If you’re a chef, you want red wattle hogs for their rich meat; some say it’s almost beef-like. If you’re a farmer who wants to raise pastured pigs, you want red wattles, a heritage breed that’s making a comeback, because they’re good foragers.
But if you’ve come to the farm for dinner, you want red wattle hogs because there they are, heaped on platters of seared, caramelized loin cuts and bratwurst still popping with juices as they come off the grill.
Eric and Ann Kreidermacher’s farm is a beauty, rolling up from the trout streams and bluffs near Altura, MN, and Whitewater State Park. Along with hogs, they’re raising chickens, geese, Muscovy ducks, American Milking Devon cattle, and six or more field crops in any given year. Red wattle hogs “actually will eat alfalfa, almost like a cow,” Eric Kreidermacher says, but he also feeds them a mix of the organic field peas, oats, barley, and other grains he grows.
ZZest Executive Chef John Flicek boiled all of that down to its essence, making a pork stock and using it to braise heirloom beans spiked with red wattle pancetta. On top, he placed the pork loin and bratwurst and a maple-and-mustard-dressed salad of vegetables from nearby Whitewater Gardens Farm: kale, chard, paper-thin fennel bulb, roasted potatoes, string beans, and tiny sweet pea cherry tomatoes. On what may have been our last day in the 80s this year, the tomatoes seemed like essence, too, a bright burst of sugars that were the concentrated summer sun.
The red wattle pork? The beefy notes were there, but not in a pronounced way. It would be interesting to try again, maybe a different, more marbled cut and a different preparation. The brats with pork and wild rice were great, but the consensus at one table was that the loin was tough, a hazard of preparing a lean cut over the imprecise heat of a grill: too hot and those strands of protein are bound to tighten and shrink.
No matter. A perfect beer pairing loosened things up. The Auroch’s Horn is a honey-tinged ale from Olvalde Farm and Brewing Company in Rollingstone, MN. And the table was all smiles over dessert: butter-poached apple slices and a ginger crumble topped with caramel, a whipped cream and goat cheese blend, and freckles of black sea salt.
This first farm dinner was also the last of the year for Pork & Plants and ZZest, but they plan more in 2013. Meanwhile, LeeAnn Zubay, co-owner of ZZest, is adding a case of the Kreidermachers’ meats to her market starting in early November (she’s been serving them on her cafe menu for about a year). The Kreidermachers were also feeding hogs for Mike Phillips’ Three Sons Meat Company in Minneapolis and say they hope to see Phillips ramping up production soon. For now, they’re selling red wattles to The Bachelor Farmer, Lucia’s, and Kim Bartmann’s restaurants.