This is part two of a series introducing you to the heritage breeds we have and use here at the farm. Our long-term goal is in crossbreeding 3 old-fashioned breeds of hog to achieve a hearty, healthy, delicious hog with hybrid vigor, one that thrives and excels on our pastures and on the plate, The Berkshire is one of those breeds.
Traditionally, the Berkshire - an English breed imported to the USA as early as the 1820s - was a solid black hog with white points on the face and four feet; deep sided with lots of capacity for babies and forage. Modern Berks are not so deep and have recently been bred up to be broad, stocky and very muscular. The famous flavor of the Berkshire has been lost in pursuit of show ring winners, and it is harder to put fat on these very muscular modern hogs. Birthing difficulties are also an issue. Our hogs have fallen somewhere in between, but we are striving to find a good balancing point with the Berkshire genetics we are bringing into our breeding plan.
Berkshires are famed for their pork - a deep red meat that looks more like beef than pork, marbled throughout the muscle, and flavorful in a way that has won the praise of chefs and everyday consumers like you and me. It is prized in Japan as Kurobuta (black pork), and it draws high prices on their market. Ideally, the flavor of Berkshire pork should be very porky, almost beefy, with a lot of umami, and with undertones of black pepper and mushrooms. In other words, the flavor of this pork should make your taste buds get up and mambo!
We currently have one purebred Berkshire gilt who will be joining the sow herd, and also a half Berkshire x half Large Black Hog gilt, also destined for the sow herd. We just took a pure Berkshire in for a customer and eagerly await the review on how he performs at the table. Also scheduled for customers is another purebred Berk and another half Berk half Large Black.
The Berkshires and Berkshire crosses we have raised on the farm have done a magnificent job in eating off of our diversified pasture. Often, they will prefer to eat out in a newly opened grazing space over eating a commercial hog ration. They are strong, healthy, active, inquisitive.
What is the benefit of crossbreeding these hogs? There are benefits that they will bring to the other breeds, as described above; what I would like to improve for our program is: longer body especially through the bacon, not just for more bacon but to have more teats for nursing babies; less muscularity with a better tendency to put on some flavorful fat without losing the thickness in the loins, hams, and shoulder; an even more laid back personal attitude than their somewhat docile nature; and even more improvement in their ability to thrive on a pasture-based system. They are a great building block, and I'm glad we have them in our breeding program. I think our customers will appreciate the flavor and generosity of meat that they bring to the table.
Merry Schepers lives on a farm with her heritage pigs in Nixa, MO.