Published Sep 28, 2012

Pork tasting field day at Gibralter Farms

By Tomoko Ogawa

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon in mid-September, farmers and friends of farmers gathered together at Gibralter Farms near Iowa Falls for a unique occasion – to blind taste six different pork samples side by side. Following last year’s popular beef tasting, we showcased pork shoulder roasts from four different PFI producers, one from Organic Prairie (Organic Valley) and one from a grocery store.

The Gilberts took field day attendees on a brief tour of their Niman Ranch hog operation. The group saw their farrowing pasture and learned about the practices employed to keep the pigs and the soil happy and healthy. The Gilberts get multiple uses out of the pasture, which is split into three sections. Each year, one section will be growing corn for feed. Another, seeded with peas and triticale, produces forage for the dairy cows. And the third, previously seeded with red clover, is dotted with farrowing huts. The choice of forages and the rooting and activity of the hogs provides the soil with enough carbon and nutrients so that no fertilizer is needed for the corn. Meanwhile, the rotation ensures that the sows are farrowing on land that’s been rested awhile, reducing the risk of disease spread. In line with Niman protocols, the Gilberts use straw-bedded A-frame style huts to provide shelter for their fall- and spring-farrowing sows. The sows watch out for their piglets, making sure that they get inside the hut as night falls and even holding the door open for them. The Gilberts’ finishing hogs are kept in a hoop building not far from the farrowing pasture. Around hundred young hogs of all colors and breeds are raised in the structure. They eat a consistent diet, thanks to the Gilberts’ attentiveness to quality and their ability to grind their own feed.

Following the tour, Lori Lyon, Quality Manager at Niman Ranch discussed the pork quality before the blind tasting. Lori explained the different traits that Niman Ranch looks for to ensure its high eating quality products. These traits include color, marbling, firmness, pH, and Minolta when meat is still raw, and flavor, juiciness, tenderness, texture when it’s cooked. She shared in detail how each of these indicators influences the tastes of pork.

To treat all the samples as equally as possible, we prepared each roast the same way – by placing it in an oven bag to preserve its juice, and cooking in an electric roaster at 300 F for four hours. They were seasoned only with salt (half teaspoon per pound). While we announced the two most “popular” pork samples during the tasting by tallying up the number of people who listed them as one of their three most favorite pork, the people’s opinions on their favorite ones as well as evaluation of each entry varied widely. As I collected the information on each pork entry, I learned how many different variables there are that would have impacted the flavors and textures of pork that I tasted. For the grocery pork entry however, the only information I could gather was that hogs were raised either in the United States, Canada or Mexico according to the USDA guidelines, and are slaughtered/packaged somewhere in the United States.

For more information on the pork we had for the tasting, etc. please contact Tomoko (515-232-5661/ or look for the article on the pork tasting field day in our next newsletter.