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MailTribune.com
  • Pastured Pork

    Williams rancher wants to replicate renowned taste of the Spanish 'black-footed' pig
  • Far from the farm's cozy barn, four black pigs bed down on the forest floor.
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  • Far from the farm's cozy barn, four black pigs bed down on the forest floor.
    In their waking hours, the hogs forage for most of their food — grass, roots, lichens and the acorns that Williams rancher Tobias Hatfield hopes will infuse their meat with unsurpassed flavor.
    "We're trying to duplicate the famous Spanish, black-footed pig," Hatfield says.
    So-called "black-footed" pigs yield "jamón ibérico," a dry-cured Spanish ham that is richer, more complex and slightly gamier than prosciutto or the more ordinary Spanish dry-cured ham called "jamón serrano." In Spain, the most prized black-footed pigs are allowed to roam oak forests and feed on acorns.
    The hams require two to three years of curing before selling for $100 to $200 per pound. Hams were shipped to just a handful of U.S. distributors about a year ago, following a 12-year process to gain government approval to import them.
    "It's some of my favorite ham in the world ... the Spanish hams in general are fantastic," says Tom Van Voorhees, cheese-shop manager at Rogue Creamery in Central Point, which carries a small selection of gourmet meats.
    "It didn't matter how much it cost at the marketplace, people wanted it," Van Voorhees says.
    Hatfield is anticipating customers also will want his USDA-certified organic, acorn-fed pork come market time. He's set to slaughter four "large black" pigs in February with plans to sell the whole or half hogs, in addition to individual cuts of pork when the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market opens in March.
    "More than half their diet is acorns," Hatfield says. "We had a great crop of acorns this year."
    Known locally for raising organic, grass-fed bison for the past eight years on his Full Circle Bison Ranch, Hatfield wanted pigs to clean up the acorns on 80 acres of oak savannah within his 120-acre property. Hatfield first tried raising Yorkshire-Hampshire crossbreeds for his own family's use but says he wasn't impressed with the meat or the animals' instincts — rather, lack of them.
    "We put 'em out on pasture, and they didn't know what to do," Hatfield says.
    Hatfield researched pig breeds suited to free grazing and foraging and selected Tamworth and "large black," both rare British varieties closely related to wild boars and known for their self-sufficiency.
    "These are very true to their old breed," Hatfield says.
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