Tuesday, November 15, 2011

HOG HEAVEN: Humanely Raised, All-Natural Pork at Vernon Farm

Photo by Valerie Phillips
For the past few weeks I've been working on a Deseret News story about Christiansen's pig farm in Vernon, Utah, known as "Hog Heaven" because of the way they raise their pigs.  If you're wondering where Vernon is, it's about 20 miles south of Rush Valley (where I grew up) and about 40 miles south of  Tooele.

Photo by Valerie Phillips
I was glad that I made arrangements to visit the farm in October, before the bad weather hit. I enjoyed going out with Hollie Christiansen and her daughter, Shia, to feed their pigs. All the pig farms I've ever known were pretty stinky.  But this one didn't have any tell-tale odor when I drove up to the house. I even wondered if I was at the right place! But I left with a few manure souvenirs on my shoes, from focusing on taking photos and not where I was stepping.

Chef Ryan Lowder of Copper Onion 
No wonder the farm is known as "Hog Heaven."  Chefs consider the Christiansen's all-natural pork a bit of heaven itself — tender and juicy with lots flavor.  Chef Ryan Lowder uses it at his restaurant, Copper Onion, because "they do the best job, and the quality is a better product all the way around," he said. The pork will also be used in Lowder's second restaurant, Plum Alley.

"We found the quality of animals was phenomenal when we treat the animals humanely, and allow pigs to live as pigs," said Christian Christiansen.  Lowder and the Christiansens gave the public a chance to taste the difference at a pig roast held at the Utah Fairpark last month, as part of an end-of-season farewell for the Pioneer Park Farmers Market. The Christiansens donated three pigs, and Lowder and other staff made an outdoor roasting box where they cooked them. Many of the 200-or-so people who feasted on the meat noted that it was very tender, flavorful and darker than the usual store-bought pork.

Christian Christiansen says three factors made the difference: breed, quality feed and humane treatment. The Christiansens raise purebred Berkshires, a heritage breed also known as Kurobuta pork. The breed was popular before World War II, and produces pork that's darker, meatier and marbled with fat.

 "Older people taste it and say, 'This is what pork tasted like when I was a kid,'" Christian said.  Over the past few decades, commercially raised pigs were bred to be leaner, as "low-fat" became the trend. Marketers called pork, "The Other White Meat" to compete with the hugely popular chicken breast.  Unfortunately, the lack of fat marbling resulted in meat that was more dry, with less flavor.

 "Our meat is a darker color, and it has fat marbled throughout," said Christian Christiansen. "It's like the Kobe beef of pork. Berkshires are the least cost-effective to raise, because they have a slower growth rate. But the quality is phenomenal."  Other restaurants who use the Christiansens' pork include Pizzeria 712 and Communal in Utah County, St. Regis and The Farm in Park City, and Pago in Salt Lake City. People can buy the pork at Caputo's Market and Deli, or order it online at christiansenfarm.com.

No comments: