Celebrity chefs, contestants in TV cooking challenges and food bloggers all seem to be sold on heritage pork. They rave about the taste, texture and nutritional content of heritage meat as compared with the chops, ham and bacon you can buy at any grocery store. Just what is a heritage pig?
You’ve probably eaten heritage (or heirloom) tomatoes, which are not cross-bred like most tomatoes raised today. Fans think they taste better than most commercial tomatoes.
Like the seeds used to grow heritage tomatoes, the bloodlines of heritage pigs can be hundreds of years old. Some of the best known heritage pigs are Berkshire, Tamworth, Duroc and Spanish Black Iberian (also referred to as Iberico). These breeds have enjoyed a surge in popularity over the past ten years or so as people begin to understand the dramatic difference in the quality of their meat, especially when compared with meat from factory-raised pigs.
The name “Kurobuta” gets thrown around these days when talking about heritage breed pigs. The Japanese translation of Kurobuta is “Black Hog”, not Berkshire. Kurobuta is not a heritage breed and does not always have the true Berkshire genetics.
Founded in 1875, the ABA (American Berkshire Association) is the nation's oldest swine registry and has maintained pedigree records of purebred Berkshires since its origination. The Berkshire cuts that Tender Belly sells are 100% ABA certified.
In “Reviving Pork's Past,” an article for iSantemagazine, Chef Christine Piccin interviewed chefs about what she calls “the unforgettable flavor of heritage pork.”
Chef John Brand of Ostra restaurant in San Antonio told Piccin that he definitely favors heritage breeds. “Heritage pork loin costs me almost as much as beef tenderloin, but it's well worth it,” he insists. “There's no trim needed, so it’s 100 percent yield.” Piccin added that heritage pork can shrink up to 50 percent less during cooking, which results in better yields. Like heritage tomatoes, heritage pigs haven’t been crossbred, so they’re fatter, which means their meat is juicier and more flavorful. Most farmers avoid antibiotics, hormones and chemicals. And their pigs eat a rich vegetarian diet, grazing in pastures rather than spending all their time in cages.
This is important for more than the animals’ quality of life – Ohio State researchers found that pasture-raised pigs have 300 percent more vitamin E and 74 percent more selenium (a vital antioxidant) in their milk than pigs raised in cages. If you haven’t tried heritage pork yet, you’re really missing out. Treat yourself the next time you’re at a good restaurant. After one bite you’ll understand what all the fuss is about.
Shop our heritage pork products here.