We almost need a glossary to read a menu these days. Restaurants are turning to local sources to get their meats and vegetables, definitely a welcome trend. But heritage meats often go by various names, making it confusing to order your meal unless you know the nomenclature.
Here’s a cheat sheet for pork varietals. One thing all have in common is that they are predictably more flavorful than their factory produced counterparts. And, most importantly, they are all raised outdoors using humane production standards. The pigs get plenty of fresh air, water and high-quality feed, and antibiotics and synthetic products are never allowed.
Duroc. A popular American breed, it dates back to the 1800s, originally developed in New Jersey and New York from European ancestry. These hogs display great marbling and a rich color. They are typically very juicy and flavorful.
Berkshire. This is the one found most often on trendy menus in Kansas City. The flavor is very rich and, because of the abundant marble, it has a more buttery flavor than some of its “cousins”. The British monarchy exported their beloved pigs around the world, including Japan, where it is known as “Kurobuta”. Newman Farms in Myrtle, MO raises the Berkshire pork that finds its way to Justus Drugstore in Smithville, MO. via Paradise Locker Meats.
Tamsworth. This strong and sturdy breed comes from England, and produces the leanest of the heritage meats. It is a threatened species due to lack of demand.
Red Wattle. Also on the endangered list, the pigs were originally from the South Pacific. Then, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, they became prevalent in New Orleans, because the meat could stand up to intense Creole cuisine. It’s the only pig left in the world that still has a wattle hanging from its jowl.
Ossabaw. These pigs are raised on Ossabaw Island off the coast of Georgia. The meat is high in oleic acid and the fat is so unsaturated it is nearly liquid at room temperature. It is considered the most heart-healthy of all breeds, and is used in New York’s finest restaurants. For more on the history of this breed, here’s a blog post that you may find interesting.
The meat produced by these pigs really does taste superior, so it is definitely worth ordering. But don’t succumb to the former rules about only being able to eat pork that has been cooked to a well-done temperature without a hint of pink. Many chefs today encourage diners to order their pork chops and tenderloins medium or even medium rare . As a recent article in Bon Appetit points out, trichinosis is not a real concern these days, and even if it were, it’s not a threat at temperatures above 137 degrees. Most restaurants serve pork anywhere from 145-160 degrees, where flavor and moistness are at their peak.