A few hours north of Philadelphia are the Pocono Mountains. Well-known on the East Coast for luxury resorts, a NASCAR track, and some of the best camping in the U.S., the Poconos are also where you can find millennial farmer Nolan Thevenet raising heritage-breed hogs deep in the woods.
In 2010, at age 21, Stryker Farm’s owner Nolan Thevenet decided to drop out of college and follow his dream of working outside and being a farmer. Though his friends and family were at first freaked out by his foreclosure on a "normal" professional career, he reassured them with jokes, saying “What could possibly go wrong?”
It definitely didn’t go wrong for Nolan, who now leads Stryker Farm and its herd of about 275 pigs. He even brought around his at-first-nervous mom, who fell in love with farming and helps him with chores daily. All crossbred heritage breeds, Stryker Farm’s stock includes Tamworth, Berkshire, Large Black, Gloucestershire, Old Spot, Yorkshire, and Hereford pigs.
The herd lives a full life on the farm’s 47 acres of verdant Pennsylvanian land. Pasture raised, these pigs spend their days foraging, wallowing, and rooting through the Poconos. Stryker doesn’t bring in outside plants or grasses, relying on naturally growing greenery including sunflowers, milo, and millet.
Stellar keeps everything that comes into contact with their pigs as natural as possible, refusing to use hormones or implants; pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizer on their pasture; or vaccinations and unnecessary antibiotics. Nolan and his mom even prepare their own feed in-house, using locally purchased non-GMO and organic ingredients.
At heart, Nolan believes in ensuring his pigs live the best life possible, with humane methods and healthy food. What results is pork that makes his customers say, "pork can taste that good?"
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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