Pigs

A New Pork Recipe Site

One of our members sent us a successfully tested recipe for pork belly cooked in potatoes and milk which she found at Olive Magazine. Sure looks like a good source for our products, and the pork belly in milk and potatoes sounds delicious. Thank you, Juliet!

Speaking of pork, Here’s a refrain on our porkers and why they produce so many great eating experiences. When we decided to learn how to raise good pork, we first researched why commercial pork was so lacking in taste. We learned that not only was the modern diet and living conditions shockingly lacking. But it went beyond that. Industry production had focused almost exclusively on one breed, the Yorkshire, and bred them to produce lean meat during the ridiculous era where all fat was bad (how did that work out for us? Huge mistake).

So we knew we wanted to 1) grow pastured pork and 2) any breed except the Yorkshire. We discovered two breeds that dated back many centuries in England and the early American colonies, the Berkshire and the Duroc. These 2 breeds competed in 9 blind international taste tests and placed first and second in every case. They also fared poorly in caged industrial houses - they simply rejected the idea and died in those cages, causing Big Food to go away from these breeds - fortuitously for ourselves and the pigs!

And that is the short version of why JVF pork tastes so darned good!
 

Jolie Vue Pork

It is easy to discuss nutritional advantages of grass-fed beef, raw milk, chicken and eggs — the research on all of these are deep and wide. Pastured pork is not so. I have found nothing on the subject of the superiority of naturally raised pork except this — pigs finished on seasonal acorns, as they are in Spain and Italy, have fatty acid profiles that look just like olive oil. So that’s a good start. Let’s take it from there.

First, the old wood forest at JVF is loaded with oak trees. In a good acorn year, you can’t take a step without stepping on acorns. But there’s more. The other dominant tree is the native pecan. It is well-established that the pecan contains the most complex variety of oils of all of the nuts. The pecan falls like rain every year as well. Then, I read a study of nuts in general — it turns out that every nut, including the lowly peanut, contributes some quantity of healthy oils, regardless of type.. So from acorns to pecans to almonds, cashews, to peanuts and the rest, very good oils are available to enrich the heart-healthy nature of well grown pork. So how do we take advantage of this knowledge?

While we make free-choice grains available about 22 days of every month, it’s the other 10 days when the pigs are rooting for native grasses, sapling roots, dewberries, grapes, and wild plums. When our native grasses go to sleep, we broadcast winter grass seed, including rye, oats and clover. Then when we are finishing the pig for market, they also get fresh fruits and roasted peanuts.

Lastly, what they don’t have is as important — no drugs, no antibiotics, no hormones, no steroids. 
In summary, fresh fruits and roasted nuts, along with the foods provided by nature and topped off with good grains give our pigs a wide variety of nutrients.

If flavor tells you anything about the nutritional value of any given food, and it does, you know you must be getting the best with JVF pork. It’s flavor still surprises us favorably after 10 years of eating. It simply raises the bar for the rest of the pork world and we have found no one who has hurled that bar. That’s a fact.

Nuts

It’s apparently official: ALL NUTS are health-improving and life-extending according to a recent comprehensive study. We tended to think of almonds as the best nut, most of the others finishing a distant last for nutrient value. Not so, say the experts. They are all about equally good for us. That includes the specifically mentioned peanuts, about which there had been some question since it grows as a rooter rather than on a tree. The peanut now occupies equal status in the nut world.

So let me use this recent finding to remind you of the goodness of fats, a primary food group long reviled but making a great comeback. The good oleic oils found in nuts is nothing more than fat in a semi-liquid state, right? Pigs at Jolie Vue dine on wild nuts in the woods, acorns and pecans, and roasted peanuts in the finishing yard. The result: pork fat (raised the JVF way) profiles like olive oil. How about that?!

While on the subject of porkers, the aforementioned winter pasture also went into the pig paddocks and were feasted upon by our porkers. Looking down on them from the hill for three days, all you could see was a pig body - the head was buried in tall oats that tickled their bellies. Imagine the nutrients that were pouring into their system.

