Once upon a time, pork was America’s favorite meat. From Colonial times until the 1950s, pork was the mainstay of the American diet, outselling both beef and chicken decade after decade. From the 1950s through the 70s, pork consumption decreased steadily and the diet craze that began in the 1980s sent the industry into a tailspin.
As chicken became America’s favorite meat, pork producers responded by promoting pork as “the other white meat” and switched from raising tender, tasty farmstead hogs to producing pork with as much as 30% less fat. The reduction in fat cut a few calories, but it robbed the pork of intramuscular marbling ~ where the flavor and juiciness reside. The end result was pork that was tasteless and dry. Not the best incentive to buy a package of pork chops or a pork roast for Sunday dinner.
Fortunately for those of us who long for the taste of old-fashioned, homegrown pork, one group of producers held fast and maintained the original, delectable taste of pork: the producers of Berkshire pork. Research has shown that Berkshire pork not only has finer marbling but also shorter muscle fibers (translates into more tender meat). A University of Iowa taste test Berkshire pork ranked first in 22 out of 24 traits that influence tenderness, meaning the Berkshire is genetically predisposed to producing the finest quality pork.
Up to now, the major market for Berkshire pork was not the US but Japan, where taste took priority over fat content. In Japan Berkshire pork is called Kurobuta (Black Hog) and is prized as much as Kobe beef, but now, chefs at upscale restaurants in the United States have “discovered” Berkshire pork and it is an centerpiece item on their menus.
"It's a great, versatile product," said Tom Boyce, chef de cuisine at Spago, in Beverly Hills in California. "... It's definitely one of our favorite things to cook out here. It's God's favorite animal as far as I'm concerned."
The French Laundry in Yountville, California, has gone to great lengths to get purebred Berkshire pork, says chef Corey Lee. “It's a very specific taste," he said. "It doesn't have the generic mild taste of most market pork." And Michael Kaplan, chef at Strata in New York says Berkshire pork “has a natural juiciness to it that you can’t compare to any other pork.”