Ingredients 101: Berkshire Pork
From the Berkshire breed of hogs. Different and better.
So much of our food has been industrialized that most of the flavor, and in many cases, much of the nutrition have been eliminated. Pork is a good example of this. The pork industry has worked hard to re-position pork as "the other white meat" but low-fat diets aside, I never really understood why any food producer would aspire to the taste of a boneless chicken breast.
To make matters worse, because there's now so little fat in pork, if we overcook it at all, it quickly becomes dry. At one time pork was risky to eat unless well cooked. Today it is healthy, lean and nearly 100% free from trichinosis which had been caused by feeding pigs garbage, something that is no longer permitted by food regulations. That means we no longer have to cook our pork to an internal temperature above 160° F (medium) and many food experts say 145° F (medium rare) is perfectly safe.
If we want to eat pork that has taste, we have an alternative to "the other white meat" thanks to Berkshire pork. Berkshire is a breed, not a brand. For over 400 years, Berkshire hogs have been grown and brought to market. These heirloom black pigs, originally from England, are still old fashioned pork, raised without antibiotics, with dark and juicy meat, and a rich flavor that lets you add other ingredients without causing the flavor of pork to disappear. The name Berkshire refers to the hog, not the producer, and these pigs are raised by many small farmers across the country, but especially in Iowa.
In the 1800's some Berkshire hogs were exported to Japan where they were renamed Kurobuta (which means "black pig") and continued to be cultivated as a purebred, high quality source of pork. Kurobuta are now also grown in the US and some New York markets, including Lobel's, sells cuts by this name.
Expect Berkshire pork to be a ruddy, dark red, a sign of there being more fat in the meat. Berkshire pork chops are among the easiest cuts of this meat to find, but popular cuts from the whole animal are sold in some of our better meat markets, including loins (boneless and bone-in) and ribs.
Because Berkshire hogs are raised in the United States, they comply with USDA standards for quality and cleanliness, so just because this pork doesn't look like the rest of the stuff in the butcher's case, it's just as safe to eat.
Prices vary tremendously so shop around. At some stores, Berkshire pork chops cost only $1.00/pound more than "other white meat" chops. Worth the splurge, I think.