Last Sunday we went to – The Pig Day Out – where we heard Lee McCosker, former owner of Melanda Park (she has sold the business but the current owners continue to rear free range pork), to speak about farming free range pork on a commercial basis.
McCosker, who is a strong supporter of the Humane Choice accreditation system, made a very clear distinction between farming rather than mass-producing pork. McCosker spoke about the many concerning parallels between the way pigs are currently commercially produced and the way chickens are mass produced. I was rather startled to hear that, unlike commercially raised chickens, pigs can be given both hormone and non-hormonal growth promotants, as well as anti-biotics. Equally concerning is that there is no legal definition of ‘free range’ in the pork industry. It is therefore very difficult for consumers to really know what they are getting unless they sourced their pork from farms certified by humane production organisations (who also certify the abatoirs for humane slaughter) or could visit the relevant farm and see for themselves. Her best guide – if you are looking on the internet is to see whether photographs showed pigs at all stages of development out in the fields or just sows and piglets. If there are only sows and piglets you might be looking at what is called ‘born free range’ where the sows give birth outside and piglets stay with them for the first month, until the piglets are moved indoors for intensive rearing. Not that we were having any of that type of pork on the day.
As a person trying to produce a commercially viable animal McCosker crossed the commercial white pigs used in intensive farming with rare breed pigs to produce an animal with sufficient hybrid vigour to grow well and which also retained its ‘nouse’ as a foraging animal. She must have got it right because her farm supplied a number of top end restaurants in NSW including Neil Perry’s. McCosker went on to discuss the intricacies of raising animals with the specific characteristics required by different restaurants. I would have enjoyed hearing more of this side of the story but it was time to taste the difference.
We were fortunate enough to be tucking into some free range Wessex Saddleback pigs, some of which had been raised by Chef Janet Jeffs herself. The main dish was pork marinated in Reidsdale cider and served with Ingelara potatoes and steamed winter greens. I really liked the peas which were included as part of the ‘greens’. They were only partly developed and served pod and all – both flavoursome and tender.
This tasty dish was followed by Claudia Roden’s flourless orange and almond cake served with orange blossom citrus and marscapone.
Just some advanced notice of another interesting Kitchen Cabinet event on 30 October. People who get in early will travel to Braidwood to experience A Taste of Convict Life, A special event in association with the Crave Sydney International Food Festival 2011.