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Sep 14 / scott.campbell

Store Bought vs. Local Pork – Does it Matter?

Our reference text (“Charcuterie” by Ruhlman, Polcyn) strongly encourages the use of locally raised pigs.  After describing the entire process of acquiring and butchering 2 fine hogs from a local Amish farm, Ruhlman writes: “For any home cook who has access to locally raised hogs, and a second refrigerator and freezer for storage, this is a great and exciting option”.

Ruhlman, whose book Ratio was labeled “fascinating and pompous” by a reviewer at Slate, buys local pork for $1.35/lb., has friends with walk-in coolers, sharp knives, and the know-how to butcher an entire pig, including “steaming innards”.  I have none of those things, but I know someone who does, and we’ve loved being able to use locally raised pigs for a lot of the charcuterie we’ve made to date.  Still, Ruhlman’s description of the local pig “with its dark pink, well-marbled muscle, deep pork flavor, and copious smooth, supple fat” tends to make him come off like Jordan Schlansky having dinner with Conan.

Here’s the question: does it matter? I’ve cooked parts of the local pig (loin and tenderloin).  With the loin, I couldn’t tell any difference between the store bought, antibiotic and hormone-laden pork, and the local.  With the tenderloin, the difference was obvious and delicious – a richness that made store-bought seem weak.  Another time, I made fresh garlic sausage (recipe from Charcuterie) with store bought, and found it intensely good  in spite of its simplicity.

To test whether it makes any difference at all, we mixed 3 different recipes: saucisson sec, genoa salami, and tuscan salami.  Each of these recipes has both a store bought and local pork batch, so we made 6 batches in all.   They are all reposing happily in the fridge, dreaming of being sliced up and devoured at some point in the future:

The other objective we can cross off our list is testing other dried sausage recipes against Charcuterie, since we’ll be able to compare the tuscan salami to the genoa salami (the latter is taken from Rytek Kutas’ book on sausage).  In the end, the taste testers will determine the winner.

One quick aside – I know that pork flavor depends on what the animal eats.  I don’t know what our local pigs ate, but I’ll try to find out.

2 Comments

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  1. Jennifer Bottorff / Oct 2 2011

    One thing I noticed about store bought pork is that some pre-packaged meats have saline injected into the meat (to make it more tender, I guess) but is not desired for making sausage since it adds more water, although it might not increase the water activity. A book I read recently that I think you would enjoy is “Heat” by Bill Buford.

    • scott.campbell / Nov 10 2011

      Jennifer – thanks for the tip. It did appear to us that your observations held true. When we brined the pork from the store, it took up salt and flavors differently than the local variety. Not sure if this applies only to the loin (which tends to dry out if you’re not careful) or to the pork shoulder also. Thanks also for the book suggestion – we’ll look it up.

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