What is Heritage, and why is it important? Cochon 555 DC
Heritage pork is a topic that seems to get more press than any other heritage breed. Much of this press is thanks to event planner Brady Lowe. Brady founded Taste Network to tackle the project of opening up people’s pallets and minds about what food should really be about. Cochon 555 is one of their events - a ten city tour with a grand finale in Aspen, CO at the food and wine classic - aiming to increase awareness and continue to broaden the conversation regarding Heritage Pork.
A heritage breed, for those who may not know, is a breed of livestock that has not been genetically altered by crossing breeds to satisfy a broad growing program. To explain further, heritage breeds were adapted and bred to thrive in a certain climate and environment. Most commercial breeds of livestock these days have been cross-bred to live in any region (mainly because many of the growing operations today are indoors) and create a single, predictable type of product: pork, chicken, turkey, beef. These products do not vary from state to state, or country to country anymore. Pork grown in Iowa tastes like pork grown in Georgia, and pork grown in China. The breeds of pigs that used to be genetically different, are now all the same.
There are some farmers who never took to the cross-breeding programs over the last century and have preferred to grow heritage breeds: Berkshire, Tamworth, Large Black, Mulefoot, and many more. These are breeds that reflect worldwide variations in cultures and climates, and result in a distinct meat type that can be used for different culinary endeavors. The pork chop from each of these pigs, when compared side-by-side, will look very different and taste very different from one another.
If you’re wondering why this is something worth talking about consider this apple example: 11 varieties of apples represent 90% of apples sold in chain stores (eatingwell.com). However, there are thousands of apple varieties, most of which the average American will never hear of in their lifetime. The same is true with most of the ingredients we now have access to at the grocery store, and most of the ingredients that chefs have access to through their distributers. Many farmers do not have the opportunity to grow heritage due to the specific, and often more costly growing practices, or because in a world where the farmer is scrambling just to make it, growing commodity animals is easier and more predictable. But now, consumers are beginning to want more variety in their eating experiences. People are beginning to demand better tasting food now that they have sampled it at the farmers market, at their local fine dining restaurant, and at events like Cochon 555.
This is the basis of Cochon 555. To wake people up to the opportunities they have in their dining lives. When they demand these products and are willing to pay for them, farmers then can grow the product knowing they have the business, and this will create a food system that again thrives on diversity and flavor as opposed to profitability.
Being The Butcher
It was an honor to participate in the Cochon 555 Washington DC event as the butcher. The butcher, at these events, demonstrates the cutting of a whole pig for the crowd. It’s one more way to introduce where our food comes from, the skilled people who are involved in bringing that food to the table (from farm, to butcher, to chef, to you) and it’s pretty entertaining.
Most folks, at least those who go to events such as Cochon 555, understand that their meat is grown on a farm. They also know that they can go to any of a number of restaurants in DC and order fantastic meals featuring these meats. Most of them, however, do not really grasp the part in the middle. How does the meat get from the farm to their table? There is always a butcher involved. It may not be the sexy butcher standing behind the meat counter with his or her tattoos flashing about with cleaver in hand (although that shit is fun as hell, and I love my tattoos). It may be a grumpy old man who’s been shooting animals for 35 years at the slaughterhouse the next town over. Either way, the animal has to die, be skinned, gutted, and cut up to a point where the chef can then create the tasty dish. I witnessed two girls, simultaneously devouring tasty little pork bites, while they glared at me and the pig on the table with “ew” faces, as if we had dragged some roadkill inside. People - animals have to die, to be eaten.
I applaud Brady for celebrating the butcher with the primetime butcher demo at his events. Hopefully more events will incorporate this level of supply chain awareness in the near future.
And, hopefully more butchers will talk about the level of commitment small slaughterhouses have to make to compete in the industry, supply niche meats to consumers, and continue to allow access to the farmers who are growing these heritage breeds. Small slaughterhouses are beginning to make a comeback, but it’s a very difficult business to operate and sustain. Farmers still cannot get a high enough price, in many areas, to allow the slaughterhouse to really push the quality of their work higher which requires increased pricing for processing.
It’s a long road ahead, but there are champions that are pushing the issue.
Thanks to all who have kept the Cochon 555 tour growing over the past 5 years. Follow this link to the slide show of photos.
Follow this link to learn more about Cochon 555 & heritage pork.
Email me to talk more about heritage breeds of all kinds.