Pork has got to be the most versatile meats, Leila Dukes reckons. From roasting joints, loins for chops, legs for gammon, ribs for barbecue you can create all sorts of wonderful dishes from nose to tail.
While it’s tempting to rush off and start a cooking marathon as soon as possible, it’s important to consider where your meat comes from first. Of course, discerning shoppers always try to source the best quality possible to be sure of welfare standards and good flavour. However there are so many labels to decipher and even the savviest foodie is likely to be confused by the terms “outdoor bred”, “outdoor reared” and “free range.” Based on my recent visit to Blythburgh Farm in Suffolk, here’s what they all mean:
- Outdoor bred: born outside but then moved indoors to be reared intensively for the majority of their lives;
- Outdoor reared: intensively reared outside; they may be in huts or tents but they’re shut in for the whole time;
- Free range: born outside, reared outside, freedom to roam large paddocks for all of their lives.
If the pork you’re about to buy has none of the above labels or is imported pork, chances are it is from animals who have had relatively miserable lives.
The explanations above are courtesy of Jimmy Butler, an experienced farmer and head of Blythburgh family farm in Suffolk. The Butlers converted their pig farm into the “absolutely, totally free range pork” venture it is today back in the 1990s. Today, you can find pork bearing the Blythburgh stamp in specialist butchers around the country including my local, Hennessy Butchers in Battersea.
You may have come across Blythburgh pork, also known as Jimmy Butler’s pork, on menus at the Savoy, the Fat Duck, the Ivy and the Hind’s Head – as well as street food favourites Chipotle and Yum Bun. The label “Blythburgh pork” means that the meat you are buying is traceable back to one truly free range farm, which has ideal conditions for raising happy pigs.
The pigs that produce Blythburgh Free Range Pork spend their entire lives outdoors in the fresh air, with freedom to roam. Large airy tented barns in each paddock with plenty of bedding straw provide shelter when needed. Better welfare and better taste – these pigs grow at a slower rate, so develop more flavour and succulence that is not easy to find in intensively farmed oprk. Jimmy’s son Alistair tells us that pigs are curious, intelligent animals who love to root and play. As Jimmy puts it, “a free range pig is a happy pig and a happy pig is a good pig”.
The open spaces of the free range farm is clear to see just off a main road near the town of Blythburgh; the pig farm has become something of a landmark in these parts. You can see for yourself how the pigs happily roam in large paddocks, playing and rooting around as is their nature in the sandy Suffolk soil. I was lucky enough to cuddle one.
After the visit, the group of food writers I was with were invited to a butchery demonstration by Gerard King, from local craft butcher Salter and King, who skilfully broke down a whole side of pork and shared his top tips for preparing each cut. His recipe for rolled pork belly stuffed with chorizo sounds like a winner!
With fine quality meat like Blythburgh pork, the simplest recipes are often the best to showcase the natural flavours. The Butlers shared one of their favourite family recipes for slow-cooked pork sholder:
- 6kg Blythburgh pork shoulder, boned, rolled and scored;
- 2 tablespoons oil;
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds;
- Heat oven to 220C;
- Place the pork in a roasting tray, rub the skin with oil and salt, and then sprinkle with fennel seeds;
- Roast for 30 minutes and then lower the oven to 120C;
- Cook for a further six and a half hours;
- When cooked remove pork and rest for 15 minutes;
- Remove crackling, shred pork and serve in rolls with apple sauce or with vegetables and gravy.
Find out more at freerangepork.co.uk.