Meet the Gloucestershire Old Spot. This is one of the several heritage breed piglets that as of last week, calls Turntime Farms its home. I also think this breed is the most charming. Large Black, Mulefoot and Berkshire are the other heritage breeds we currently have.
“Heritage” refers to breeds that can be traced back to pre-industrial farm life, back when pigs were raised in pastures and not squished together inside confined facilities. These breeds still have the ability to forage for their own food unlike their mass produced cousins. They use their snout to turn up the soil and hunt for grubs and acorns as well as just graze on grass. Their floppy ears slightly hinder their sight but improve their sense of smell. They earned the nickname, “cottage pig” or “orchard pig” because they are remarkably good at living off the land. In other words, they instinctually know how to actually be a pig.
Most pork raised in the US now comes from CAFO’s (concentrated animal feeding operation) where those God-given pig instincts are no longer needed. Because of this unnatural arrangement, many of the heritage breeds are becoming increasingly hard to find including the Gloucestershire Old Spot, whose status is considered “critical”. The counterintuitive thing about endangered farm animals is that eating them is the best way to preserve their future. Wendell Berry wrote, “Eaters must understand that eating takes place inescapably in the world, that it is inescapably an agricultural act and that how we eat determines to a considerable extent, how the world is used.” The lack of demand is what is driving these old breeds out of existence. Purchasing them and eating them is what insures they as a breed continue.
Heritage breeds supposedly produce tender, marbleized meat that is superior to taste than conventional varieties. But full disclosure calls me to tell you that I can’t even remember what conventional ham tastes like as it has been over a decade since I have eaten any. At that time, heritage breeds were something I only read about and sadly found virtually no local access to them. Now that there are heritage breeds happily living and rooting in my backyard, it seems crazy to look for alternative protein sources. So after 15 years, I am a slowly and happily recovering vegetarian. And while I can’t give a comparison, I can say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the bacon and sausage that now accompany breakfast at the Hord house!