01 April 2014

Red Wattle Hog

In nine years of swine blogging, there are always old favorites that you return to year after year. I most recently wrote about the Red Wattle pig last year for the Cochon Heritage Pork event here in Memphis, where that breed (and a few Berkshire hybrids) were used in the cooking of over forty distinct dishes using every part of the pig except for the oink.

The Red Wattle is easy to identify even at a young age, due to the presence of the distinctive "wattles", or pair of fleshy tags that hang down from the neck. These serve no evolutionary or culinary purpose, but remain as iconic as the beautiful chestnut roan color of the hair. The breed is known for being friendly and easy to handle, and the sows reliably deliver litters of up to 15 piglets. They're great if you've got a lot of oak trees, since they love to forage for acorns and that will definitely help deliver the classic heritage breed flavor. They are on the lean side, though the meat is not bland like most of the current lean hogs used for mass production. You can correct for that by wrapping chops in bacon or through the use of a larding needle for roasts. Whatever you do, don't overcook it.

There are varying theories about the origin of the Red Wattle breed. Some point to Texas, but I've always preferred the more legendary origin of French colonists bringing the pig to the US in the 1700s from the island of New Caledonia, a collectivité sui generis française located in Melanesia east of Australia.

Pigs were first introduced to the South Pacific some 3500 years ago, and pig roasts remain popular for special feasts throughout the islands. It is not improbable that some random mutation from an East Asian pig resulted in the familiar Red Wattle profile, though breeding records from those areas are highly unreliable. Still, the breed is making a renaissance in the United States, and I hope to see more of them in organic farms and in discerning butcher shops throughout the country.

1 comment:

Jill said...

As a small farm in New Mexico getting started in Red Wattle pasture raised pigs we appreciate this article. Red Wattle is exceptional pork and the pigs are awesome too!