One of the most memorable Field Trips we’ve taken was to Karl and Anita Schibli’s dairy farm. As we walked down the lane to see the cows, we were introduced to a pig that their son Harry was raising for meat. During a more recent visit to their neighbours, Sosnicki Organics, Jessie Sosnicki told us that she had recently received their own butchered pig from Harry and couldn’t brag enough about it. After learning that Harry had ramped up production and now has, at my quick count, just over twenty at various states of maturity, I was quick to put our name on one.
But these aren’t the standard pink breed you assume your pork chops come from. They’re a heritage breed known as Berkshires. The breed originated in England over two hundred years ago, and because of their exceptional flavour, came to be the pork of choice for the royals. As the twentieth century came along with industrial agriculture and promises of a new and better way of food, the Berkshire’s slower growth and fattiness pushed them into the background. They have barely survived as meat marketing boards push fast maturing breeds to bland, ultra-lean extremes. It sometimes seems they’re trying to turn a pig into something it is not.
While the most daylight some industrially-raised pigs see in their lives is on the way to the slaughterhouse, Harry’s Berkshires spent the summer roaming 10 acres of pasture. They are now in a “smaller” one-acre field that was full of turnips, which they have slowly dug up. They are now topping up on hay silage and a small ration of grain for the winter. The only indoors these guys will ever see in their lives are the small huts Harry built to protect the sows as they feed their piglets, which they are never separated from.
Meat is a huge part of most Canadians’ diets, usually the main feature on the dinner plate, yet it’s the part with the least understood origins. Try seeing any indication of a cow or any other animal imagery at a fast food chain. The average person is subtly pushed to forget that the meat from their hamburger had any origin in something living. I’ve seen beautiful, pastoral images on tray-liner paper, and I would put money on the fact that nothing in that $1.69 hamburger ever saw anything that scenic. And if any customer became actively curious, they’d probably be in for a very scary surprise.
When we leave the butcher in a couple months, we’re going to have everything–hams, pork chops, belly for bacon, and even the fat to render into lard for our pie crusts and use as a basic cooking oil. It all sounds very decadent, and I’m sure you’re imagining giant pork roasts for dinner each night, but that’s not the case. This pig is going to last a very long time.
It’s simple. When you have to buy a massive piece of meat to feed a family of five, it’s hard to not focus on price. But when meat becomes a smaller player on the plate, you suddenly have room for another nice criteria–quality.