Unusual flavor of heritage Large Black pigs has gourmands wanting more

Staff report

LAUREL, Miss: “Wow! What’s this?” was the immediate reaction of Sue Moore after her first bite of a pasture-raised pork from a heritage breed known as Large Black Pigs.

Moore serves as meat forager (finder) for the world-famous Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, California.

She and Bay Area restaurant consultant, Larry Bain, happened upon the obscure breed at a Cleveland, Ohio, heritage pork tasting in 2005.

Moore said the meat flavor is quite unique and incredibly delicious.

Bain described it as “deep flavored and unctuous.”

The pork Moore and Bain ate came from Ed Snavely’s Curly Tail Farm in Ohio who bought his breeding stock from Ted Smith of Stillmeadow Farm in Laurel, Mississippi.

Laurel is in Southeast Mississippi near Hattiesburg.

Smith, a third generation racehorse and sheep breeder, happened upon the breed on a visit to England in 1957 where they had been popularized by Sir Winston Churchill who raised them on his Chartwell Estate.

In 1963, Smith bought three gilts and a boar from a North Carolina breeder. At that time there were 52 purebred breeders of Large Blacks in the USA.

Today, there is only Smith and one breeder in New York State. It is currently estimated that there are only 300 Large Black sows in the whole world.

“A recent Foot and Mouth epidemic largely wiped out the breed in England,” Smith said.

He said the primary role of the breed in America was as a cross to put marbling into lean Tamworths.

Tamworth was a very popular pastured breed in the South.

The Large Black breed is known for its docility, prolificacy and ability to farrow unassisted on pasture.

He said mature sows, which weigh in excess of 500 pounds, often have as many as 10 to 13 pigs per litter.

The sows are described as careful, quiet mothers and a farrowing crate is not needed.

Smith plants annual ryegrass and oat pasture for the pigs in the winter.

An unusual feature of the breed is that their large elephant like ears cover their eyes. This allows the pigs to forage in briar and bramble patches.

He said the shift to confinement feeding largely wiped out the breed as they become too fat when fed high grain rations.

“Many people think the bacon from Large Blacks is too fatty,” Ed Snavely said. “They are primarily famous for their loins and hams. These are smaller than modern breeds but the taste is different and the meat is very fine grained.”

Snavely plants supplemental winter annual pastures of turnips and rape that allow his sows to pasture for seven months out of the year in Ohio. He direct markets the Certified Organic meat to three restaurants and also sells it at a local farmers’ market.

He supplements his pastures with a high fiber ration of corn, oats and clover hay.

He said the pigs require about seven months to finish versus five months for modern breeds.

“Their meat really has flavor. It’s not cardboard like modern pork,” he said.

Smith said until the recent rediscovery of the breed’s unique meat by pork gourmands the primary buyer of his pigs had been wealthy New England estate owners who liked their unusual look.

“Most of them never even bred them. They were just lawn ornaments,” he said.

Recently, California artisanal meat consultant, Mark Keller, bought a group of gilts and boars from Smith to establish the breed on the West Coast for the first time.

Keller who has been working with many of the West Coast’s top grassfed and organic beef ranches in marketing their meat hopes to establish a no-grain pork line of products as well.

He said it was Sue Moore’s enthusiasm for the meat’s flavor that brought him to Mississippi to buy breeding stock.

Smith, 71, maintains the breed’s registry out of a home office and plans to pass it on to his son David.

“There’s some folks who would like to get this registry so they could jack the prices up to thousands of dollars a gilt but I believe that would be the surest way to finish the breed off.

“I want prices to stay low so that real farmers can afford to buy breeding stock and sell good eating pork,” he said.

Smith maintains four separate linebred families so that buyers can achieve hybrid vigor by crossing within the breed by buying boars from different families.

© by The Stockman Grass Farmer

If You Would Like To Read More Articles Like This One, CALL 1-800-748-9808 And Request A Free Sample Of THE STOCKMAN GRASS FARMER TODAY!




Copyright © 2011 Stockman Grass Farmer | All rights reserved.