Pedigree Pigs

photo: Tom Henry with Berkshire Pig  credit: Gary Hynes

For an eating adventure, nothing can beat the taste of heritage pigs raised with love and fed their own proper diet.  A heritage pig is a treasured heirloom – desirable and unique for its tender upbringing, as opposed to the industrial variety, commonly found in today’s supermarkets, which often serves up a big fat disappointment.

Many wonderful heritage pig varieties are now being raised on small farms in British Columbia.  Sadly, they remain a small, select market and can be hard for the average person to find.  Before the boom of industrial agriculture, farmers always kept a modest number of what are now known as heritage pigs/pork breeds. These are naturally thrifty, hardy animals, raised for their meat, bacon and lard.

Pigs are unique for a simple reason; the fat that they eat is redistributed throughout their own muscle fiber. This means that pigs, like us, are what they eat.  So what a pig eats is crucial to how it tastes.  Factory-farmed pigs are bred and fed to produce very lean meat, often dry and bland when cooked.  Heritage breeds typically have more fat, and this makes the meat more flavorful and moist.  The flavor of heritage pork varies with the breed.  For example, Berkshire pork is buttery, luscious and smooth, whereas Duroc meat is clean, crisp and not too fatty. Generally, heritage pigs are not raised in small confinement, which means happier, healthier animals.

Heritage pork breeds are not suited to intensive and aggressive farming. With the rise of industrial hog farming in the early sixties, many of the old breeds were pushed out of the marketplace and so became very rare.   Fortunately, visionary farmers are now trying to save these genetic lines, and provide consumers with more flavorful meat.  Tom Henry of Metchosin, for example, raises heritage pigs on his property named Sea Bluff Farm.  Currently, Tom is raising three breeds of heritage pork: Duroc, Tamworth and Berkshire yielding approximately a hundred and fifty pigs for market each year.  His philosophy is simple:  “Pigs need to root, find interesting things, wallow and explore.  If you provide those things the animal is happy.  Happy pigs are good pork”.

Lisa Bury and Tobias Marcoux of Stilted House Farm in Nanaimo have a small family farm of two acres with two Tamworth sows and one large Black stud.  Their yearly average is four pigs for market. They decided to raise their own pork after doing research and found that a heritage breed would suit them best.  Lisa believes that “Heritage breeds are generally healthier, have more personality are more self-sufficient and are tastier”. Sadly, few people in our community know the difference.  “A small farm is not about making money. It’s about a quality of life and making sure at the end of the day we know where our food comes from.  Meat is a mainstay in our culture’s diet, we are not going to stop eating meat. We just want to ensure we are eating healthy and happy meat. We also really love bacon!”

Dr. David Newman, an assistant professor at the Department of Animal Sciences for North Dakota State University, is a meat scientist and a pork educator.  His focus is on the factors affecting pork quality and animal welfare.  When talking with Dr. Newman he stated, “everything matters!  When less than 2% of the people in North America represent 100% of the food, we need to spread the message of how important agriculture is to the world!”  Dr. Newman has been raising high quality purebred Berkshire pigs for approximately ten years on his small family farm in Missouri.  He has about two hundred and fifty sows, which can roughly produce three thousand five hundred market pigs a year.

This year I have decided to join the pig revolution.  I will be purchasing two pigs from Tom Henry to be raised at home on our two-acre property.  Having had the fortunate opportunity to work over five years in a top-100 restaurant in San Francisco, where we had to source our heritage pork all the way from Newman Farm in Missouri, I understand the demand for this delectable meat.  Since moving back to Vancouver Island, I am excited to learn that we have these wonderful heritage breeds available to us in our backyards. Food sustainability for Vancouver Island is an achievable goal.  Let’s support our local farmers by purchasing and tasting local heritage pork.

Seek out that butcher or that restaurant whose owner goes to the trouble to find you a happy, pedigree pig, and you’ll treat yourself to a happy palate.

Where to buy heritage pork products in Victoria:

Pepper’s Foods – Cadboro Bay Village

The Village Butcher – Oak Bay

Choux Choux Charcuterie – Downtown

Slater’s First Class Meats – Cadboro Bay Road

Island Meat and Seafood – Cook St. Village

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