Bill and Paula Koch of Thistle Down Farm in Shelbyville, Kentucky, have been in pursuit of perfect pork for more than 25 years. Thistle Down Farm is a family affair born from a three-prong passion: Bill’s worldwide search for the best tasting pork and the ideal methods for raising pigs, paired with Paula’s lifelong love of agriculture and her father’s decades-long meat curing experience.
Their small passel of Ossabaw and Mangalitsa hogs enjoy year-round pastures where they graze on bluegrass, orchard, fescue, clover and alfalfa. In addition to open pasture, the hogs are supplied non-GMO pelleted feed (made up of less than 10% corn), plus a daily slop made from orchard grass, oatmeal and wheat. With room to forage and socialize, the pigs develop fats and flavors only conceivable in a stress-free environment.
The look and taste of Thistle Down Farm’s small batch pork is far different than the average grocery store pork. The Mangalitsa pork is unlike anything out there — with a color closer to that of beef, you’ll notice a nice rosy hue instead of washed out pink. It has a very unique flavor, with a much richer, marbled texture than most pork. Mild at the front of the tongue, the flavor begins with nutty notes and finishes with an intense pork flavor. The Ossabaw pork is considered to be artisanal, heritage pork — their genetic profile dates back to 16th century Spain and is often compared to jamon iberico. The dark color and intense flavor is a perfect fit for curing, whole roasting and overall pork cuts.
Happy, healthy pigs are vital to quality of meat. Because Bill and Paula spend plenty of time with their herd, they’ve built a trusting relationship — and the pigs don’t shy away from people. Socializing them this way means they’re wonderfully pleasant animals to be around which makes breeding and transportation less stressful.
The hogs’ entire lives are spent on the Farm’s grassy pastures ― grazing, exploring and sleeping. Mud pits, which the pigs love, are refreshed and food is supplemented twice a day. Farrowing (birthing) also occurs in the pasture, crate-free, in spring, summer and fall, though sows have access to individual farrowing houses. These 8-foot by 8-foot, straw-bedded, roomy huts are constructed with untreated oak and have a metal roof with overhang protection. The Koch’s custom farrowing huts are equipped with piglet rails, offer plenty of airflow, and face away from prevailing winds for maximum comfort.
At Thistle Down, piglets grow into a life that best suits their natural ways within family units. Plus, they’ll never step foot on concrete or be pricked by needles — Thistle Down Farm doesn’t use vaccines, hormones, or antibiotics. The herd is kept to smaller numbers on rotated, unfertilized, chemical-free pasture. Soil samples are pulled yearly and fields are rotated and re-seeded regularly to ensure both land and animal are kept in top condition.