Always eat a pig with a name
PUBLISHED: 12:43 26 May 2009 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 February 2013
The British Pork industry is struggling thanks to high feed costs and cheap imports. Now that celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is on the case perhaps we will all sit up and take notice of the importance of buying British when it comes to pork. But don'...
The British Pork industry is struggling thanks to high feed costs and cheap imports. Now that celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is on the case perhaps we will all sit up and take notice of the importance of buying British when it comes to pork. But don't just buy any old pork - the best pork comes from old British breeds says Sue Braithwaite - and it makes great crackling.
Whenever he addresses an audience on the merits of traditional British pork, Marcus Bates, chief executive of the British Pig Association (www.britishpigs.org.uk) encourages people to 'always eat a pig with a name'.
And he doesn't mean a pet name like Bert or Freda; he means traditional breed names such as Berkshire, Duroc, Saddleback, Welsh or Hampshire - any one of the 14 different traditional breeds of pig still surviving in the UK.
Back in the 1950s, you could also have chosen the Cumberland, the Lincolnshire Curly Coat or the Yorkshire Blue. Then farmers followed official advice which recommended that to become more streamlined and economically viable, the British pig industry should focus on only three breeds. Sadly the Cumberland, Lincolnshire Curly Coat, Yorkshire Blue and many others are now extinct and all their local associations and distinctive features are lost to us.
In spite of the serious problems for the UK pig industry, largely due to the sharp increases in the price of grain (the main component of pig feed), which has seen pig farms fail all over the country in recent months, the last few years has seen a renaissance in our understanding and awareness of our pig heritage.
The UK still has more traditional breeds than any other European country, but we need to beware of focusing on only one. The Gloucester Old Spot, a fine pig which makes great eating, has become almost a generic term for traditional pork. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust (www.rbst.org.uk) lists the Gloucester Old Spot as having 'minority' status - the least extreme situation. We can consider its revival a success story, but the British Lop and the Middle White are officially 'endangered' and many of the others are 'vulnerable' or 'at risk'.
This is where we as consumers come in. Eating 'a pig with a name' is the best way to help their survival and once you've tasted traditional pork you'll never want to eat the nameless, tasteless, intensively farmed kind again.
Pigs may be 'more equal' than other animals, if George Orwell is correct, but they are certainly not all the same as each other. Traditionally, they were bred for different conditions. The Tamworth, which looks the closest to all of our domestic pig's wild boar ancestors, has a long snout which helps with rooting, the dark skinned and hairy breeds are less prone to sunburn and the lop-eared breeds such as the Oxford Sandy & Black tend to be easier to handle - it's hard to run if your ears keep flapping in front of your eyes!
Pigs were also bred for different uses - some are supposedly better for pork, some for curing and others like the Large Black are good all-rounders.
One thing common to all the traditional breeds is that they are suited to outdoor rearing and this must be the minimum we require from a welfare point of view. As long as he's got somewhere to shelter from the elements, a pig able to root and forage outdoors, with a muddy hole to wallow and keep cool in during the summer, is a happy pig and will taste all the better.
All the traditional breeds are slower growing and will be fatter than any intensively raised animal and these two factors combined are what give them their distinctive flavour. The meat is firm and succulent with a strong flavour and of course, the crackling is outstanding.
Getting hold of traditional pork is getting easier; a quick search of the internet will enable you to purchase directly from the producer - you may have to take a box, but this will give you all sorts of new and interesting cuts to experiment with. Any good butcher will give you tips about the best cuts and cooking methods. Ask them about their own sausages and faggots, home cured bacon and hams, and of course, ask them the name of the pig they came from.
The first riposte to the age-old complaint of: "I can't get decent crackling" is "What kind of pork is it?" For good crackling you need a decent layer of fat under the skin and you just can't get this from the intensively farmed pork found on most supermarket shelves. Having sourced your traditional breed of outdoor reared pork, the skin needs to be really dry and deeply scored (I keep a Stanley knife in the kitchen solely for this purpose.) Immediately before putting it into a hot oven (240°C/475°F/Gas Mark 9), rub some salt right down into the cracks - some fennel seeds ground with the salt makes a delicious alternative - cook on this high heat for 20-25 minutes and then turn the oven down (180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4) for the remainder of the cooking time. And if you are worried by any of the fat remaining, you don't have to eat it all - cut it away (after cooking, not before) as it will have done its work adding flavour and crunch.
Oven baked pork chops
Chops are often disappointingly dry, in this recipe the meat is part-submerged in cider and finished off in the oven to give crispy skin and succulent meat
2 thick cut, rare breed pork chops
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ a medium sized celeriac, peeled and chopped
½ a small cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
200ml medium cider
Oil and butter for frying
Salt and pepper
Pre-heat the oven to (220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7)
Heat a tablespoon of oil and a knob of butter in a frying pan and seal the seasoned chops for one minute on each side.
Remove the chops and place in a shallow, oven proof dish with the meaty side in the pan and the, skin side sticking out.
Add the celeriac to the frying pan along with the garlic and fry for a few minutes until the celeriac is beginning to brown at the edges.
Deglaze the pan by adding the cider. Bring to the boil and when the cider has reduced by half add the chopped apple. Continue to cook for another minute or so then and pour the contents of the pan over the chops. The fatty, skin side of the chops should be sticking well above the juices, apples and celeriac.
Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes by which time the edges of the chops will be brown and crispy, the celeriac, apple and cider will have made a delicious sauce. Serve over steamed greens.
Sue Braithwaite is Secretary of Slow Food Worcestershire, the local branch of the global Slow Food movement which promotes good, clean and fair food. The group holds regular events including visits to producers, bring-and-share meals, and encourages cookery in schools and colleges through its educational initiatives. www.slowfoodworcestershire.org.uk