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Kent Wang

Pig breeds, pork quality

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Interestingly, the jist of what I got out of the "Good Pigs" panel at this years Big Apple Barbecue Block Party is that what the pigs are fed and how they are treated has a much larger impact on the flavor of the pork than breed -- exactly what jsolomon says.

As one of the panelists mentioned, "when it comes to pork, there is Spanish pork and there is everything else." What makes Spanish pork so great? Well, some of it is breed, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that they are free roaming and fed on acorns. And let me tell you, when you bite into a piece of jamon iberico, you can absolutely taste those acorns (among other things, it produces a softer fat). American pigs used to be fed on peanuts, but this is virtually unknown today.

Interestingly, one of the panelists brought up the essential unsustainability of the current system in use today and pointed out that 150 years ago there were just as many pounds of meat on the hoof in America as there are today, but it was all grass-fed and free-range in the form of bison.


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Yeah, but bison are hell on fences, and our current food paradigm won't allow for free range because cowboys would be too damned expensive.


I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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The only true “heirloom” type of swine I have seen here is on the Barrington Livng History Farm at Washington-on-the-Brazos.  They raise Ossabaw Island Hogs, which look very much like feral hogs

Lone Star - Ossabaw Island Hogs ARE feral hogs. See Ossabaw Island Foundation website

I am not a scientist and cannot say with any certainty whether or not they truly qualify as a heritage breed or unique species although they are classified as such by many organizations and are raised at places like Mount Vernon, Claude Moore Colonial Farm and by private breeders, etc. I say this because Georgia DNR maintains that they are not a unique species while some scientific research points in a different direction. And Georgia DNR has been very reluctant (at least 10 years ago) to continue research in this area because of the implications it would create on managing the species on Ossabaw Island. The hogs are very destructive to the ecosystem, and likely the island would be better off without them although I doubt they will be exterminated completely because of the popularity of the fall hunts sponsored by DNR. Whether they should drop the quarantine question and allow breeders to take them off the island is another question.

I've had Ossabaw pork many a time - the real thing too - on the island - not farm raised - although typically still corn fed for this purpose even though originally wild. It's absolutely delicious, but I'm not prepared to say it's superior to other pork (domestic or wild) because in my experience, it depends not only on what the hog was fed but more importantly, the expertise of the cook.

I am somewhat amused (and at the same time enthused) to see that Ossabaw pork is becoming somewhat of a delicacy in higher end restaurants in NYC and elsewhere, but I would be more interested in seeing some sort of blind cooking/taste test contest put on where top chefs made the same dish with it and something else to determine if it really has better qualities. To my knowledge, nothing lilke this has been done.

Also, as a point of reference, having looked at many of the places that carry the "ossabaw" heritage breed via google, something you might want to note. A true Ossabaw pig is black like a wild hog and has a straight tail with a lot of hair on the end. Many of the ones I see pictured look like mixed breeds. While I've seen a few like that on the island - there was a time when domestics and wilds were both present and intermixed - the true ossabaw hog is all black with a straight hairy tail.

Hope this helps.

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My husband has promised me a quarter-hog for my birthday, probably from Heritage Foods USA. I'm having trouble deciding what kind to get - currently the choices are Berkshire, Duroc, or Red Wattle.

I thought I'd bump this up to see if anyone has tried these different breeds. Does anyone have any recommendations?

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Breeding is likely to be just as important (if not more so then breed). Large Whites are one of the most common breeds used for breeding in commercial piggeries, but if you compare the modern animal with photos from early last century of images from the 19th, you can see that they look quite different, even thought they are the same "breed".

Mangalitzas from Austro-Hungry are an interesting breed (often described as "woolly pigs" due to their thick covering of hair. Inches of backfat, similar to these pigs in Lithuania.scroll down

The Cinta Senese is tasty, but I wonder if this has more to do with the husbandry then the breed.

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