Food Safari: Free Range Pork in a day

A Happy and Healthy Free Range Pig smiling at the camera.

Free Range Pig in a day: What a great day out and it’s all thanks to the wonderful ambassadorial work of Polly Robinson, founder of Food Safari, who has become a hub of the “foodie network” in Suffolk. Undoubtedly, we’re of the generation that’s concerned about understanding the process behind “from field to fork” which is so part of Food Safari’s value proposition.

My wife and I were joined by an old South-African school friend of mine and his wife, who now live in London. They drove up to Suffolk in less than 2 hours early that morning. (It’s a welcome break from the “big smoke”) We felt privileged to take a behind the scenes tour of Blythburgh Free Range Pork followed by a Butchery demonstration and a scrumptious pork lunch. The day’s itinerary offered the perfect balance of education and entertainment (and a welcome break from our children too!) In fact there was so much to learn that I regret not taking notes. (If I’ve got anything wrong  it comes with profuse apology as I am racking my memory to recall some of the terminology, facts and figures.)

Alastair giving us the low-down on the pig unit.

We started the day off with a rather appropriate bacon roll and lovely coffee at the Anchor in Walberswick– a pub that, ashamedly,  we hadn’t visited before (we’re sure to return: it’s fab) and we met Polly and our two hosts: Gerard King who is an Artisan Butcher (my description not his) – to be found behind the counter at the Broxstead Butchery at The Suffolk Food Hall just outside Ipswich. Testing Polly’s nerves, Alastair Butler arrived with minutes to spare – Alastair is one of the two second generation sons who help their father run Blythburgh Free Range Pork.

The space and scale of the operation at Blythburgh Free Range Pork

Alastair was proud of the environment and farming practice of his family run business. We traveled around the Pig units on the back of a tractor hauled trailer and Alastair explained how the pigs were bred and nurtured on the site. I found it particularly interesting as we’re expecting 6 Tamworth piglets this weekend and I bored the others on the Safari with a few too technical/detailed questions. We certainly learned a lot and without boring you I wanted to share what I thought were the most interesting points.

Here are a few of my educational take-outs. Did you know that:

  1. Freerange is important from a welfare and quality/taste point of view.
  2. Shockingly less than 1% of British Pork is free-range?
  3. The only supermarket chain you can purchase free-range pork in the UK is Waitrose. Blythburgh Free Range Pork used to supply Waitrose but has now found its niche and market in supplying Butchers/Farmshops and Pubs/Restaurants.
  4. Organic Pork doesn’t mean that its Free Range and after the Food Safari I will *always* only eat free range pork rather than get caught up by the hype of the organic label which in Pork Farming isn’t as important as eating an organic fruit or vegetable.
  5. Outdoor reared pork, as opposed to free range, means the piglets were born outside but probably didn’t live free range and were fattened up indoors
  6. Blythburgh has more than 20,000 pigs on the land and 600 happy and healthy pigs attend their date with destiny on a weekly basis. Discerning butchers, farm shops and restaurants benefit from the yield.

Gerard gets physical with the pig in his butchery demo

We were greeted back at the Anchor with a refreshing beer (you must try the beer tasting menu – a journey in itself) – and we watched Gerard prepare the half-pig for his butchery demonstration. Gerard and Alastair who shared the spotlight for most of the day are superb presenters and we all shared some laughs from these two charismatic presenters.

The butchery demonstration was a great intro that convinced me to book the last place on the Pork Butchery Course that Food Safari runs with Gerard early next year. The Anchor’s chef popped in to the demo asking Gerard for the rack of loin chops for our lunch and we watched him lovingly prepare the meat before it was whisked off to the kitchen by Polly. Gerard shared some insights on the challenges of his trade which I now easily understand because they are obvious, practical constraints. An example, a celebrity chef recently put pigs’ cheeks on the map as the fashionable ‘thing-to-dish’. The reality is you only get two small pigs cheeks out of a single animal and Gerard needs us, the consumer, to eat all the different cuts from a single animal. From now on, I’m going to Gerard to buy our meat because I look forward to learning about all the less popular but equally as delicious cuts and he’s obviously a keen chef too so along with the cut he’ll tell me how to deal with it in the kitchen to get the best out of it.

Our first sausages!

Our first sausages!

The hands-on part of the course involved us making our own sausages and we ate them before tucking into the most delicious pork chop that we’ve ever had. The combination of the free range pig, charismatic butcher and top-notch chef really treated us to a top-class meal finishing the day off in quite a style! A true understanding of “field to fork”. Thank you Polly & Food Safari – we’ll be back for more!

There are a few more photos on flickr. We also attended the Food Safari – Seafood in a day course that I blogged here.

UPDATE: almost at the time of writing this, Polly independently explains to us The truth behind the label: Free Range versus outdoor bred and reared. – Its worth reading as a further illumination!

Our friends all the way from the "big smoke"

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