When finding the best cut of pork, the true test is taste. There’s a tongue twister for you. Any food lover will tell you that ethically reared pork has a more substantial texture and deeper flavour. It also looks better, because it will have a good depth of colour and firmer fat. And it’s healthier for you, too, as the animal won’t have been pumped full of antibiotics and cheap feed. So, how do you make sure you’re buying the best quality pork?
How to get the best cut of pork: 6 questions to ask your butcher
1. HOW WAS IT FARMED?
Pigs from farms that are truly organic or free-range generally offer the highest welfare and best quality.
Frankly, outdoor reared and outdoor bred pigs are not good enough.
“Outdoor reared” means pigs are born and then reared in outdoor systems for around half their lives.
“Outdoor bred” pigs are born in outdoor systems, but raised in barns after weaning. The sows (their mums) are generally in outdoor systems throughout their lives.
2. WHAT BREED IS IT?
Rare breeds have been phased out of commercial farms because the pigs don’t grow quickly enough to make them profitable enough. But passionate and enthusiastic farmers are fighting to keep the rarest pig breeds in existence and producing top-quality pork by doing so – including (but not exclusively) the Gloucester Old Spot, The British Saddleback and The Tamworth.
3. AT WHAT AGE WAS IT KILLED?
Lower-grade pork comes from pigs that have been killed at about five months old, twice as fast as higher welfare breeds.
4. HOW WAS IT SLAUGHTERED?
Some pigs are gassed using CO2, which is aversive and can cause serious distress. Electrical stunning – when done properly – is much quicker and less painful.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Clever marketing using words such as ‘local’, ‘farm fresh’, ‘British’ and ‘natural’ are meaningless when it comes to animal welfare, but conveniently lead people to believe they’re purchasing a higher-quality product.
It’s purposefully confusing and it can be intimidating to ask questions if you’re not 100% sure of the answers you’re looking for.
A genuinely good butcher will be proud to answer your questions in an informative way.
5. DO YOU EVER BUY A WHOLE CARCASS AND BUTCHER IT YOURSELVES?
This is a good sign of knowledge and quality.
6. CAN YOU RECOMMEND A CHEAPER BEST CUT OF PORK AND HOW TO COOK IT?
Of course, better meat is more expensive. But the less popular cuts are often the cheapest ones – and just as delicious.
A butcher who is able to give you information about the best cut of pork cares about using the whole animal and the quality of the end product, another good sign.
Some tips for best cut of pork:
The meaty chump: from the rump, this is easy to cook in a pan or under the grill.
The cheek: from the other end of the pig, this is fatty and great in a stew.
The loin: deboning, stuffing and rolling the loin can make it go further – and removing the skin to make a tasty crackling makes this go further still.
The shoulder: can be slow-roasted until tasty and tender, but it can also be minced for a delicious, slow-grown and slow-cooked ragu.
Main image: Fernhill Farm