recently that we have begun to go back to tradition to describe pigs as spotted or with large floppy ears or red and very hairy or large and black. Until recently, pork was elbowed off our plates by the beef and poultry industry. The “lean white meat” or “other white meat” was how pork was presented to us in the advertisements and just like so much of what goes on in the world of mass food production, pigs have become almost completely homogenized in species. Tasteless and lacking in fat is what the white meat, pink pig has been bred to produce.
In Victorian England it was common for families to raise a pig. The pig was considered a family companion. The “cottage pig” was an edible pet who provided the family with pride in its appearance and behavior for 6 months of the year, but also became precious dinners in the winter. Those animals were, by nature, hardy and easy to raise - they lived off the land, scraps, and a bit of feed. They foraged outside, were generally dark or spotted or red with multiple breeds having different and interesting characteristics. These are the “heritage”. Since the 1900s, pig raising in small family farm production has transformed into large scale confinement production systems.
With this came the pink pig, brought into modern pig farming methods because of its ability for quick growth and lean meat versus the marbled fat meat of free-ranging pigs, having more activity and slower growth - all the qualities that make the meat tastier. Today, there has been a comeback due to the prioritizing of taste, artisan aged meat products, slow food movements, appreciation of heritage breeds in general, and also a return to small farming and “eat local” movements. This happened rather remarkably just in the nick of time, as the breeds were so incredibly close to extinction.
This is what we call Heritage Breed Pigs, and they came in many varieties - some red, black, brown, even spotted. Up until recently, these breeds of pigs were all but lost.
Berkshire pigs, almost extinct in 2008, are known for their prized meat and gentle mothers. The Red Wattle is used to raising its babies outside and braving the elements. That makes it genetically tougher than an industrially raised pig that lives its life in a pen. That toughness is important when it comes to raising pigs outside. Tamworths are known for their prized pork belly (bacon). The Duroc, or Red Hog, is know for its gentle behavior, as is the Large Black. The Mulefoot is known for its lard and hams. So there you have it, several breeds of pigs that were all but lost 10 years ago.
Kitchen Porch started raising pigs about 16 years ago simply because the kitchen scraps became too much, and while we had always supplied our neighbor farmers with scraps, we decided to raise pigs ourselves and we have never consider anything else since then. When taking the pigs to slaughter became a stressful and disturbing process, we began slaughtering the pigs ourselves. Every year we get requests from neighbors to help and learn and we now have a core group who come and help us. Over the past four years, the process has evolved into a more structured class. Chefs from all over have joined us in this process and that too has had its own evolution. At the Kitchen Porch we do our part to help preserve heritage breed pigs. Yes, I know this is confusing. We raise heritage breed pigs to slaughter. By celebrating and enjoying these unique breeds, we can preserve them. NPR recently covered a story on Travis Hood of Hood’s Heritage Hogs – it hits the point home: To Save These Pigs, We Have to Eat Them.
It’s about biodiversity by building demand for heritage breed meats.
Our pigs have lived on the land, rooting around with plenty of kitchen scraps, organic grain, with a happy existence. They have also become a valuable and appreciated part of the day-to-day life of my family and the crew at Kitchen Porch.
Three years ago we launched Porks & Knives, which is a three-day workshop and immediately following that, Swine & Dine, offering Friday and Saturday night events. The weekend events are a culmination of the Porks & Knives three-day workshop on slaughter, butchery and preserving. Many people join us for the entire weekend. There will be talks by myself, and Nathan Gould of Harbor View, and Kari Underly, recent James Beard Nominated Author of The Art of Beef Cutting. This is a community event as we bring in our very own Local Smoke to slow smoke the meat. The Pulled Pork Local Smoke Out happens on Halloween and we will certainly be delivering some tricks and treats! Saturday night will be a Six-Course Heritage Pork Grand Gala Dinner paired with wine. Naturally, all of the pork served at these events has been raised outdoors and are heritage breeds.
Our Porks & Knives workshop, intended for chefs to learn the true experience of processing a pig from snout to trotters, will play a large part in the thoughtful honoring of the lives of these pigs. We will be sure to use every part of the pig, through the most sustainable practices, and reflect on our bounty. We encourage chefs and serious food lovers to sign up for this great experience.
We hope you join us for one of our many Swine & Dine events. Harbor View Hotel, one of our sponsors, will be offering a special group rate if you choose to stay the entire weekend.
I’m sharing a recipe of one of our favorite pork dishes: Porchetta. We serve our porchetta along with Salsa Verde, another go-to Kitchen Porch favorite. Worth the undertaking and sure to please, I encourage you to discover the delicious culinary art of making porchetta in your own kitchen.
In the meantime, ask yourself if you know the source of your meat. Consider your bacon and sausages. Chances are it came from an animal that was raised in confinement - a pink pig. Consider your sources, even finding a local pig farmer if that is possible. Time to take out some different colored crayons to color in your next pig drawing - Heritage Breed Pigs are here.