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On their 320-acre farm in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the Deck family raises a cross of Red Wattle and Berkshire pigs along with cattle, sheep, and chickens. Berkshire is a heritage breed favored by chefs for its flavor and tenderness, while Red Wattle is an extremely rare breed known for creamy flavor that select farmers across the country -- like the Decks -- are trying to preserve.
Christine Deck explains, “I thought the Red Wattles were really cool. They were nearly extinct, but then they were rediscovered hundreds of years ago in a forest in Texas.”
She goes on, “Charcuterie people love the fat off Wattle because it’s so high in Omega-3s. Wattles also do really well foraging. We actively move them every day so that we’re encouraging them to eat a variety of legumes and grasses.”
The feed program for pigs at Deck Family Farm -- as well as where they graze and for how long -- is carefully thought out. The pigs and other livestock species are part of a 12-year rotation program Christine Deck devised to manage the land sustainably. While some people will tell you all pigs do is destroy land, Christine helps explain how pigs can be useful to a working ecosystem when managed right: She only moves the pigs to pastures that require “renovation,” or tilling, which prepares those fields to later be seeded with grain crops that constitute a part of the farm’s livestock feed. The pigs don’t receive any soy, and the corn they receive to supplement their foraging is GMO-free and milled fresh on the farm. The pigs are finished on local Oregon hazelnuts, which the Deck family scatters directly onto the pastures, further encouraging the pigs to root (a natural pig instinct).
One of the coolest things about Deck Family Farm is how far it’s come since the Deck Family bought it 15 years ago. It was previously a commercial cattle farm, the land degraded and run-down due to overgrazing. Since then, the Deck family has not only implemented rotational grazing to let pastures recover and revitalize, they’ve also planted more than 60,000 trees and fenced off a mile of creek banks to protect the farm’s natural water resources. They’ve also found a way to compost 100% of the farm’s manure, so that it becomes a natural fertilizer rather than a pollutant.
When we asked her why they go to such lengths to revitalize their land, Christine answered simply, “Environmental restoration is really important to us. And we think people deserve to know exactly where their money is going when they buy food.”
For three years, we've been traveling across America and beyond, seeking out the most delicious and unique beef from independently-owned farms, from Pennsylvania Angus finished on ancient grains to the world’s rarest steak, Olive-fed Wagyu, which hails from a remote Japanese island.
Now we're expanding our appetite to pork, searching out the country’s highest-quality, independently raised pork not available in stores. Among the types of pork we're seeking out as we become a marketplace for craft producers are heritage and unusual breeds, farms with innovative feed programs like locally sourced hazelnuts, and meat with regionally distinct flavors. We'll continue adding pork offerings as it finds exceptional new farms.
Before factory farms became the norm for U.S. pork production -- and with them, dry, bland-tasting meat -- heritage breeds abounded on small farms. Today, a movement of small-scale pork producers around the country is working to save heritage breeds, while also giving eaters tastier, richer meat. Heritage breeds range in flavor from Berkshire on the one end, known for being tender and rich in fat, to Red Wattle on the other, a rare, flavorful variety bred by New Calendonians and later New Orleaners to star in Cajun cuisine.
Pasture-raised pork comes from pigs that live outside in fields or forests, rather than confined indoors. The small-scale farmers who choose to go the very labor-intensive route of raising pork on pasture will tell you they do so because it produces more flavorful meat, happier pigs, and a healthier environment. Eaters love pasture-raised pork because it’s generally higher in Vitamin D thanks to an outdoor life in the sunshine, and they're fat richer in monounsaturated fats.
Pasture-raised pork can cook a little faster than industrially raised pork. For chops, use the reverse-sear method: cook the pork in the oven, to your desired doneness, then transfer to a skillet to quickly sear. Braises also work well for pasture-raised pork. Bacon is best treated to a nice, quick pan-sizzle. Read on for more on the cooking techniques you can use.
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