Heritage breed hogs are the old-fashioned breeds that were the norm before the industrialization of farming. They were handy animals to have on a diverse farm because they were natural garbage disposals, eating everything from table scraps to whey, the byproduct of cheese production.
Just a few pigs can clear and turn a fallow field, to prepare it for sowing with amazing speed and efficiency, saving a farmer time and resources. And when autumn came, the pig would give its last measure of devotion, and grace the family table with ham hocks and bacon.
As more small farms seek a return to the traditional ways, they turn to the old hog breeds – like the Berkshire, Tamworth, Red Wattle and Duroc. The modern pink pig has been bred for lean meat and for its ability to be reared intensively, in confinement. Not so the heritage breeds – many of them are unfashionably fatty (ahem!), with temperaments suited only to spacious barn living and open pasture. And they tend to grow slower than their commercial counterparts, which is not convenient to farmers in a hurry to sell commodity pork.
Many of the heritage breeds came dangerously near extinction when their meat and lard were no longer desirable. But in the “eat them to save them” school of thinking, a generation of farmers has been raising these heritage breed hogs, often selling the pork at a premium through farmer’s markets and other small-scale outlets.
Our Heritage Breed Pork
At D’Artagnan, we source all our Berkshire and heritage breed pork from a cooperative of small farms at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. Each participating farmer agrees to keep traceable records of the breeding lines, feeds the pigs a natural diet of forage and supplemental corn, soybeans and rolled oats, with no hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, animal by-products or fishmeal. Most importantly, the pigs are given lots of space and sunshine, are allowed their natural piggy behaviors, raise their own piglets, and live outdoors with access to shelter. Pork raised this way costs a little more than the bland, lean, pale pork at the average grocery store, but to support the efforts of these farmers, and to preserve heritage breed pigs, we feel it’s worth it. So we pay our farmers a premium to adhere to these standards. And we think you can taste the difference in the final product.
Look for our next post on heritage breed ham.