It’s strange that I have become so acquainted with pork. I never really felt one way or another about it growing up. In fact, when I did eat it, I never thought much about it at all - it was just the ‘other white meat’ that was served at the occasional dinner.
Somewhere along the line, though, my perspective about pork - and all meat, for that matter - shifted.
I am sure this is due in part to my sister living in Germany. Over my many visits there, I ate a lot of pig. And I mean a lot - in Germany, it seems every meal of the day features swine in some fashion. Okay I was usually there over the holidays, an especially indulgent time of eating (see the day Dave defeated Schweinshaxn, a whole ham hock), but I was nonetheless exposed to porcine preparations I had never before seen. I came to realize how rich and flavorful pork could - and was meant to - taste.
Some years later while living in New York City, I worked on the PR campaign for Brady Lowe’s respected Cochon 555, a food tour which makes its way around the US, working with leaders in the food industry to support local farmers and educate people about heritage breed pigs (pre-industrial livestock breeds), sourcing sustainable meat, and the benefits that come from eating pork responsibly.
From there, I went on to work at Marlow & Daughters, a whole-animal butcher shop in Brooklyn which works with nearby farms to provide exceptional, sustainably-raised food to customers as well as local restaurants.
In addition to my budding interest which came from my experiences in New York, I also gained a great deal of knowledge from our good family friends back in Michigan, who got into the pig business in 2009. When Pete Draigh became fed up with an inability to source good meat anywhere near his home in mid-western Michigan, he took matters into his own hands and launched Pete's Fine Swine, where Pete and his family raise Berkshire pigs on their farm in a natural environment. The pigs are raised and killed in this same natural environment, which is not only more humane, but also stress-free for the animals, preventing the unpleasant taste that meat takes on when stress hormones are triggered during transport to and handling at the slaughterhouse.
On top of all of that, I picked up Barry Estabrook’s Pig Tales last year, because I loved his earlier book Tomatoland. This read is the most insightful and comprehensive work I have come across on the pork industry, and draws stark contrasts between factory-like operations and small family farms, like Pete Draigh's. Estabrook doesn't preach vegetarianism. Rather, he sheds light on the unsustainable conditions of pig farming in America and how consumers have a choice to seek out ethically-raised meat, which is better tasting, better for our health, better for the environment, and better for the animals.
In retrospect, it has become obvious that sourcing good meat - meat that is raised well and nearby - is really important to me and the way I eat, cook and share meals with others. It ties into my greater approach towards food, which is simple yet paramount – creating a connection between what is on our plate and where it came from.
With all of that in mind, it's no surprise that I was ecstatic when a new specialty butcher shop, Meatsmith, opened in my neighborhood here in Melbourne. It reminds me a lot of my days at Marlow & Daughters, as the butcher always has suggestions of what meat will suit both my needs and their supply from local farms.
On a recent chilly day, I was set on doing a nice, gentle roast for just Dave and myself. A tenderloin was a bit lean for a slow roast, and a shoulder was too much meat; the butcher had some pork neck on hand, which is more marbled than a loin roast, and much more suitable for two people (with the perfect amount of leftovers for a couple of amazing sandwiches - think spicy mustard, arugula, and sourdough).
Through these types of interactions and conversations with our butchers, cheese mongers, and farmers, we can expand our repertoire in the kitchen, become better cooks, and ultimately gain a true appreciation for the food that brings us together around the table.
Slow-Roasted Pork Neck
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon maple syrup
3 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed
5 sprigs thyme, leaves removed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1 pork neck, boned
Preheat oven to 200ºF.
In a small bowl, mix olive oil, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, maple syrup, rosemary, thyme, garlic, salt, and pepper together. Rub evenly over pork. Transfer to a roasting pan and cook until pork cooked through and very tender, 6-7 hours. Increase oven to 425ºF and cook until pork is crispy and golden, 10-15 more minutes.
Allow pork to rest at room temperature for 10 minutes. Slice and serve immediately with spicy mustard.