Whenever we eat pork, ham or bacon at home these days the one question my children ask me is, “has this pig had a good life?”

We’ve talked about intensive farming and about how it’s better to not eat meat at all than buy pig or chicken meat that has been intensively farmed. So, I took them to the Gypsy Pig farm in West Gippsland in Victoria to show them what I mean and what farmers like Michael and Bronwyn Cowan do on a daily basis.

I have profiled Michael and Bronwyn on FwT before, click here and I wanted to share the photos of what they do and just how good the lives of their pigs are.

Large Blacks and Tamworths

These Large Blacks are the bacon girls

If you’re concerned about animal welfare in the rearing of pigs and chickens for meat, then it’s about asking questions, becoming aware of what to buy and where to buy it from  and often going to Farmers Markets where people like Bronwyn and Michael sell their products directly to the public.

Avoid nameless, generic brand pork products. Don’t buy pork that is ‘Bred Free Range’ – this simply means that once the piglet is born in a free-range environment it is put into an intensive one soon after (a matter of a few weeks, if that).

I choose to eat meat and so do my family but we do it with awareness and consume with conscience.

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Turning leftovers into a new meal or dish is logical … even thoughtful.

Put simply, leftovers are also Food with Thought!

A rolled pork shoulder from Bronwyn and Michael Cowan at Gypsy Pig in Gippsland, Victoria was a delicious dinner. Roasted with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, we ate it with bowls of salads – tomato with balsamic dressing, spinach leaves with a sprinkling of shaved pecorino cheese and new potatoes, boiled and dolloped with lemon mayonnaise.

With most of the salads eaten, the leftovers were all about the pork. Over the next couple of days, I whipped up a couple of choices that the family (and visitors) continued to enjoy:

PORK w CHILLI & BASIL DRESSING

The amount of pork you use obviously depends on how much you have leftover. Here, the chopped up pork is the equivalent of two metric cups.

Roughly chop the pork – almost dicing it – into pieces about 2cm in length. Pieces this size give the pork a wonderful texture when biting into it and stand up to the dressing too.

Chilli & Basil Dressing

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 small red chillies, finely chopped (more if you like a lot of heat)

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

2 large basil leaves, ripped into little pieces (chopping the leaves on a board leaves alot of the flavour on the board)

crushed sea salt, to taste

ground black pepper, to taste

To Garnish:

Chopped garlic chives and parsley (about 2 tablespoons of each).

Put all the ingredients in a glass jar, close the lid on the jar and shake vigorously. Check for flavour – if it’s a little too oily for your taste, add 1/2 tsp more vinegar. If it’s too sharp on your palate, add a teaspoon more olive oil.

Place the chopped pork in a bowl, sprinkle with the garlic chives and parsley and then follow with the dressing.

Pour a little at a time to get the coating you are looking for and the desired flavour.

Accompany:

If you have any bread leftover from a party or dinner, slice it and rub it with a cut garlic clove.

Pour a little olive oil over the sliced bread and place it under a hot grill until it is slightly tan with

a toasty crisp edge.

SHREDDED PORK SANDWICHES

Pull the cooked pork meat apart with your hands into shreds OR take a knife and cut along the grain of the meat, slicing it into very fine shreds.

Place this meat in a bowl and mix with some good mayonaisse, lemon juice, 2 finely chopped anchovy fillets, 2 tablespoon of capers, 1 teaspoon crushed fennel seed, 1 crushed clove garlic, chopped parsley, salt and black pepper. Taste the mixture and make sure it’s balanced to your taste. A little more lemon juice will liven it up if it’s tasting too creamy and heavy; if it’s all spice and lemon, add a teaspoon more of mayo.

This will combine into a thick unctous mess of sweet meat and creamy textured dressing that will sit neatly in a sliced sourdough roll on top of some rocket leaves.

Pork, in all its forms, is so readily available that it can be a surprise to hear a pig farmer say, ‘One of the hardest obstacles we have faced is to get people to understand what pork should really taste like,’ but that has been the case for Bronwyn and Michael Cowan who own and operate Gypsy Pig on their property in Darnum, West Gippsland in Victoria.

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The Cowans breed what are termed rare breed pigs; Large Blacks, Tamworths and Wessex Saddlebacks. Rare breed pigs are animals that are not currently used in commercial pork production and because of this their populations are under threat.

As the Cowans continue to breed these pigs, they create a demand for them which means the consumer can have a direct hand in saving these species by buying the pork produced from them.

Piglets at the Gypsy Pig farm drink only their mother’s milk for the first two weeks, then gradually eat more solids as the milk supply naturally decreases. By the time they are weaned at 8-12 weeks they are eating the same food as their mother. All the pigs are fed a daily ration of milled grain mix which contains grains such as wheat, barley, sorghum and maize and produces a meat with a distinct earthiness, slight sweetness and a fleshy, delicious texture.

The pigs on Cowan’s farm live in social groups: a breeding group of a male and several females; a sow with her litter, or groups of the same sex and similar age.  Each group has their own 2 acre paddock with a shed for shelter and each paddock is defined by electric tape.

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The male pigs are used for fresh meat at 6-8 months old and the females for their bacon at 10-12 months old. Bronwyn explains, ‘Generally the Tamworths are leaner than the Large Blacks due to their temperaments, Large Blacks are placid, the Tamworths very active.  Being free range for their whole life means the muscles develop naturally and the meat in both breeds is darker in colour than commercial pork.’

With a farm staff of just one (Bronwyn) and Michael looking after the marketing side of  things, Gypsy Pig is growing slowly but surely and the Cowans certainly want to spread the word that free-range pork is worth eating. ‘People have had bad experiences with pork,’ explains Bronwyn, ‘they have been buying anonymous meat from supermarkets, which can be dry and tasteless and have become reluctant to buy pork again.’

Far from resigning to these difficulties, the Cowans believe time and education are the key, ‘Once people try our pork, they often come back and buy again…and again.’

If you choose to eat pork  try to purchase your pork from a producer and seller of rare breeds. Look to farmers markets in your local area. It may sound odd, but if you choose to eat these rare breeds, you are also allowing the species to exist and grow as you are creating demand for their quality meat and thus, their existence.


www.thegypsypig.com.au

03 5627 8201

The Gypsy Pig is at Cardinia Ranges Farmers’ Market 2nd Saturday of each month, 8am – 12pm, Pakenham Racecourse; Gasworks Farmers’ Market, 3rd Saturday of each month, 8.30am – 1pm, Gasworks Arts Park, 21 Graham St, Albert Park; Slow Food Farmers’ Market, 4th Saturday of each month, 8am – 1pm, Abbotsford Convent, St Helliers St, Abbotsford

www.mfm.com.au

Also have a look at http://www.rbta.org/ the website for the rare breeds trust of Australia