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This happy breed

PUBLISHED: 10:09 23 November 2010 | UPDATED: 18:12 20 February 2013

Blythburgh pig farmer Alastair Butler and his band of happy hogs

Photograph by ALEX FAIRFULL

Blythburgh pig farmer Alastair Butler and his band of happy hogs Photograph by ALEX FAIRFULL

Blythburgh pork is one of our county's most famous food products. But the quality of the end product is due on no small part to the caring way in which the animals are reared. Here Glyn Williams visits some happy hogs

Blythburgh pork is one of our county's most famous food products. But the quality of the end product is due on no small part to the caring way in which the animals are reared. Here Glyn Williams visits some happy hogs




Pig farming has always played a huge part in the agricultural success of East Anglia and especially the Suffolk coast. Despite actually being relatively clean creatures, a happy pig is when it's rooting or wallowing, generally making a right muddy mess. With naturally sandy soils around East Suffolk particularly, the free-draining ground makes it ideal for these JCBs of the porcine world. Now deprive the pig of its naturally inquisitiveness, greed and desire to dig and other stimuli, combined with its natural high intelligence, and it is pretty reasonable to surmise it is not going to be that happy.
Much of the standard pork sold in our supermarkets and butchers has come from pigs which have not seen the light of day, reared inside in straw-lined pens or perhaps outdoor-bred but moved inside to be reared after weaning.
However there are a few enlightened pig farmers who realise there is a place for more ethically produced pork in the niche premium food market for a consumer who can afford to upgrade to the 'Rolls Royce' version. But that is not to say it is hugely more expensive than everyday pork, perhaps an extra 25% investment at the till.
Talking to the larger-than-life Jimmy Butler, a previous Farmer's Weekly 'Pig Farmer of the Year' and his son Alastair about what discriminated their family's meat from the norm, it soon became evident. Naturally they tell a very credible account of the fairly indulgent lifestyle their porkers enjoy, but I wanted to experience it for myself, both on the farm with my own eyes and best of all, on my plate in all its meaty glory.
Accompanied by a local chef eager like me to learn more about the difference with Blythburgh Pork, we met at Bramfield Meats, one of the Butler's key wholesale butchers who buy direct from the abattoir. Talking to Charlie Mills, their head butcher in one of the huge refrigerators, alongside a rack of halved pig carcasses, both Blythburgh's finest and the regular indoor-reared, he was quick to show us in the flesh how they compare; first showing us the former's additional fat covering. Though not news to us, he enthused about meat's flavour is inextricably linked to the fat, and how the surface rind and marbling not only helps keep the joint moist as a natural baster during cooking but is essential for the good old-fashioned piggy taste we enjoy. We also saw the extra unexpected security measures to ensure Blythburgh Pork's provenance from farm to fork, with security markings and name stamps identifying both it as their livestock and also each individual animal (pigs are not enforceably tagged like sheep or cows). This means that others' meat cannot easily be passed on disguised as this 'Aberdeen Angus' of the pork world; look out for the pedigree marque.
Moving on to the farm near Blythburgh, we came to that familiar sight for anyone who regularly travels that part of the A12 near Southwold, an idyllic scene of open pastures split into acre paddocks and their happy pink occupants lazing in the sunshine or foraging for worms. This the other evident difference, there are a maximum of 80 pigs free-ranging per acre, so plenty of room for all to roam but as social creatures, they are often to be found running around in a mob or huddling up together. Large tented enclosures ensure draught-free night-time accommodation and a strict vegetarian cereal-based diet gives them the ideal nutrients. Blythburgh pigs live about 2 months longer to a more mature age, slowly putting on better muscle conformation, this results in more succulence and proper flavour on the plate.
On our guided tour, Alastair explained it was all about speed and price, or the lack of it, modern livestock farming in the main is all about getting the animals from birth to slaughter as fast and cheaply as possible so the consumer gets the value point they seek and the farmer can just about afford a living.
He was quick to point out that they are more fortunate after ten years' hard work to have successfully developed a market willing to recognise the additional quality they deliver - in fact you will not find Blythburgh Pork in any supermarkets so get along to your local independent butcher and ask for it! For me a happier pig means tastier pork and Ive got the proof in the oven!


Blythburgh Free Range Pork
To find your local stockist, go online to
www.freerangepork.co.uk or call 01986 873298.
Aubrey Allen also supply by mail order -
www.aubreyallen.co.uk

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