The mercury read minus five degrees Monday morning–a jarring way to begin the month that observes the passage of the vernal equinox (here in Michigan, our memories are not too short to remember that two years ago we were treated to 80 degree weather this very month). The sun on this day, however, was as brilliant against the snow as the air was frigid, and I squinted in its glare as I drove to the small farm which sits across from the St. Joseph river in south-central Michigan. In the warmer months the river appears to idle in front of the farmstead, a characteristic that lends its name to the farm.
The purpose for coming here was to meet the couple who runs the farmstead and to return with samples of their their Red Wattle pork. The swine are named for the wattles that dangle on either side of their necks, protuberances that–so far as we know–serve no function: external appendixes, if you will (please see the above photo). The origins of the breed are mysterious. They were discovered in the 20th century, wandering the woodlands of eastern Texas (which, I suppose, makes them the perfect for barbequing).
Having read that the pork from this heritage breed is tender and flavorful, I was anxious to try the chops that were sent home with me. Rubbing with olive oil then sauteing them in a pan to about a medium-well temperature, we found the meat to be tender indeed. Further, it tasted like pork plus. What I mean by this is that it had all the characteristic flavor of pork but the meat presented a most unexpected and wholly pleasing flavor that reminded me of the ocean (and I don’t mean fishy). Instead, it brought me right back to some of my favorite Scotches: the Islay Scotches which are imbued with the flavor notes of salt water air. That’s what I got from our maiden voyage with Red Wattle pork: the mellow, meaty flavor of pork along with the notes of fresh, salt water air. And how I long to return to the sea (in the form of a thick chop of heritage pork)! Perhaps the idle river that winds its way through this Red Wattle farm is one of its tributaries.