“You should see the pigs when we feed them the whey,” says Jon Godar, owner of Eli Creek Family Farms in Connersville. Heritage Berkshire and Gloucestershire Old Spots breeds surround the former medical-sales executive, who stands muddy-booted in a paddock as the eager pigs clamber toward troughs to get the milky runoff from nearby Jacobs and Brichford Cheese. “They go absolutely crazy for it.” A few pause to get a scratch or take a nibble from the ankle of executive chef Toby Moreno, who is all too happy to get his shoes dirty on his first visit to see the pigs his boss, Craig Baker, has purchased to use in his restaurants, including Moreno’s Plow & Anchor.
When so much commercial pork is available, why put the time and money into heritage breeds?
Moreno: We picked a breed like Berkshire because its shorter legs mean we get bigger hams and bellies. Because these pigs are pastured and aren’t just standing still all the time, they have more muscle and more flavor. That means I don’t really have to brine the meat or do anything to it to make it taste great. Even a little bit of the meat can elevate a dish, like the chorizo I make to go with our octopus, or the ham hock that flavors the beans in our seafood stew.
Godar: These pigs were originally raised for kings, and we treat them like that at Eli Creek Farms. Feeding them whey at various points during their development changes the pH of the fat, which makes it melt faster. And these pigs have double the good omega fatty acids, so that makes them healthier. Moving them around the paddocks also means they get plenty of broadleaves, like mint, clover, and alfalfa, which makes for better flavor. I want to try feeding pigs apples and pears, or acorns, to get pork with distinct flavors.
Why is a partnership like this important?
Godar: I’ve always been around farms, and I showed pigs in 4-H when I was a kid. But it’s really satisfying to do research on particular breeds and be part of an artisanal process. And to see your product on the plate at a restaurant like Plow & Anchor really makes you proud of what you’re doing. I used to grow a lot more produce, but now I’m just doing mushrooms and pigs—I want to be known for those things and for their superior quality.
Moreno: Visiting the farm is a lot of fun, and it really makes me happy to watch the pigs eat. I can tell the customers about them and their diets, which customers care a lot more about these days. I’m more confident about what I’m selling. I get a lot of compliments about Jon’s pork and just how pure and rich the flavor is.
This article appeared in the August 2015 issue.