Iowa farmer produces "specialty pork"

If you"ve watched television programs on the Food Network for any length of time, you know that "healthy" is not high on the list of words to describe most of the recipes featured. In fact, copious portions of butter are common, along with fatty pieces of meat and other high-calorie components. Why? Because they make food taste better. A friend of my husband used to say in regard to losing weight, "If it tastes good, just spit it out!" Still, there"s a market for fatter pork, and one Iowa producer is capitalizing on the niche.

"I want a pig that is longer, grows faster, has more fat and really dark meat," said Carl Edgar Blake II in an AgriNews article. He continued, "I am not interested in 'white meat' pigs. I'll take genetics from the Meishan, Russian Wild Boar, Large Black and add the growth rate from Hampshire-Duroc cross to create a 'hogzilla.' It will have the features chefs are wanting."

Blake, who owns Rustic Rooster Farms in Frederika, Iowa, is not your "typical" pork producer. He chooses to look like a country bumpkin in his interviews: blue jean coveralls with only one hook clasped and a t-shirt bearing the name of a familiar farm implement company. He"s large, both in height and width, sporting a bushy beard and hair pulled back into a ponytail.

In other words, he"s about as unorthodox as the pigs he raises. An article about Blake in the New York Times says the pigs are "floppy-eared with black fur, broad jowls, a thick rump, creased foreheads, and long bodies and snouts. When butchered, they have a broad slab of ivory fat to go with deep red meat, the antithesis of the "other white meat" craze when the pork industry moved toward leaner hogs."

Blake has developed a pig he calls the Iowa Swabian Hall, bred from Chinese Meishan females and descendants of Russian wild boars. According to Blake, King Wilhelm I of Germany was the originator of this new breed in the early 1820s. While the industry has chosen genetics to produce a leaner pig to meet consumer demand, Blake is headed in the other direction. In fact, he"s quite vocal about his disdain for the modern U.S. pig. And while some chefs think the meat is high quality, others feel it"s too fatty.

Most recently, Blake appeared on The Colbert Report, again with his standard partially-clasped coveralls blanketing his massive frame. He brought out two baby pigs to show Stephen Colbert, as well as samples of his pork. While Colbert gently holds one of the pigs, he tries a sample of the pork, lovingly looks down at the baby pig and says, "You are delicious." Priceless!

Personally, I"m disappointed Blake leads the general public to believe that pork producers don"t know how to dress or present themselves in a professional manner. That"s certainly not the reality. Regarding his pork products, I"ll withhold judgment before I try them, but there"s likely a happy medium between "too fat" and "too lean," and we ought to be doing more research to determine exactly what consumers want based on taste preferences, then make sure we"re producing pigs that meet their highest expectations.



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