Sunday, March 15, 2009

Gloucester Old Spot

One of the nicest things about living and eating in England is how easy it is to find ‘freedom food’. Freedom Food is the farm assurance and food labelling scheme established by the RSPCA, one of the world’s leading animal welfare organisations. The RSPCA monitors how animals are raised and slaughtered, making sure that they are treated humanely. Those farms that qualify can put the ‘Freedom Food’ stamp on the packaging.

Most large grocery store chains carry at least some choice of RSPCA approved meats. Sainsbury’s (the U.K.’s 3rd largest super market chain) has an impressively large selection. Even if they do not buy Freedom Food meats, most Brits have an acute understanding of what the labelling scheme means.

I try and buy meat at local butchers, but if that is not possible, I always buy RSPCA endorsed meat. It is not much more expensive and it only seems fair.

Until last week, I thought buying form my local butcher as good as it got. Then I found the Great Tasting Meat Company, just outside the Medieval market town of Nantwich, England. Andrew Jackson is the farmer and proprietor of this company that raises its animals on their family property, Gate Farm. There he humanely raises cows, pigs and lambs. The critters are free to roam, graze and forage for food, like they would in the wild, naturally. They live longer, happier lives (...until, of course, they are eaten).

Perusing the meat case at the Great Tasting Meat Company's farm shop, I thought I'd give a shoulder roast of pork a try. The cut came from a Gloucester Old Spot, a rare or traditional breed of pig.

Many farmers claim their pork (beef, lamb) tastes better because of the breed and the manner in which the animals are raised, but so few deliver. Secretly, I was not a huge fan of pork (unless cured, smoked or marinated, I never found it to have much flavour). But I wanted to see if there was any validity to the claims that Mr. Jackson made about his meat—that it was the superior in taste.

I was very surprised to find that the Gloucester Old Spot was far and away the best I have ever tasted— Ever. I didn't know that there could be such a difference in flavour between the fine meat I get from my butcher and the meat derived from a naturally raised, rare breed.

I prepared it simply, so that we could really taste the meat. It needed no sauce, no chutney or accouterments—we enjoyed it with potatoes roasted in with the meat and sautéed green vegetables.

Here’s the kicker—this pork roast was only pennies more than that which I normally buy.

So, in the end, it simply makes sense to buy these types of meats from smaller producers. Everyone wins; I get an unbelievably flavourful roast for virtually the same price that I always spend, the animal gets a decent life, and the small business is supported.

It is truly worth the effort of seeking out these local purveyors and trying them for yourself.

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