The Berkshire Difference
Janice and Rob Groenheide have quietly been building a business raising Berkshire pork in a wean-to-finish operation for a couple of years now. Walkabout Farm, the sister operation they’ve started to complement Rob’s parents’ activities at Tarrymore Farms, isn’t far from the senior Groenheides in South Gillies, letting the family share resources and team up on labour.
Although it’s not widely advertised yet, most of the pork you’ll find in the freezer at Tarrymore Farms now comes from Berkshire pork, a heritage breed that’s making a huge comeback in culinary circles. Although opinion on Berkshire pork seems to be divided in Thunder Bay, die-hard foodies will reach for Berkshire meat over the more common breeds (commercial pork tends to be a cross between Large White and Landrace breeds, which are placid, nearly hairless pigs) every time.
Berkshire pork is promoted as a more flavourful variety of pork than commercially-raised stuff. Part of the reason for this is the higher fat content. Berkshires tend to put on more fat than white pigs as they grow, leading to a meat that loves to be slow-cooked and pit-roasted, creating a juicy and flavourful end product. People trying it for the first time without realizing this can be disappointed if they’re looking for a lean meat: this is definitely not that! Try Berkshire if you love the crispy fat on the outside of your pork chop, if you swoon at the idea of a roast turning into confit as its fat melts into it in a slow-cooker all day, or if you think bacon fat is the ultimate secret ingredient. Berkshire pork is delicious, but it is not the spongy pink stuff you find in the grocery store.
Berkshire pigs are not like white commercial pigs: they’ve got attitude. If you’ve seen footage of Joel Salatin at Polyface Farms you’ve seen the best way to raise Berkshires: outdoors with lots of room to play, run and root. At Walkabout, Rob and Janice have taken that to heart. Once the weather warms this spring, their animals will be moving outdoors where they’ll enjoy a natural lifestyle and a good diet of mixed grain – raised at their farm and by other local suppliers – before they’re sent to our local abattoir for processing.
Commercial-scale operations have moved to using white pigs for one main reason: money. Those mellow animals come to maturity faster and produce a nice lean product that most North Americans like. Raising Berkshires is a little different, however, because they’re a different animal. Slower to mature, they require more feed and time to grow than the Large White/Landrace crosses, so they cost more to raise. Because they’re outside, they get more exercise, so they eat more feed per pound of meat they produce. And when they go to the abattoir, their ornery natures and wiry black hair make extra work for the meat processors. This tends to result in a higher-priced product than you’ll find at the grocery store, but if you’re a connoisseur of meats, you’ll understand the value immediately: the flavour is out of this world.
Visit Tarrymore Farms’ counter today for Berkshire pork products, farm-fresh eggs, beef and lamb!