The Heritage Pork Revolution
by ryan roman
Pubbelly’s cochinillo, with sour apple purée, pork jus, confit baby onions, roasted Brussels sprouts, and cinnamon-scented apples
|These days, Berkshire pork is popping up on menus throughout Miami, including that of Sustain Restaurant + Bar|
|The rare-breed Berkshire pig is prized for its unusually rich flavor and delicate texture|
Growing up the son of a Jewish vegan, my rebellious phase came in the form of smoked ham hocks, not cigarettes. From the moment I set eyes on a Caja China, that wooden box used to roast whole pigs into that caramel-colored lechón, I realized that the trajectory of my life would skew porcine. Little did I know, however, that the nondescript “pork” of yesteryear would eventually get the royal treatment previously afforded to Wagyu beef and heirloom tomatoes.
Two heritage breeds in particular, Mangalitsa and Berkshire pigs, are staking their claims as the pork world’s “Kobe beef,” showing up on menus everywhere from New York to Los Angeles, including some of Miami’s more innovative restaurants.
Berkshire pigs are a black breed hailing from their namesake town in England. They’re believed to have been in existence for the past 300 years, arriving in America in 1823. This is the same breed that you may have seen referred to as Kurobuta, in reference to a region of Japan where the pigs are also raised. Berkshire meat is darker and more marbled than that of production or commercial pig. Torm Siverson, manager of Pasture Prime Family Farm in Summerfield, Florida—which breeds both Berkshires and Mangalitsas—claims “the flavor [of the Berkshires] actually tastes like pork. The bacon is obscene.” Although saying that Berkshire tastes like “pork” may be akin to saying that fish tastes “fishy,” local chef Jeffrey Brana elaborates on the concentrated flavor that comes from Berkshires: “When you look at this pork and see the streaks of white running through it, it’s unbelievable. That’s pure, unadulterated flavor.”
While Berkshire pigs were bred for their meat, Mangalitsa pigs were originally developed as “lard hogs” in the 1830s by Archduke Joseph Anton Johann in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today the breed is also known as the “woolly pig” because of its hairy coat. Siverson is the only farmer breeding Mangalitsa pigs in all of Florida, and the most coveted cuts remain a rare luxury for chefs and restaurants here in Miami. Right now, all of Siverson’s Mangalitsa pork loins go to Blue Zoo, a restaurant in Orlando whose chef forged an early relationship with the farm. Occasionally, however, the shoulders and belly make their way to Miami restaurants.
“I’m dying to get my hands on a suckling Mangalitsa,” says chef Brana, who has previously worked with both Mangalitsa and Berkshire pork from Siverson’s farm. “They’re taken before they’re born.”
Only recently have these fancy breeds begun to appear on Miami menus. Sakaya Kitchen in Midtown uses Berkshire pork in its pork buns, honey-orange ribs, and several other dishes, and Sustain Restaurant + Bar and Makoto both serve Berkshire iterations. Mangalitsa’s a bit harder to procure, but has made guest appearances on the menu at Pubbelly on Miami Beach. Recently, both Berkshire and Mangalitsa pork were the focus of meals hosted by chef Brana and his wife, Anna Elena Pedron-Brana, as part of the couple’s Brana Food Group dinner series. The Mangalitsa belly, which Brana respectfully dubs “the goods,” was prepared sous vide with saikyo miso, heart of Chinese cabbage, chives, turnips, and ginger oil. The thick layer of fat melted away like cotton candy, producing a sensory overload of untainted pork belly. Its texture and flavor was almost mystical. I’m now a rebel with a cause.
photographs by greg clark (pubbelly); robert dowling/corbis (pig)