Making Real Food is a very satisfying thing. Watching happy animals doubles the pleasure.

State of the Farm

We passed the summer solstice and while there has been plenty of atmospheric turbulence, in surrounding areas, we haven’t seen rain materialize over us for a good while. The herds are beginning to slim down a bit in preparation for more difficult conditions until we get to the fall. While we are already complaining about humidity, and the weathermen are talking about that “feels like” temperature, the fact of the matter is that humidity in Washington County is lower than we normally experience this time of year. And that is why we see the rains that are pointed toward us run out of steam at Houston, Waco or Austin. Insufficient moisture in the atmosphere, so they run out of fuel. So Clay and I spend some part of our regular conversation hoping for a good, drenching tropical storm coming out of the Gulf. That has been a wish of ours for the last three years and it hasn’t happened yet - but we can always hope and dream.

Pork, on the ground and from our history

Now that our beef supply has gotten back to normal, let’s talk pork, the most commonly consumed meat in America until penning, corn-finishing and the railroad system made beef more plentiful and available across the nation.

There was good reason for pork’s historic dominance on America’s dinner table - anyone with a small piece of ground could raise a pig and supply a family with delicious meat lasting over a winter. My German heritage brother-in-law from Weimer, Lu Christ, fondly recalls being excused from school duties when the first cold snap barreled in. That’s the day when three generations of his family spent the day slaughtering and processing the family pig, rendering not only meat, sausages and pates’ for the table but lard for cooking and for soap.

How was the pork preserved for the winter? Smoking was of course the option most frequently used, but get this - fresh cuts were submerged in rendered fat in a crock on the back porch. Lu remembers this because he was in charge of reaching down into the lard to grab a chunk when his mother called for it. The lard protected the meat from oxygen thus retarding the bacterial growth. I’m sure his recollection is accurate - the French “confit” adopts that same approach.

Pig people have always categorized pigs as either “lard” or “bacon” breeds. The former referred to breeds that had well-marbled meat and a good outer layer of fat, while the latter referred to the opposite: lean, poorly marbled meat. When the now discredited dietary know-nothings of the 50's and 60's proclaimed beef, pork and lamb fat as villains (when it was refined sugar, sugary carbs, corn-finished meats and hydrogenated oils that should have taken the hit), the pork producers began the process of slimming down the pig to a marbled-down white meat, hoping that pork would become more chicken-like and promoting pork, for all practical purposes, as chicken. Good, healthy, and well-marbled pig breeds nearly disappeared from the American food scene. The Yorkshire breed thrived while the tasty breeds began to disappear.

Let’s step back 3 centuries or more when Cromwell was prosecuting the English War. Cromwell was trying to figure out how to feed his army in their winter camp when he discovered what became the Berkshire pig, wild and prospering in the shire of Berk in the rural Midlands. The army survived in splendid fashion eating practically nothing but Berkshire pork. Three hundred years later, I consider Cromwell’s greatest success to be not his generalship skills but his discovery of the Berkshire pig. He brought pairs home to the royal family where they were domesticated and registered. I understand that to this day, Berkshire pork remains the only pork to be served in the House of Windsor.

By the way, Berkshire is a lard pig and that is what you get half the time in your monthly coolers from JVF. The Berk is black with white stockings, snout and tail. Very elegant in his tuxedo-like coloring.

The other half of the JVF pig story is the Duroc, a red pig with big floppy ears. The Duroc was domesticated and registered in America in the early 1800's. It essentially falls between a lard and a bacon pig in its conformity while leaning toward lard. Not quite as well-marbled as the Berk, but still producing a very fine meat. The “Du” finished second only to the Berkshire in nine international blind taste tests which ranked all major breeds for taste. So that’s the rest of the story - you eat from the top two tastiest pork breeds in the world.

