Thursday, June 3, 2010

Stratford Culinary Tour: Perth Pork Products

After visiting Soiled Reputation, we headed over to Perth Pork ProductsPerth Pork Products, like the name suggests, is a hog farm started by Fred and Ingrid de Martines, who immigrated from the Netherlands about 30 years ago. Fred is a certified Swine Specialist with European training and experience. They have been selling pork products in Stratford since 1992 directly to the public on the farm and to local restaurants and stores. Chefs are loyal customers of the farm due to the exceptional quality of their products. To the foodies out there, they supply to places like The Black Hoof, The Drake, L'unita, and The Healthy Butcher.

Here is Fred de Martines with Emily Chandler from the Stratford Tourism Alliance.

Unlike other hog farms, Fred's barn actually has a viewing room/observation deck, where you can look into the pigs. The pigs you see here are commodity pigs. They are a cross between 3 breeds: the Yorkshire, Landrace, and Duroc, which results in a pig that is mainly white, with some showing red colour. It takes about 6-7 months from birth to bring them up to 250 lbs live weight. This is the kind of pork you will see in a supermarket.

Some of the neat things I saw in the viewing room:

A piggy hat. Cute!

A "Pigs of the World" poster. We all secretly want one.

"Pork Proud" written on the door. No question that Fred is proud of his pigs!

However, their commodity pigs are no longer the star attraction among chefs and high-end butcher these days. It is all about the specialty pigs such as the Wild Boar. Pictured below, the Wild Boars are all busy crunching away at the black walnuts that Fred just threw in.

The baby wild boars didn't want to miss out and soon joined the herd.

The Wild Boar are raised in field and forest conditions where they forage. They receive naturally fertilized, non-GMO, farm-grown corn and grain during the winter months. Their meat is fine grained with little fat and keeps much of its original wild flavour. Since it takes two years to bring the Wild Boar to weight naturally, they only become available periodically.

The other specialty/premium pigs that are causing a buzz in Stratford and Toronto are the Berkshire and Tamworth pigs.

Pictured below is a Berkshire (which happens to be doing #1 as I was taking the picture). The field-raised Berkshire produces rich, dark meat with fat marbling that gives it a full flavour. It is considered sweeter than commercially raised pork. It needs to be handled gently and is ideal for slow cooking. The Berkshire pig has been a favourite of the British Royal Family since Queen Victoria's time.

And below is a Tamworth pig (who joined its Berkshire friend and was evidently quite thirsty). Tamworth pigs are the poster animals of heritage pigs. The red Tamworth pig is traditionally known as a bacon pig because of the excellent flavour of its smoked meat. Tamworth's fatty succelence goes beyond Berkshire, and it's the hot new rediscovered breed. A Bristol University taste test, under scientifically controlled conditions, rated Tamworth meat as the best when compared to other rare breeds and commercial pork. If you see this rare breed on a menu or at a butcher's, it may well be from Fred's farm. 

The Berkshires and the Tamworths live in an open shelter with a large grazing field with a lot of mud. They live a good life.

Fred clearly states that it is the Berkshire and the Tamworths that keep their farm in operation today.

As we ventured further into Fred's farm, we see that a lot of space is dedicated to growing corn for feeding the pigs.

This is the home of the Ironage pigs.

They all came out to greet us.

Ironage pigs are the result of a cross between a Wild Boar and a Tamworth. Fred has only started growing these recently and because they take around a year and a half to come to weight, the flavour of their meat cannot be accurately described yet. However, generally the meat seems to have some wild boar taste along with additional fat that enhances the flavour. Like the Wild Boar, they become available only periodically.

Look at this big one! It has difficulty walking.

And now we know why =P

Fred de Martines talked about the importance of keeping small local abattoirs in business (there's only one remaining in Perth County). People tend to wrongly accuse local abattoirs for contamination issues (i.e. the listeriosis outbreak). However, on the contrary, Fred clearly points out that with small processing plants, they are able to easily dismantle the machines every night for cleaning, unlike the massive machines used in the big processing plants. He reminds us that local abattoirs are becoming a rare commodity, so if you want to help them out, print this off and send it to the address indicated. It literally takes 5 seconds.

Heading back to the barn, we stopped by a huge pool of liquid manure. It's 14 feet deep! It surprisingly didn't smell bad, but that's only because a crust has formed on the top. Once the pool of manure is physically agitated/moved, it will smell real bad.

I got some pepperoni from Fred's pork shop for the road.

My next post will be about the wonderful lunch we had at Soiled Reputation with Chef Neil Baxter from Rundles.