“The Other White Meat.”
It was one of the catchiest advertising taglines of the 1990s, laid over images of fit, smiling people who, when not eating gourmet meals were exercising and dancing. Pork is healthier than you think, was the message, not like that artery-clogging red meat.
There were no images of bacon or salami in the commercials, only pale slices made to resemble that era’s saintliest protein — a boneless, skinless chicken breast.
The first thing you notice about Oliver Woolley’s meat is its rich mauve color. The only white part is the fat marbling the cheeks or hugging the chops, and Woolley is proud of it.
“The fat is really creamy,” he says thanks to the diet he feeds his Berkshire pigs — red wheat, barley, and delicacies such as seaweed and acorns. Pigs cannot break down the corn or soy given to them on factory farms, he says.
“The meat quality is not as good and the fat is really hard and unpalatable. You need fats. They’re good for your brain. We actually focus on fats.”
Nutrition trends can be swift and punishing, heaping pressure on producers to bend to this year’s food fad. If Woolley shrugs them off more easily than most, it’s because he has the weight of both history and science behind him. His farm, Peads & Barnetts, is located just outside of San Diego, but is named after a farm in England that is older.
“It’s in the Domesday Book,” says Woolley, “the first census of all the landholders in the whole of England,” ordered by William the Conqueror in the year in 1086.
Woolley’s grandparents purchased the property, which had become a turnip farm, after getting degrees in Livestock Genetics at nearby Oxford University.
“They put together a cooperative of farmers to test this idea my grandfather had to improve the health of pigs.”
Collecting data on every animal – the size of their litters, their growth rates, etc. – they experimented with cross breeding.
“They built that into a company, The Pig Improvement Company, and it still exists. It’s actually the biggest pig genetics company in the world.”
His father went into the family business, advising producers of ham in Spain and prosciutto in Italy, as well as major pork providers in countries such as Russia and Kazakhstan. Woolley was born in Kentucky but has one of those unplaceable accents common to peripatetic kids. Certain words are flavored with his English heritage, just like his Berkshire pigs.
“We do one of the oldest recognized breeds in the world, and they take twice as long to grow as a factory pig.”
They also have a much richer flavor, which comes through in every chop, sausage and shoulder at Woolley’s stand. William the Conqueror would have eaten it up.
This sauce is best made in the slow cooker with the pork cheeks Oliver Woolley calls “toro.”
3 packages (8-9 cheeks) toro
6-8 garlic cloves
thyme sprig or dried thyme
3 cups chicken stock or enough to just cover meat
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp apple juice
10-12 medium tomatoes (Buy the cheaper “imperfect” ones in the bins for sauce.)
½ medium onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Slice 5-6 garlic cloves. Generously salt the pork cheeks on the lean side. Don’t trim the fat! Layer the garlic slices between the cheeks in the slow cooker, lean side down. You can also toss in the outer layer of the onion, the tough one under the skin, for flavor. Add the vinegar, apple juice, thyme and enough chicken stock to cover or nearly cover.
Cook on High for 5 ½ hours. Turn cheeks once only so that the top ones go to the bottom and are submerged in liquid.
Meanwhile, make an X with a paring knife on the bottom of the tomatoes. Put them in nearly boiling water for 2-3 minutes depending on ripeness, then plunge into an ice bath. Skins should slide off easily. De-stem and quarter the tomatoes, remove and discard the seeds.
Sauté the onions on medium. Chop the remaining garlic and add it after a minute. Once onions are turning clear, add the tomatoes. Simmer on low for at least an hour. Remove from heat and purée with a hand mixer. Don’t worry if it’s more like a paste than a liquid.
Once the pork is done, remove it (with tongs, it will be limp and falling apart) to a cutting board. Pour the stock through a sieve into a gravy separator and let sit. The liquid fat will rise to the top and you can keep it for cooking. Remove the more solid fat from the pork cheeks. It should be gelatinous enough to scrape off with a knife (if it’s harder, you needed more broth). Discard that fat and chop the meat.
Add the meat to the tomato sauce and pour in as much broth as desired (you may have extra). Cook for another 10-15 minutes. Season to taste.
Serve over pasta with grated Parmesan cheese and lots of fresh ground pepper.
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.