Citizen food journalism – how to get a moist pork

The food and wine section of The Canberra Times had an ad last week which piqued my curiosity:

It reads:

Red Hill Butcher Shop

If you are after something special from your local butcher shop, make sure you visit Red Hill. The owners smoke their own hams on the premises, have Certified Angus Beef and moisture-infused pork and sell a variety of home-made meals and treats.

They even have a selection of wines from Mount Majura and Lerida Estate Wineries to perfectly complement that medium-rare steak.

Moisture infused pork, hey? In the olden days, when pigs were fat, they didn’t need any moisture infusions. And wasn’t there a moisture infused ham scandal a while ago? So I called the butcher to find out what they meant. For those outside Canberra, Red Hill is one of the oldest and fancy-pantsest suburbs in town, full of large homes on large blocks and lots of very long established money residents.

Tony the Butcher was at pains to point out that they were advertising the “moisture infusion” not just because they had to for legal reasons, but because they wanted to establish it as a defined product and that Australian Pork Limited, the industry body, was eager to see it marketed as such. He said that the meat had two additives, Potassium lactate (326, acidity regulator, humectant, bulking agent) and Sodium acetates ( 262, acidity regulator). (Those descriptions are from the Food Standards Australia New Zealand list of food additives and their properties.) I found him very helpful and happy to answer questions and volunteer information. Full points there.

He said that he’d been selling this pork for 12 months, and his pork sales had quadrupled in that time. He sells mainly cutlets and loin steaks, ie lean cuts that need fairly quick cooking.

Tony said that the meat is marketed as “Murray Valley Pork”, which a quick google shows is “the premium retail fresh brand of QAF Meat Industries, which is Australia’s leading producer of pork for the domestic and export markets.”

They’re certainly pushing the premium angle, appearing at the Sydney Good Food Affare (shame about that name) where they’re described like this:

Murray Valley Pork, Corowa, NSW
Succulent and absolutely delicious Murray Valley Pork from the Riverina and Murray Valley region is a premium range developed in 2005 exclusively for quality retail butchers. Moisture infusing ensures that Murray Valley Pork is always juicy and tender and its neutral flavoured brine has been specially developed to provide customers with a consistently high quality eating experience.

No mention of QAF Meat Industries and their rather unpremium business name there. But checking
QAF’s site will tell you they “now supply 20 per cent of pork to the domestic market and account for 30 to 40 per cent of all farmed pork exports from Australia. We employ more than 850 people at 10 sites across Australia, with our largest site and head office for the group located at Corowa in the Murray River basin.”

I only eat premium pork, because what I found out about industrial pig farming was so horrible I couldn’t face supermarket meat anymore. (A hat tip to Noodlebowl for sending me off on that journey – thank you.)

It must be very difficult for the real premium producers, like the wonderful Mountain Creek Farm that we buy our meat from, when industrial giants prey on the ignorance of consumers who don’t know how to cook a particular cut of meat, and are afraid of a bit of fat. You don’t have to eat the fat, you know, but it really helps your cooking. And a little bit is good for you.

I found Mountain Creek Farm by emailing the Free Range Pork Farmers’ Association and asking. If you want a moist pork, I suggest you do the same.

(PS – Michael Croft of Mountain Creek Farm keeps a terrific blog (unfortunately no RSS) where he describes the farming life, the principles behind the farm, his recent trip to the Terra Madre artisanal producers’ conference in Turin and how a man who was a vegetarian for seven years became a beef and pork producer. I have since met an ex-vegan couple who are now his enthusiastic customers – that’s how good the meat is. The farm will be featured in the 10 December issue of The Canberra Times’ Food & Wine section. Sales details are on the website. And I have no connection with them, beyond being a really happy customer.)

13 comments ↓

#1 Sue on 04.12.08 at 1:22 pm

Hi!

I’m glad that my blog entries sparked you to find a better way to eat pork.

Thank you, that really made my day.

#2 Francis Xavier Holden on 04.12.08 at 3:07 pm

The owners smoke their own hams on the premises,

Yeah man cool – pass the dutchie on the left hand side and don’t bogart that joint.