What about the poor, bred-to-the-cage Yorkshire, a “bacon” pig and the source of almost all commodity pork in the US? In our early years, we tried the Yorkshire in our free range program. Half of them died while our Berks and Dus did fine. That failure to thrive experiment had a short life at JVF. The Yorkie has spent too many generations in the cages. They couldn’t survive in their natural setting. Sad.

So what would your life be like as a pig at JVF?

You would arrive as a weaner pig, about a month off your mother’s teat. For the next 10 or 12 months, you live a life of freedom in a larger herd of happy pigs along the old creek bed dominated by native pecan and oak trees, two nut trees that produce a highly complex set of fatty acids. Those nuts are on the ground in the fall of the year and in a good year, will provide forage from September through early January. The pig has a highly ambidextrous mouth, cracking and shucking the shell, then chewing and digesting the nut.

In the spring, there are dewberries. In the summer, muscadine and mustang grapes and a smattering of wild plums. They have grasses and sapling roots all year round, and a free choice bin of grains, barley being the most important one for flavoring. Three weeks before they go to market, they are finished, 4 or 5 at a time, in our finishing yard near the barn. There they get special attention both for comfort and special foods. The food consists of fruits (apples, peaches, melons, figs, pears), roasted peanuts and a beer to enhance their evening slumber. Their native vegetables are found in the yard, be that native grasses, winter oats, rye or alfalfa clover. I never knew the pig was so fond of green stuff. They love their salads.

That’s the story of JVF pork. Allowing us some immodesty, nobody does it better. And that is why it tastes so good and is so good for you. Try the others - our occasionally-wandering customers always come back to JVF. Doing it right pays off. Shortcuts won’t get you there.

The Fruits

As all of you except our newest members know, our fruit orchards are being developed to supply our porkers with their finishing rations. We finish our pigs in their last 4 weeks on fruit, nuts and greens. The array of fruits will eventually consist of peaches, pears, melons and figs. We already feed our own peaches. Figs are getting there - we anticipate having some though not enough for this year and pears are in the ground but still a few years away from maturity. We are experimenting with melons using the straw bale method and once we have that down, the melons come online quickly — next year. In the meantime, we supplement with fresh fruits from the Airline Farmers Market. Our finishing program distinguishes our pork from the rest of the field, enhancing not only the flavor but the wide variety of nutrients. (We have a special finishing program for our beef as well, but we keep that a secret — it took many years of experimenting with grass-finishing to get where we are as leaders in the field, good grass-fed beef being much more difficult than the omnivorous pig. All we can tell you is that it adheres strictly to grass-finishing protocol.)

An Acorn-Rich Year

We are always looking for advantages to this droughty weather we seem to be stuck in. We discussed in earlier letters that one of those advantages is the weed pop that comes along with dry conditions. Weeds are extremely deep-rooted and thus reach down into the subsoil at levels that the grasses do not reach. By their very nature, they are bringing minerals to the root zone that will replenish the subsoil where the grass roots do exist. There is always a reason for Mother Nature’s conduct. In this case, she is replenishing the soil for the grasses upon their return. She giveth as she takes away. Another advantage is that her trees, sensing danger from the lack of moisture, react by overreacting — they lay down abundant seed so that if they die from lack of rain, they have left behind plenty of progeny. In the case of the oak tree, that means a bumper crop of acorns like we have never seen. The ground literally crunches as we walk under the numerous oak trees of Jolie Vue.  A step cannot be taken without stepping on a foot full of acorns.

What is the coincidental advantage here? Wildlife fatten on acorns. That includes the deer and the raccoon for sure. Even better for our purposes, it includes our porkers who live their lives under the canopy of the virgin oaks along the old creek. Acorns contain a rich oleic oil. The significance of oleic oil? Well, it happens to be the same oil from which we derive olive oil. And olive oil is a known source of Omega 3 fatty acids, the natural heart medicine. So it is a feast from heaven that our porkers have been relishing for several months now...ever since the acorn fall began in September. And they continue to fall. So that is more of the good news coming from droughty conditions. You get an even richer source of oils and fats as you eat the JVF pork, not to mention the wonderful flavor addition.  The potentially bad news? I hope “She” is not telling us there is a lot more drought to come.

