Pastured pork is a delicious, nutritious, humane way to enjoy pork. A pig on pasture is raised like a pig should be, with room to roam and a more natural environment.
The term “pastured pork” isn’t regulated or certified, unlike organic. One way to ensure your pork is raised right is to buy it locally, where you know your farmer.
Why Buy Pastured Pork?
Pastured pork is gourmet pork. It tastes like pork should. Different breeds of pigs have different flavors and different amounts of fat. Fat is where the flavor is!
The flavor of pastured pork is better. Flavor is described as richer, more complex. Heritage pigs have different flavors. Different breeds have different fat to lean ratios.
When you eat pastured pork, you are getting pork from pigs that live like pigs. They aren’t stressed, they aren’t pumped full of antibiotics, and they can root and dig for foods they love. They are usually raised on small farms.
Pastured pork means that manure is distributed throughout the pasture, rather than concentrated in manure pits. The smell is minimal because there aren’t big pools of pig poop that could spill into the ground or waterways.
A pastured pig is better for the environment. The pigs deposit manure and till the soil. When raised sustainably, the pasture becomes more fertile and more plants can grow. The soil improves, plants are healthy, and the pig can enjoy them.
A pig raised on pasture, with plenty of sunshine, is healthier. Their meat and fat has more micronutrients, especially vitamin D. Pastured raised pigs have a better ratio of omega 3 fatty acids in their meat as well.
Thanks to the low fat craze, commercial pork has become much leaner. It has less lard and flavor, and has become bland and rubbery. Pastured pork is fattier, has darker meat, and is juicier and more tender.
A lean pig has a harder time staying warm because it has less fat. Those animals need to be confined more, while a heritage hog can live a more natural, outdoor life.
How to Buy Pastured Pork
There are a lot of local pork producers in Maryland! Farmers sell different breeds of pork, and they sell it buy the whole or half animal, by the cut, or through CSAs. You can find pork online, at the farm, and at farmers markets.
Often, local farms sell more than just pork. They sell poultry, beef, lamb, and produce. Not all will sell pork year round. Looking through the meat farms at Baltimore Foodshed is the best way to find local pork farmers.
Look through local Maryland farm websites to see if they tell you what types of pigs they raise, how they are raised, and how to buy their products. Contact the farmers to learn more.
Start by buying a few different cuts to see if you like their product. If you eat a lot of pork, consider buying a whole or half pig, because it is more economical.
Every farm does things differently! Talk with your farmer, find out when and where they sell, and how you can learn more about their farm and pork. As you develop a relationship you can see if they carry other products or might work with you if there is something special you are looking for.
Some examples of how Maryland sells their local pork:
- Pahls Hogs, in Baltimore County, sells their local pork by the cut. They sell lard and organs as well.
- Evermore Farms is located in Westminster. They sell Berkshire hogs, and have a lot of information about buying a half or whole animal. They sell online, at markets, on farm, and as a CSA.
- Garden Family Farm sells Ossabaw pork out of Davidsonville. You can buy whole or half pigs from them.
As Evermore Farm says, a half pig should fit in a normal freezer on a combo fridge and freezer. That means 2.25 cubic feet of meat. Other farms may offer more or less meat, depending on the breed they sell.
If you want to buy a whole or half pig, investing in a standalone freezer can help. You save money by buying a bulk pork, and then have meat to last you months or more. You can also plan your meals better, knowing what you have on hand already.
Some farms that offer bulk pork will allow you to specify how you want it cut. In general, you’ll see shoulders and hams, sausage and ground pork, bacon, ribs, and chops. Ask about lard, organs, hocks, and other unusual cuts if you want to try them too.
When buying bulk meat, look at freezer management so you can use your meat most efficiently.
You may want to start with a meat CSA or buying locally at the farmers market. Try different breeds, different producers, different cuts. See what you like best.
Cooking Pastured Pork
Pastured pork cooks faster than conventional pork. You may want to sear the outsides of smaller cuts and then finish them in the oven. Using a meat thermometer is key to keeping your pork from over cooking – 145F is ideal.
For larger cuts, low and slow techniques are great. Braising, slow cookers, smokers are great. Scoring a pork roast before cooking makes it amazing.
Bacon is great, and can come in both cured and uncured options. Both, technically, are cured, as bacon is always cured. But “uncured” means it is cured with natural nitrates, found in vegetables, then has added seasonings and salts.
Uncured bacon is considered healthier than traditionally cured bacon. Cured or “uncured”, it all cooks up and is delicious.
Bon Appetit points out that pastured pork can be inconsistent. With different breeds, different pastures, and different farmers, each pig may taste a bit differently. Talking with your local farmer can help you to learn how best to cook your pork.
While ground pork is delicious in potstickers, you can also use it to make your own homemade sausage! Making your own sausage means you can customize it to your tastes. Look towards Spruce Eats, Epicurious, or Taste of Home for some starter options.
Lard has gotten a bad rap over the years. Yet many people are starting to wake up to the fact that switching from lard to vegetable oils has had a negative effect on our health.
Using pastured pork lard may be a better choice for you. However, we need to learn how to cook with it again!
Try getting some lard from your local farmer. Render it, if needed, and use it. Fry, bake, saute with it. Enjoy the flavor while are eating a less processed fat.
Don’t toss the bones! Make some savory pork bone broth with them. You get benefits from the collagen, as well as can use the delicious flavored broth in many dishes.
Pastured pork has a superior flavor and thus should be sought out whenever you want pork. The benefits to your health, the animal’s well being, and the environment are all great reasons for buying pastured pork for you and your family.