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!

Nutrient News

I had recently mentioned that while grass-fed beef has been studied widely and often, hardly anything has happened with pork. Now we have something out of Australia. And as you would expect, pastured pork follows the same pattern as beef – give them access to the green stuff – and acorns, pecans, berries, and roots – and the Omega 3 is going to get itself back in balance with the Omega 6. Not a surprise, but it is welcome confirmation of the virtue of properly raised pork. The antioxidants show up as well – vitamin E and such – so you have that value added too.

All in all, pastured pork fits our mission. It brings sustainable value.

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.

Eat Like A Pig

Pork got a bad rap a long time ago under Jewish dietary law when civilization such as it was did not understand bacteria or the conditions that led to its propagation — primarily heat. Guess what — we live in the era of refrigeration. Leave it behind, folks!

Pork was the dominant table meat in America until the early to mid 20th century for a lot of reasons. Pigs are social animals — they like hanging around us, they grow fast, produce a lot of offspring each year, and offer a wide variety of tastes because they are omnivores. The latter characteristic is important — unlike beef, a purely herbivorous creature that dines on the salad bar of our native grass pastures exclusively, a pig's nutrition and taste profile can be influenced by the seasons and by mankind because of their interest in all types of food. They eat what our cattle eat — grasses, clovers, broadleaf plants, but they also eat what we eat, such as fruits, vegetables, eggs, nuts.

Some specifics: our pigs grow up in our old wood forest and native grass pastures. This forms their dining as well as their living room. For their approximate 11-12 months in their "house", and depending on the seasons, they will have their choice of grasses, clovers, sapling roots, dewberries, mustang and muscadine grapes, acorns and pecans, oats, rye, corn, barley and beans to name most of them. When they reach a point of growth that indicates they are within 4 weeks of becoming table fare for us and our customers, they are moved to our finishing yard where their diet is further enhanced with fruits, roasted peanuts and herbs and other green vegetables as well as alfalfa hay. The long term goal is to grow all of their fruits on the farm, and it will consist of peaches, melons, figs and pears. Currently, we supply peaches and melons in season while we develop our fig and pear orchard. In the meantime, we purchase apples to fill the gaps when our peaches and melons are not in season. Our figs and pears are still growing up.

Starting to get the picture? Whatever goes in is also what comes out in any food. Because our pigs eat from such a wide smorgasbord of healthy foods, their nutritional profile must be both wide and deep. Ditto for their taste, which I bet you haven’t experienced before -  this product is not to be found in our generation or even our parents. The heritage pig was replaced by the factory cages and narrow diet, a big mistake both for taste and good health. Just like the pig who is healthiest when allowed to eat from the entirety of earth's harvest, we too should shun these experts who advise eliminating any natural food from our diet. Every plant and animal offers a different nutritional profile that our bodies and minds can use. Eating from the entire harvest exposes us to these nutrients. That can only be good. If you are eliminating, eliminate processed, drugged and poisoned food. Eat everything else.

Chef Reports & Grazing Lanes

We continue to get very positive reports from our chefs, the first samplers of our apple-finished pork. But it looks like you won’t get a full sampling until your May delivery (if it makes you feel less left out, we haven’t had any to sample either! The chefs take the whole pig, leaving nothing for us to try.).   By the time we reach June, we will be into peach-finished pork, which will likely last only a month, then we will be into melon-finished or we might try pears, depending on our melon patch progress. We’ll let you know.

We spent a lot of time this winter setting up the infrastructure for grazing lanes in our 2 east-side pastures, which up to now were totally free range pastures. As our mother-cow herd has grown, we have been grazing them on the east side almost exclusively, so it is time to begin deriving the soil enhancing benefits of strip grazing there.

From there we move on to increasing our native grass ratios by adding more Crab and Johnson grass as well as chicory and our first effort at establishing perennial, grazeable alfalfa clover.