(Originally published April 19, 2013 on Examiner.com).
Cochon 555’s fifth Anniversary finishes its cross country United States ten city tour in Los Angeles on May fifth, Cinco de Mayo, at The House of Blues on Sunset Blvd in West Hollywood. Cochon 555 will feature five chefs, and five heritage breed pigs. The winning chef from Los Angeles will move on to compete against the winning chefs from the other nine cities for the Food & Wine final competition Grand Cochon in Aspen on June 16th.
The five competing LA Chefs are Joshua Whigham (Bazaar by José Andrés), Gavin Lansdale (Ford’s Filling Station), Ray Garcia (FIG Restaurant), Jet Tila (The Charleston), and Host Chef Sean Dent (House of Blues). Each chef has put together a team of other chefs for prep, cooking and presentation.
The five heritage pigs are selected by the event’s founder Brady Lowe based on the best potential match of pig, pig farm and chef. Cochon 555 is all about making relationships, so Cochon introduces the farmers to the chefs, and the chefs then visit the farms. Over the past five years Cochon has reached out to many heritage pig farmers to participate. The heritage pigs selected are all approximately two hundred pounds.
Cochcon is a national event whose mission is to educate chefs and consumers about heritage breeds of pigs. This year Cochon 555 again celebrates the farmers who raise these animals, and who tilt the scales back towards good, local, responsibly grown food. Without these small farmers, many of these heritage breeds would go extinct.
The two or three breeds used for commercial production aren’t heritage breeds. These industrial pigs have been bred for their hardiness as well as their capacity to grow quickly, not for the flavor of their meat. Additionally the limited gene pool of the confined pigs on these commercial farms potentially allows for the rapid spreading of disease.
As Cochon’s Field Guide to Heritage Breeds notes, “Heritage breed pigs [on the other hand] come from bloodlines going back hundreds of years when livestock was raised on multi-use, open-pasture farms. Because of their lifestyle and inherent genes, different breeds became known for a variety of characteristics, including the rich and hearty taste of their meat, distinct marbling, bacon flavors and creamy fat.”
Two of the five pigs being supplied this year come locally from Cooks Pig Ranch in Julian, California. Cooks is supplying a Gloucestershire Old Spot [GOS] and Berkshire. GOS come from England, and is a critically rare breed. It’s known for its higher fat ratio, and flavorful meat. This pig’s gentle temperament also makes it popular with farmers. The Berkshire also originated in Britain. The Berkshire is the most popular of the heritage breeds and has become a favorite with chefs because of its intramuscular marbling and thick delicious fat cap. The Berkshire’s meat is sweet and creamy with hints of nuttiness typical of the finishing process on many farms.
The pigs Cooks Pig Ranch provided were fed grass plus finished with acorns and macadamias. You are what the pigs you eat eat. Heritage breed pigs on small farms like Cooks Pigs Ranch are fed species specific diets free of grains and GMO’s. Pigs fed this way are healthier, plus more flavorful and healthy for you, the consumer, to eat.
Pigs’ digestive systems aren’t designed to eat corn, wheat, or soy. Grains irritate their digestive systems causing all kinds of ailments and diseases such as acidosis poisoning, bloat, G.I. infections, ulcers, and colitis that lead to dehydration, and other nutritional deficiencies. Consequently concentrated animal feeding operations add large amounts of antibiotics, chemicals and other drugs to their animals’ grain feed to deal with these adverse effects. Despite these effects, factory farms feed their animals grains since grains are cheap and plentiful plus fatten up confined animals quickly.
But many recent studies have shown that fat from pigs that are pasture-fed has higher levels of mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats than fat from conventionally raised, grain-fed swine, so grain-fed lard isn’t a healthy option to cook with whereas lard from a pasture-raised pig provides a good balance of fats that can be part of a healthful diet. .
So the future of heritage breed pigs is reliant upon farmers like Cooks Pig Ranch who raise them. By buying heritage breed pork, you, the consumer, can help these small farms preserve these breeds simply by creating a demand for these heritage breed’s meat, which is both more nutritious and more flavorful as well as free of antibiotics and hormones.
In Los Angeles, many LA Chefs are also featuring heritage breed pork, chicken, and beef on their menus. Many LA Chefs are going so far as to list the names of the farms from where they source their meats on their menus. If they don’t, make a point of asking your server where the meat you’re going to eat comes from. Many butchers and markets are now also beginning to carry heritage breed pigs and other animals.
General admission tickets ($125.00) and VIP tickets ($200.00) can be purchased by visiting Cochon555’s website. VIP guests receive early access to the event and special offerings including a special tasting with three competing chefs. The VIP hour is filled with experiences that will not be found on the main floor. The doors open at 4 PM for V.I.P’s and 5 PM for general admission. Come VERY hungry.