Heirloom pork: the other red meat

It is a cliché, courtesy of the National Pork Board, the U.S. Pork Producer’s Consortium, to hear the slogan “Pork-The Other White Meat”, and it promotes a stereotype of pork as an alternative to chicken. Increasingly there is a movement of producers and chefs to spotlight pork from unique and rare breeds of pig, known as heritage or heirloom pork. The difference maker in these various breeds versus Duroc or Large White that account for most of the pork consumed in the United States, is the diffusion of fat in the meat. That in turn makes it a gustatory pleasure as opposed to the relative blandness in an ordinary “white” pork chop. The two rarest and apparently tastiest and marketable are the “Kurobuta” and the “Red Wattle” pigs.

Kurobuta is Japanese for “black pig”, but the intrigue does not stop there. There is a debate among porkologists about the exact historical roots of the Japanese black pig. One school of pork contends that British merchants in the 19th Century brought heritage Black Berkshire pigs from the British Isles to Japan, as a diplomatic protocol gift to Japanese authorities. The other school firmly contends that the Kurobuta is native to Japan, and that some pigs were brought to the British Isles with the express purpose of breeding with native British Berkshire stock. After the breeding, a “super Berkshire” was brought back to Japan to interbreed with the original Japanese black. So the debate lingers.

In the United States, some producers like Snake River Farms sell what is essentially Berkshire heirloom pork under the Kurobuta rubric. It’s a smart move on their part because in- the- know foodies and restaurant owners like readily marketable names for the food items on the menus, where a name stands for excellence and high gustatory quality, for example Kobe beef. And that is exactly what Kurobuta has as a reputation, as the Kobe beef of pork. Kurobuta is not the dry lean white meat pork, but has a gamey flavor and when pan seared, oven roasted or grilled, the center is a rosy red like a good medium rare steak. According to Snake River farms, Kurobota has fifty percent less weight loss during cooking than ordinary pork which acts as a flavor retainer.

Now the Red Wattle is one strange looking pig, and genetically is considered a cousin of the Duroc, otherwise known as “Large White”, the all-star of pig breeds for the variety of cuts it provides and how easily it breeds. It is rusty red, can grow up to eight feet long and weigh around 800 pounds, and has “wattles” which look like cow teats dangling around the throat, and have no known biological function. Like the Kurobota, the Red Wattle has gamey, deep and flavorful taste, owing to the diffusion of marbled omega 3 rich fat in the meat.

The Red Wattle are native to New Caledonia in the South Pacific, and arrived in North America in the 1700’s thanks to French explorers. Today, the Red Wattle is predominantly bred in East Texas and parts of Louisiana, and somehow, in the Napa Valley, smack in the middle of California’s wine growing heartland, but it is considered a “critical” population with less than one hundred “scrofa” or breeding pigs left in the United States.

Recently, the Red Wattle revival bandwagon has been picking up steam under the careful aegis of the Slow Food Napa Valley Convivium, who sponsored a benefit in June 2006 at Silverado Resort in Napa Valley. At the special dinner, a variety of Red Wattle cuts were served, and like the music of Giuseppe Verdi, “niente di buttar via”, nothing to throw away. Everything from the offal, heart and strip loin were served. Even the pared down palace of chic that is Blackbird Restaurant in Chicago has joined the Red Wattle fest, with a benefit dinner held in early June to benefit the Terra Madre Project of Slow Food Chicago.

Heirloom pork breeds, from Kurobota to Red Wattle, to its European counterparts Black Nebrodi Pig (Sicily), Iberian Black and Iberian Celtic (Spain), have the same gustatory traits: deep fatty flavor, dark meat and so on. These breeds are generally kept by producers in smaller numbers than other breeds like the Large White, and for the most part in environmentally sustainable conditions, namely they are sold not a long distance from where they are bred. Further, being able to range about and feed freely, eating the fruits of the trees such as acorns and all natural grains, makes for a happier, healthier and ultimately tastier pig. Consuming an heirloom pig is the right thing to do, and the pork lover can strike two blows at once: for the palate and for the environment.


Red said...

Do you know of any place to get Red Wattle pork on the east coast?

Keith said...

Don't forget Tamworths!

The Farmers said...

go to

you will find a breeder list there.

Sarah said...

YES - - Red Wattle Pork Online!