Published Oct 21, 2014

Field Day Recap: Story City Locker tour, pork feeding trial and a lot of delicious samples

By Tomoko Ogawa

“Going to a different butcher is like going to a different barber – you’ll end up with a haircut but it may look different.” –Ty Gustafson, owner of Story City Locker

Story City Locker, the host of the field day last month, has only been open for 11 months, but it has already connected well with many PFI farmers and constantly gaining more fans – farmers and friends of farmers alike. I can see how it’s starting to become “the butcher (locker)” to go to for many, just as Ty described.

Ty opened the field day with the brief introduction to their locker and a tour. We gathered in the main area where their butcher Dave’s station is located. The 4,500 sq-feet locker includes the kill floor, retail space, kitchen (with a hickory smoker) for crafting sausage and other value added meat products, poultry room, as well as seven refrigerated rooms and one freezer room.

Some attendees went inside one of the refrigerated rooms to look at hanging carcasses. Story City Locker ages beef for two weeks and pork and lamb for one week.  We saw heritage breed Large Black pigs from Lucky George Farm, owned and operated by PFI members and field day attendees Angela and Jason Johnson.

The capacity for the holding pens at the locker is five beef or 15 hogs and live animals are delivered the night before slaughter. The Temple Grandin the AWA (Animal Welfare Approved) pen and holding facilities which are certified by the State of Iowa.

Herb and Kathy Eckhouse of La Quercia were also at the field day to talk about their cured meats. La Quercia was founded in 2004, the same year they built their plant in Norwalk, Iowa.  The company started curing products in 2005 and quickly became a nationally recognized company with great reviews for their products. All the pork La Quercia uses is from Iowa and Missouri and they emphasize on starting with the best quality ingredients to craft their delicious products.

Their acorn edition prosciutto (ham) and spallacia (shoulder) are made with heritage breed Tamworth pigs that are raised on pasture in Missouri.  60% of their diet in their last four months of life comes from acorns as these pigs forage in oak savannahs. The product is aged for 15 to 22 months. Along with Acorn Tamworth Spallacia, Herb and Kathy brought their Borsellino Salami (which means little purse, you can stick this sausage in your purse to be ready for impromptu picnic anytime!) and Proscuitto Americano for sampling. While Prosciutto Americano was of course delicious, the rich and nutty taste, as well as melting texture of acorn fed Tamworth meat was heavenly.

Following Herb and Kathy, Tom and Irene Frantzen talked about the on-farm  swine feeding trials. The Frantzens raise organic grains and livestock in New Hampton and they conducted a study to compare  small grain-fed hogs versus corn-fed hogs earlier this year. For the trial, the Frantzens purposefully did not grind the small grains and fed the whole, unprocessed grains to match the reality on small scale operations with limited resources. Tom passed around the sample of corn and small grain feed that they used for the trial, and shared the initial data from this project, including the difference between feed cost, returns, weight gains, and weights (live, hanging, packaged, net). Complete result from this study will be available later this year.

Before moving on to the blind tasting of pork fed corn or small grains, Dave Stender from ISU joined the Frantzens to talk about the anatomical differences between pigs and cows and how this effects the taste of pork and beef. Cows, sheep, or any other ruminants have the ability to ferment their food, which produces meat with consistent flavor.. Omnivores like pigs, do not ferment their feed and the flavors of what they consume are passed into their meat.

Irene passed around the uncooked pork chops (small grains-fed vs. corn-fed) to examine the visual difference of each cut before tasting. For the blind tasting, we prepared bacon, pork chops, bratwurst, breakfast sausage, and picnic ham and kept each entry separated between corn-fed and small grain-fed. Personally, because the pork chops did not have any added seasonings, I could tell the differences in texture and flavor most clearly. Initially, I liked corn-fed pork better because it seemed more tender.  As I ate more samples however, the small grain-fed chop  tasted better and I wanted to eat more  to taste the more complex flavors.  The attendees were split about which entry they preferred for each product. For bratwurst, I couldn’t detect the flavor difference very much, but the textures seemed quite different. Small grain-fed pork bratwurst was a lot smoother, and somehow creamier. I hadn’t expected to detect much difference between small grain-fed and corn-fed bacons because it has external smoky flavor. However, while the texture difference was hard to tell, the flavors were surprisingly different. After trying many samples, I preferred the flavor of corn-fed bacon.

The field day was very informative and filling – my stomach was quite full and very happy for the rest of the evening and night.