One of my first chores upon arriving at Farmer’s Market is to cut the prepped loin sections into individual chops. Yesterday, when I cut the first chop the only thing I could think of was Heather and my favorite quote from a Jefferey Steingarten article, (use your best French accent here) “Is perfect, no?”. There in front of me was a perfect pork chop. Like all of our chops it contained a single rib bone that ran from top to bottom. No jagged rib shards in our chops. But that wasn’t what caught my attention. Like all of our chops it had a nice covering of back fat. We don’t scalp our chops, thank you very much! But that wasn’t it, either. What set this particular chop apart was the marbling within the loin muscle itself. Loin eye muscling is the holy grail of pig farming, if you ask me. And there it was. So I snapped a picture with my cell phone.
It is commonly said that you can’t get pork chops to marble like a fine steak. That is undoubtedly true of pork chops from modern, ultra lean breeds of pigs fed a high protein diet and rushed to market at five months of age. But is it true of old fashioned lard hogs sent to market at a leisurely pace of nine to ten months of age? I think this chop settles that debate.
About three years ago we decided to bite the bullet and buy in a breeding pair of mulefoot hogs from a herd in South Dakota. If everything went right the boar would become our main boar and the sow would allow us to maintain a line of purebred mulefoot pigs. The reason for buying the mulefoot pigs is that they are the last remaining American survivors of an older “type” of hog, the “chuffy” or “lard type” hog. This was admittedly a gamble. Although chuffy hogs would supposedly have great marbling and meat quality, they are not as long as modern pigs and they have a lower proportion of bacon and pork chops. This is bad business. Bacon and chops are very profitable cuts. To make matters worse, chuffy hogs tend to have very small loin muscles, the muscle at the center of a chop, which can make for some meager looking pork chops. Chuffy hogs generally and mulefoot hogs in particular tend to give smaller litters than modern breeds of pig which is also a huge challenge to the commercial producer. Finally, chuffy hogs are smaller framed and slower growing, which means it might take us a year or more to get a pig to market (as opposed to six months or less for a commercial hog). So we decided to hedge our bets.
A friend and mentor of ours has a line of pigs he refers to as yorkshires but are really just “pink pigs”. These are solid farm stock, known to have large litters and good mothering skills. They are fairly modern in type, but not ridiculously so. What if we crossed our boar to his sows to create “meat type” hogs (another type of hog – intermediate between the chuffy and modern types – that has basically vanished in the us)? This might give us good numbers of pigs that are intermediate in length, have acceptable loin eye size, grow at good rates but still maintain some of the meat characteristics of the mulefoot hogs. It is commonly said in hog raising circles that your meat quality should come through your boar line and that’s what we were hoping for. But it took a year to raise the boar and then four months until we had piglets and then another 10 months to raise the pigs to the size we wanted and then….
… I had the perfect chop. Yay!