There was a time not too long ago, before the boom of industrial agriculture, when farmers and smallholders always kept a modest number of what are now known as heritage pig/pork breeds. These were naturally thrifty, hardy animals raised for their meat, bacon and lard. The food chain worked beautifully for all concerned, the pigs lived off the land , on grass, grains and windfalls, and occasionally whey from the churn.
Unfortunately, heritage pork breeds are not suited for the intensive farming techniques being used nowadays, and some of the older breeds are in danger of being lost forever. Fortunately some are being preserved by a few dedicated farmers concerned about the general indifference of the consumer towards heritage breed conservation.
All heritage pork in America comes from pure and cross-bred livestock:
The Berkshire: a first class black pig with excellent lean meat . Occasionally, when commercial white pork becomes too bland and tasteless, some Berkshire genes are used to improve it.
The Tamworth: a red heritage breed producing the best bacon in the U.S., a direct descendant of the wild boars which roamed the forests of Staffordshire. Was introduced to North America around the 1870's. Very outdoorsy and athletic.
The Red Wattle: this one's really in danger of extinction, it has dark, lean tender meat. It originally came to New Orleans via New Caledonia and developed in Texas. He went out of fashion when people wanted pigs for lard.
The Duroc: Its genes appear in many modern breeds. One of the juiciest and tastiest.
The Gloucester Old Spot: a.k.a. The Iron Age Pig, this breed is a cross between the domestic and wild pig. Excellent meat, at one point there were great numbers in the U.S.
The Yorkshire: They originated in Yorkshire England, home of the famed All Creatures Great and Small stories. Yorkshires do very well on pasture and are excellent mothers weaning large numbers of piglets. They are a foundation breed crossed with other breeds to create modern commercial pig genetics.
The Large Black: A pasturing pig, small shoulders but very tasty lean hams. There are fewer than 200 in the U.S.
The idea is preserving heritage breeds by consuming them. It is dangerous to have only a handful of commercial livestock breeds which have all the same traits. A new illness, or a radical change in the world's climate, could wipe them out in no time without enough variation in the gentic pool available for them to recover. Modern industrial breeds are weak in the sense that they now have genetic defects due to excessive, unnatural inbreeding.
To find a farm growing heritage breeds of pork near you, or to order heritage meats online, browse the LocalHarvest website.