Nature at the Wheel

One of the several factors that make sustainable different than conventional food farming is the question of what drives us. In conventional farming, humans steer the ship. If you’re talking about pork production, that means you choose one breed and let the others die out for lack of demand. You’re trying to shape the genetics of the once-regal pig to adapt it to an animal that will surrender to life in a crowded cage, laying around miserably all day eating its narrow diet, consuming its antibiotics and growth hormones and breathing in the fecal-not-fresh air of its “house”. They go into the cage all about the same size and come out the same way, tasting like the producers believe you want them to taste — lean, dry and with no character — “the other white meat”.

Hey folks, pork was never intended to be a white meat. Unless you are willing to change the flavor by adding marinades, spices, gravies and sauces, cooked pork has no character of its own and a very narrow nutritional profile to boot. In short, you buy pork and then make it taste like something it isn’t. Just like the popular skinless chicken breast that is nothing more than a medium upon which you can make it taste like something. That turns pork upside down, don’t you agree?

Pork today is created for the producer’s convenience, not the eater’s palate or bodily needs. That has been considered good in the conventional world, and most of us have bought into it because we’ve had no choice nor have we known anything different. Or we have just stopped eating pork, be that for fear of disease or a failure of taste.

When nature steers the ship, it’s a different story. First, you are dealing with individuals. Just like humankind, they can come out of the same parents and yet still be different...in size, growth rates, adaptability to environment, and personality. We have three grandsons (no grand-daughters yet) and we have a black, brown and strawberry-haired kid. One is predominantly an intellectual, the other is an athlete, and we don’t know what the third is yet. Neither do the parents of the pig, the cow, or the hen, unless we are willing to tamper with genetics as they have done in the conventional world. We’re not. So nature is at the wheel at Jolie Vue and in the sustainable farming community.

Think about what that means. Our creatures are going to look different, have different personalities, and will grow to maturity at different rates. And in the end, they will even have a different taste, though that factor depends more on the season and the forage that is available - hot, cold, temperate, rainy, dry, spring, summer or fall. Dewberries or mustang grapes, pecans or acorns, native grasses or oats. A jillion others that we cannot identify, all mixed in with the particular composition of that particular pig, cow or hen. You want to talk about diversity in your diet? Nature provides it if you let her, and it’s different in every bite. Nature is the driver. So when you see more beef this month but would prefer more chicken or pork, understand that we are not creating a homogenous product. You are eating from a holistic world. And at the end of a year of glorious, clean, nutritious eating, it will all balance out. Go with the flow...Mother Nature’s flow. It’s a good thing.

The Pig Project

The permanent finishing yards are finally complete and in use. The finishing yards became our most favored capital improvement project this year. We have taken the idea of a forested pig spa one step further with the finishing yards where our coming batch will spend four weeks before they are hauled. Here we provide open space as well as shade, plenty of good food, fresh water, and a cool water-misting system in the shaded area. There are four separate yards so that rotation to a new yard happens every 4 weeks to keep them on fresh ground while allowing 12 weeks of recovery for the just-used yard. In the middle of the 4 yards is a loading chute which reduces the stress of loading the pigs on or off the trailer.

The primary purpose of the new yard is our desire to customize their diet in the last 4 weeks by adding seasonal fruits for its juiciness and fructose, roasted peanuts for its oleic oil, and herbs and greens from the garden for their Omega 3s, CLAs, vitamins, minerals and general digestibility. Besides enhancement of flavor and tenderness, your family gets what must be the most nutritious meal anywhere on this green earth. This month’s seasonal fruit features peaches from our organic orchard and we transition to melons next month and into the fall. We’re talking happy pigs here, folks, and in turn, happy eaters. Ain’t it great!?