Oliver Woolley wants to change everything you think about pork, starting with the pig itself.
“The whole idea of a sedentary, lazy pig. Ours are not at all like that,” said the owner of Peads & Barnetts farms on a recent Saturday morning at the downtown farmers market where he sells pork and flowers. Down on his forty-acre farm near San Diego, Woolley’s pack of pigs spends the day digging in the dirt and running through oak trees.
“It’s the same way they would raise them in Spain or Italy: outside. Very low density. They have huge fields and they get a lot of exercise,” Woolley said. His Instagram feed (@peadsandbarnetts) has the videos and photos to prove it. As you scroll through his photos of flowers and short clips of black pigs racing around an open field, you realize their lifestyle is a long way off from their pink cousins raised in factory farms, likely squeezed snout to tail in filthy pens.
In contrast, these Berkshire pigs love to move. They eat a diet rich in nutrients. They live three times as long as a typical pig raised for food.
“They’re one of the oldest breeds so they’re somewhat feral in a way. It’s just a different animal,” Woolley said.
Woolley’s way of raising his pigs isn’t just better for the animals and the environment – it’s better on a plate. Berkshires are known around the world for their premium meat and seen as the pork equivalent to wagyu or Kobe beef. You may have seen them called Kurobuta, which is the Japanese name for the breed. They’ve been bred for their tender, heavily marbled cuts since the 1700s.
“You don’t need a lot of seasoning. Just salt and pepper really to bring out the flavor as opposed to grocery store stuff where you need to adulterate because it doesn’t taste like anything,” Woolley said. A pack of two pork chops sells for about $20 dollars at his stand but he also sells more interesting cuts for restaurants and home chefs. His personal favorite is the cheek.
“You almost get high off eating it,” Woolley said. “It’s crazy good.”
Woolley’s family began raising pigs in England in the 1950’s. About six years ago Woolley decided to get into the family business after attending cooking school and working in restaurants in England.
“I just saw what they were doing over there with pork and with better quality, properly raised meats and no one was doing that here much,” Woolley said.
In addition to high-end pork, he has two other farms that grow rare and exotic flowers like pincushions and waxflower plants and citrus.
“I have a lot of hobbies,” Woolley said with a laugh, explaining his various products at the market.
If you decide to pick up a package of pork this weekend, Woolley advises you keep it simple and cook it on the grill or a cast iron skillet. He says you should sear the edges to lock in the flavor and try not to overcook it.
“You can treat it more like beef,” Woolley said. “Some restaurants who buy from us serve it medium rare.”
Santa Monica has four weekly farmers markets including the Wednesday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and Ocean from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the Saturday Downtown market on Arizona Avenue between 4th and 2nd Streets from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the Saturday Virginia Ave. Park market at 2200 Virginia Avenue from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and the Sunday Main Street market at 2640 Main Street from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.