#3 Fluffy on 04.12.08 at 5:11 pm

I’ve been going to Wangara for wagyu and other bits and pieces for a while – it’s a bit of a badly kept secret in Kensington. Everyone wants the wagyu steaks so the wagyu brisket (OMG) and shanks can be picked up for the price of regular beef cuts.

#4 Penthe on 04.12.08 at 6:38 pm

Makes me miss my cousin-in-law. Producer of fine, organic pork. And sometimes amusing anecdotes.

#5 worldpeace and a speedboat on 05.12.08 at 12:33 pm

thanks for the info Zoe!

it’s really starting to shit me with the way producers just get sneakier and sneakier. their descriptions are beginning to sound like the pseudo-science in cosmetic advertising. I knew about the water-injected ham but I guess the same deal for pork is inevitable.

I did a taste test for some beef last week, and I swear that at least one of the seven samples could have been injected as well. it was ‘juicy’, but the juices were watery and flavourless, and nothing at all compared to another sample which really was a very nice piece of meat and had what I’d call ‘real’ juices. it was very interesting to have to notice the differences between seven samples, so I got at least as much out of the process as whichever company it was got out of me!

anyone know where to buy a happy pig ham for Xmas in Sydney? or Canberra if it’s easy to get to on Friday 12th Dec, I’ll be doing a drive-by-grad-partying.

#6 Zoe on 05.12.08 at 12:42 pm

speedy, contact the free range pork farmers (link in the post) via the email on their site – they got back to me really quickly.

You might be pushing it time-wise, but you never know your luck. And it’s worth it – the first time we ate the Mountain Creek Farm pork Owy looked up from his fork and said “that was a very indulged pig”!

#7 Michael Croft on 06.12.08 at 10:57 am

Firstly, a big thank you Zoe for the plug, but we really shouldn’t deserve praise for simply doing the right thing.

I’d heard about the moisture infused ham, this originally started for two reasons, to counteract the moisture losses of the smoking process, and to speed up the curing by injecting the cure (nitrates salts and flavours) into the meat. What’s happened is that if some is good, more is better – the usual single bottom line focus.

Anyway I’d not heard of the moisture infused pork. Talk about treating the symptom and not the cause. In breeding the pigs so lean they lost the moisture and flavour, so the solution is to artificially reinsert it. Go figure.

As for the moist and flavourless beef, several reasons for this. Probably grain finished in a feed lot (CAFO) and secondly no ageing. Grain finished beef is a generic substance that all tastes pretty much the same as most feed lots use the same ‘ration’ and the animals are what they eat (us too). The ageing of beef is rarely done for 4 reasons, time, storage, shrinkage and trimming.

If a body of beef is aged for 3 weeks it loses 4-5% of it’s weight due to moisture evaporation. It loses a further 4-5% due to the drying out of the thin extremities and consequent trimming. So a loss in saleable weight of 8-10% when you are dealing in tens of thousands of tons of meat is many millions of dollars. That plus ‘time is money’ or slower stock turnover, and coolrooms are expensive floor space and cost $$ to run.

Nett result = moist flavourless meat, but big profits for all involved. I better shut up now as I’m on my high horse!

But before I do, one thing to try and buy if you can is grass finished beef. It is better for many reasons, but the quantifiable standout is this. After only one week on grain a ruminant’s meat fatty omega 6 and 3 fatty acid ratio changes to 24:1 and this is unhealthy. Grass finished beef/lamb/goat has the ratio of 3:1 which is the same as fish and healthy. 98% of beef is grain finished btw lamb 60% and climbing.

OK now I will shut up.

#8 Zoe on 06.12.08 at 5:57 pm

High horses are encouraged here, Michael!

And thanks for the info on grain finished beef – I’ll just stick to eating yours.

#9 ampersand duck on 08.12.08 at 8:43 am

Top marks for information… and for a choice post title :)

#10 worldpeace and a speedboat on 08.12.08 at 5:34 pm

hi Michael – thanks for more info, I say too much high horse is never enough :-)

you may be in the position to give me more info and get on another high horse (if it needs getting got on)(I love poor grammar).

I went to an Ag high school which, back in the 80′s, was probably pumping out methods and info from the 60′s (some of the textbooks were certainly of that vintage). however, something which struck me as being logical was this – fat laid down on an animal is over the carcass first, and only starts intruding into the muscle layers (ie, marbling) when the animal is already overweight. it was also taught to be an oilier and less healthy fat than that over the carcass. it wasn’t seen as healthy for the animal or the consumer. yet now marbling (I’m presuming Wagyu is right up there) is all the rage and ever-so desirable.

