Mmm. Gloucestershire Old Spot pork – so savory, buttery and juicy, nothing like that “other white meat” that requires the addition of brines to have any kind of flavor. These chops stand up to grilling without going dry… thick cut bone in chops are as good as Porterhouse any day.
What breed are the pigs?
Each breed has its particular gifts and should be suited to the soil and climate of their home. I am a big fan of the old British orchard pig, Gloucestershire Old Spot and find them to be perfectly suited to the climate of this farm.
Spots are traditional lard pigs popular for pasturing in turn-of-the-century farmstead orchards. They fatten well on windfall fruit and are gentle enough to keep the orchard floor clean without destroying the trees. The girls are long, chubby and hardy and their disposition is wonderful.
My boar is another old fashioned farmstead favorite, the Duroc. Durocs are leaner and more muscular than Spots. The cross yields a not-too lean, not-too-fatty hog with better hams and bacons than purebred Spots.
What do your pigs eat?
Unlike cattle who are able to get all the nutrition they need from grass, pigs are more like us in that they need a varied diet including grains & proteins to thrive. Because it is important to me to buy within my local food shed, I use a grain from Ohio. It is part of the verified Non GMO program, and the deep, pure flavor it imparts to the finished pork is very consistent.
The pigs do a great job gobbling up my organic fodder pumpkins, beets, apples, grass, hay and milk too.
They also eat some things I wish they wouldn’t like their straw bedding. They never eat any antibiotics or hormones.
Is your pork certified organic?
I have not invested in certifying the farm, so no. Frankly, I am greatly disappointed with the constant stretching of national organic standards to accommodate commodity producers and I choose to not raise the prices of my products to support the program. I do follow organic practices here, no spraying, no synthetic fertilizers, but I do buy hay and straw from other non-organic neighboring farms. The pigs eat verified non-GMO grain raised locally.
What kind of lives do your pigs have?
At Auburn Meadow Farm, animal welfare is my highest priority. These pigs have been treated with love and respect. They have names and have been together since their first weeks. They have plenty of space to run & play and cause general mayhem which they greatly enjoy.
They also enjoy dry, clean, deep hay & straw which they snuggle into like sausages for afternoon naps. You may find it surprising to know that unlike their reputation, pigs are extremely clean, enjoy people and are very social.
What’s the big deal about heritage breeds?
I prefer the old-fashioned breeds best suited to a small diversified farm for many reasons. First, these are simply hardier pigs. They are personable, a pleasure to be around, comfortable being outside in all temperatures, and have not forgotten how to be mothers. They are extremely healthy with little input from me.
In addition, their meat has an entirely different texture and flavor than conventional pork. So much more delicious and juicy.
While it is true that the animals are more picturesque, I keep animals like these not as a quaint hobby, but because I am greatly concerned about the loss of nearly all our non-commercial breeds of livestock. These hardy forgotten breeds are critical to the future of livestock and part of my work here is to preserve their vital genetics. You can read more about that here.
Clarification: hanging weight & final cuts:
The traditional method for calculating costs is based upon the hanging weight of the animal. Hanging weight is what the animal weighs after processing and cleaning. The average hanging weight for these hogs is about 190 – 220 pounds. Some of that is bones and fat that will be trimmed off by the butcher – your wrapped final cuts will not total 100% of the hanging weight, but typically fall between 65 – 70% after trim and shrinkage during smoking and sausage making.
Fresh:Smoked vs Fresh:Frozen
One of the mildly confusing items that comes up when talking with a butcher about pork is smoked vs fresh and fresh vs frozen. This comes up most often when talking about hams.
Many of us today don’t know any other type of ham than the pink, smoked kind. But unsmoked fresh ham roasts were popular once too. They can be brined and cooked like any roast.
Unless otherwise specified, when I speak of ham and bacon, I mean the smoked variety we are all familiar with.
The meat will all be frozen in the butcher’s freezers. You may ask the butcher to slice the bacon and wrap in smaller packages, and slice the hams into ham steaks if you like to help it fit better in your freezer.
Speaking of smoking, what can be smoked?
Any cut can be cured and/or smoked, even an entire pig. But especially good are:
- Bacon – The classic belly bacon or smoked pork belly. Available as slabs or sliced.
- Jowl – Very much like belly bacon. Can be whole or sliced. Used in stews, soups dishes with grains and beans by many chefs.
- Hocks – Adds smoked deliciousness to soups, stews, chilis, beans, greens & more
- Classic Ham – need I say more?
- Pork Butt – Fantastic for pulled pork sandwiches or served as a roast.
- Picnic Shoulder – Like Pork Butt, great for pulled pork or served as a roast.
- Loin – Also known as Canadian Bacon, Irish Bacon or Back Bacon.
- Ribs – Spare ribs smoked like bacon. Great for snacking or adding flavor to other dishes.
- Chops – Bone in pork chops are tender and delicious smoked. Snack on them straight off the bone, or serve as a main dish with a side of creamy scalloped potatoes…
What’s your take on nitrites?
I have read much about nitrates and nitrites and have done lots of experimenting, and my conclusion is this: bacon and ham aren’t health foods. I love them just the way they are which is cured and smoked. It’s best to cook them gently and consume them in moderation.
The small amount of nitrites included in the brine for my bacon and ham is safe enough for me and is the ingredient that gives bacon and ham that rosy color and specific flavor. Plus, let’s not forget the reason we use it in the first place; smoked and air-dried meats can be breeding grounds for some bad bacteria which is something I’d prefer to avoid. We are thankfully ignorant of botulism, which is a horrible food borne illness that can be at best crippling, at worst fatal. Nitrates are the reason we enjoy safe bacon and lunch meats today.
And, nitrates are a completely natural and are found in veggies like celery and spinach and even saliva. Many nitrate free products are actually cured using celery juice which is in fact the same thing as laboratory formulated pink salt used by many butchers.
I’m not going to try to change your mind if you feel strongly against, but I do refer you to Michael Ruhlman for a more educated take on the matter. Scroll to the bottom of the page for his musing on pink salt (cure or sodium nitrite).
And, If you’re still decidedly against, get your bacon and ham fresh (unsmoked), and take it to a smokehouse who offers this service, or try making your own. Part of the fun of going whole hog is exploring charcuterie projects, and bacon is an approachable project to begin with.
About the butcher:
These pigs were processed, cut and wrapped by Whiting’s Family Foods. They do a beautiful job with smoked meats, sausages and hams, are family owned, small scale and hands-on. The Whitings are a real blessing to local farmers like me, helping get my foods onto your plate.
You can pick your meat up anytime during store hours at their New Wilmington PA store, which is an easy and enjoyable drive north of Pittsburgh.
Note: I have no control over changes in processor policies and pricing. This information is true today but subject to change with no notice.
Uniform vs Craft
As is true in all things, once something becomes a commodity something special and vital is lost. These old-fashioned breeds raised the old-fashioned ways still have that rich flavor and uniqueness that has nearly been forgotten. Which makes it totally modern, right?
Your food shopping habits make all the difference in our ability to preserve the diversity of our crops and livestock or not. When you commit to seeking out producers who value and preserve heritage and heirloom animals and crops, you are investing in food safety for future generations.
Fortunately, the payoff is huge and immediate – I guarantee you will never be satisfied with industrial foods once you discover the superior nutrition and flavor of real, old fashioned foods.
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