By the year’s end, our Red Wattle pork line will have grown by 800% or more. Chefs are raving about the pork chops as interest in the “lost breed” continues to grow. We wanted to share with you the story of the hog that only 50 years ago was thought to be extinct…

THE LOST BREED

East of Australia in the clear, blue, iridescent waters of the Pacific Ocean, lies the island of New Caledonia. It is from this sequestered region of the world–but a blip on the nautical map–that experts believe the Red Wattle hog originated.

So-named for the quirky appendages that dangle from either side of their jowls, the breed made its way aboard wooden ships to the New World in the 1700s and 1800s where they were raised by the New Orleaneans who were enthralled by their taste. Remember, folks, these are the French: the very people who set the gold-standard for all things culinary. Then, suddenly, the breed disappeared; many feared its extinction.

In the 1970s, a most unlikely find: the benign creatures were re-discovered rooting and wandering in the woodlands of eastern Texas. Here is where I imagine the scene from Jurassic Park: Drs. Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler behold–for the first time–brontosaurs gulping down leaves from towering trees.

In recent years, Red Wattle has been making a splash in the culinary world. Just last month, in fact, this note came from a chef in West Michigan, giving Red Wattle pork chops from Duba & Co. an initial try:

“Had a chance to try these today and they [are] fantastic. We did a side by side with our current chop which had the benefit of an overnight apple cider brine and the red wattle was better as is.”
Our Red Wattle pork are raised especially for Duba & Co. by Idle River Farms (Burlington, MI) on GMO-free feed, ground by the farm itself. Idle River is a small, family-run operation. The hogs are given permanent access to the outdoors and can be found rooting amongst the pasture grasses during the growing season.

While we may never know what a brontosaur tastes like, you can enjoy the historic flavor of Red Wattle pork: nutty–almost beefy, at times–and with a hint of the sea (considering an origin on the island of New Caledonia, perhaps we’re tasting something of the Pacific Ocean in every bite of this exotic breed).

When the following tale was shared with members of our “passenger log” (e-mail subscribers), it received a lot of attention. If you missed the account of the naming of our daughter born last month here is the Brigid Ryan story, “unabridged”…

For a moment a thought arrested me: “I’ll be delivering our second-born at home!” A sobering thought for an already sober person (I’d forfeited the pleasures of beer during Lent–with certain exceptions, of course; the celebratory beer stood by the ready). When the midwife did arrive, I relaxed a little–even as many of you are now getting tense (“Hey, buddy, too much information.”). Be rest assured: I would not have shared this if it wasn’t a crucial part of the story…

Now, so certain that she would be a he, we had no name when, on the evening of March 2, our daughter was born in the evening twilight. It took us seven days to settle on her name in a process that was every bit as tedious, nay dramatic, as the selection of the grand jury for the trial of the century. After all, the appellation will be following her–God-willing–for the next 100 years, provided–of course–she’s got the Duba Family genes: Rose Duba lived to be 99 and, considering our daughter is knit together entirely of heritage beef, I think adding one more year is really quite conservative, don’t you?

But, oh, those seven days! How our minds careened as we scoured sites like BellyBallot and skimmed–frantically–through books filled with thousands of human signifiers. Breakfasts were burned discoursing over the philosophies of naming. So desperate was I getting, in fact, that I even contemplated inventing a name. Victor Hugo did it in Les Miserables (“Cosette”). And so did Gwyneth Paltrow (“Apple”). And George Costanza (“Seven”). Lists we compiled by my wife and me. We both enjoyed the executive veto, striking names at will from each others’ lists. Like March Madness–as this most assuredly was–our list went from 16 on Thursday, to eight on Friday, and four on Saturday until were were finally down to two on Sunday…

Just before sitting down to a dinner of Scottish corned beef, my wife put the ball in my court. “You choose,” she said…

“Her name is Brigid Ryan.”

Here’s the kicker. It wasn’t until the week after christening her “Brigid” that I learned that St. Brigid is the patroness of beer, cattle, and midwives. Folks, was happened on Sunday, March 8, is the equivalent of nailing a 3-point shot from center court, blindfolded.

Epilogue
And if you want to know where the name “Ryan” comes from, the story is no less dramatic. It involves a young man my wife got to know over the years, a young man who passed away on March 7, 2014. On the one-year anniversary of that day, his parents’ gave us their blessing to pass that namesake on to Brigid. Ryan’s story has been covered by ESPN, but by far my favorite telling comes from a local station, WOOD TV 8. And you can watch that story below (but you’ll want to grab a box of tissues first).

This is the final installment of an abridged interview conducted between Trever Clark of Farmlink and Jeff Duba of Duba & Co.

You’ve talked before about your vision for a standard burger on every menu, with a heritage beef burger available for an upcharge. Can you expound a little bit on this vision? Are any restaurants in the area doing this yet?
Yes. The idea got started when, at Mexican restaurants, I began to notice that there was a house margarita and a “top-shelf” margarita made with Jose Cuervo 1800 and Grand Marnier. In every bar, there are well drinks and their premium counterparts. The vision is for restaurants to have their “house burger” and a “top-shelf” burger. Top shelf because it’s: flavor, heritage, Highland, Red Poll, 21-days dry-aged, 100% grass-fed, the world’s oldest cattle breed (or rarest), and on and on…you pick.It’s an up-sell for maybe a few bucks more. It’s an opportunity for a server to educate your clientele on the kind of meat that you already want to put on your menu anyway, the kind of stuff you’d be proud to serve. It’s a way to become a force for real change in our food system.

Already there’s a brewpub in Duluth, MN, doing this (Fitger’s Brewhouse – [Ed. Note: Their take on heritage beef is here]). Half-pound house burger: $11.99. Half-pound Highland burger: $14.99. And here’s the kicker. Unlike the relatively few people who opt for the top-shelf margarita, I’m told that about 80% of people opt for the up-sell at Fitger’s.

 

What’s your “food philosophy”? Do you see heritage beef as being a more sustainable or healthier alternative to standard beef?
Hmmmmm. I believe that we’ve made a philosophical error when it comes to food, and it’s an ontological error (ontology is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of being). The error was made at the time of the industrial revolution, a revolution which figured out how to make textiles inexpensively and cars affordable for the masses. “If we can produce cars (and textiles) more efficiently via the factory model, let’s apply that same thinking to livestock,” was (and is) the prevailing thought of the day. And it was a complete success! The price of meat fell, and meat was on nearly every weekday dinner plate in mainstream America. We ostensibly elevated our standard of living. But I’ve come to believe that we’ve done so at a moral cost.Livestock is not like cloth or a car. It’s a living being. Factory farming tends to treat living beings as if they were inanimate objects. Ultimately, this de-humanizes us as moral agents. But when you think about it, this isn’t the worst of it. We’ve treated human beings as animals or pure objects before. Slavery and human trafficking come to mind on the extreme end. Treating animals as inanimate objects is no where near as bad as these offenses, but I hope people begin to see all these actions are cut of the same cloth: in all these the same error is being made; it’s only a question of to what degree.

I’m all for the free market and its ability to lower costs and increase the standard of living, its ability to drive innovation. But none of us should want markets without morality. Ultimately, we all suffer as a result–though it may take some time for the negative effects of violating nature’s law to become apparent. The beauty of heritage meats (and all sustainably raised meats, heritage or not) is that they’re both nutrient-dense and flavorful (in the hands of a skilled farmer, that is). It’s nature’s way of rewarding a way of life in keeping with the natural order. It’s living the “good life”.