I’ve also always presumed it goes hand-in-hand with being grain-fed, which was also seen as unhealthy and sort of suspicious and Un-Orstralyan. at least the syllabus got that bit right.

so, is the fashion for marbling a cunning campaign for sexed-up meat or a good thing? or a bit of both? I’m still suspicious.

#11 Michael Croft on 12.12.08 at 8:52 pm

Hi worldpeace and a speedboat,
Science has moved considerably in the last 20 or so years. In the 80′s the Ag depts were still recommending feeding meat meal to ruminants – now believed to be the cause of BSE. Remembering that the 80′s is also when the ‘fat as villian’ was in full swing, it being the scapegoat for the coronary heart disease ‘epidemic’ at that time. So lean meat was all the rage and the Ag depts were complicit in providing plausible but incorrect answers to save ‘their industry’. Hence the carcass fat vs intramuscular fat Furphy.

The thinking now is that it’s not so much where the fat is or when it was deposited, but what the animal was being fed at the time that counts. We now talk transfats, mono vs poly unsaturated fats, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol, Omega 6 and 3 ratios, etcetera. Suffice to say that things are more nuanced 20 years on.

Anyway, subcutaneous fats in ruminants come and go seasonally. The better the season the more subcutaneous fat they lay down for the leaner times ahead, carcass fat is also an insulator. One of the reasons I farm Belted Galloway cattle is because they have a double coat (as do the Highland cattle). This means they need less subcutaneous fat for temperature control, which means they are slightly better feed converters of roughage to protein.

Marbling has several causes: sex, diet, exercise, genetics, age.
Sex; heifers ‘go to fat’ faster and earlier than steers.
Diet; a grain rich diet is like feeding a child nothing but chips and ice cream they go to fat fast.
Exercise; a feedlot is the same as immobilizing the same child in front of the TV all day, s/he gets fat faster.
Genetics; certain breeds are more efficient energy converters to meat than others. There are three basic types of cattle: the draught breeds, the milk breeds, and the meat breeds. The draught breeds were breed to be strong workers and lean and tough muscle is their signature. The milk breeds put most of their energy into milk production and are nigh on inedible. The meat breeds were selected over centuries for tenderness and flavour. Fat = flavour, so they tended to have better marbling characteristics. There are now genetic markers for marbling and unique genes have been identified (something else that was around during the 80′s). Wagyu, Highland and Galloway cattle have these genes and there may be others. Problem is the pursuit of hybrid vigour has diluted the genetics of many breeds.
Age; the older an animal the better the flavour partly due to better marbling but also we suspect due to a more varied diet. We killed and aged a 6 year old cull cow in the middle of the year. She was dry aged for 6 weeks and produced the best flavoured meat I have ever had.

We eat our animals way too young in Australia because time is money. Most of the beef you buy is 12 – 15 months old. Ours is closer to 30 months and I ‘d like to take this out to 36 months.

Anyway carcass fat comes and goes, intramuscular fat is laid down more slowly. Fat is on average also more prevalent in females – just like humans ;-) The intramuscular fat (marbling) gives flavour , as Maggie Beer says, “fat equals flavour”. Provided the fat has a balanced ratio of omega 6 and 3 fatty acids, and it is consumed in moderation, all will be well. This means the ruminant must be grass finished and it hard to find a grass finished ruminant in Australia.

Almost all beef in Australia is grass fed, but 98% of it is grain finished or had ‘grain assisted finishing’. Only last year the University of Sussex in their ‘heather raise lamb trials’ discovered that it only took one week for a ruminant to be on grain, for it’s omega 6 and 3′s to go out of balance. That is to go from healthy to unhealthy – we are what our food eats.

Sorry for the ramble, does it answer the question?
Oh Wagyu, yes Wagyu is ‘sexed up’ by marketing hype. I will guarantee (if someone pays for the clinical trials) that if I feed a Wagyu and almost any of the British beef breeds, but certainly the Highlands and Galloways, the identical diet, and then did a double blind test, only the very best gastronomes might, just might, tell the difference. Even then they wouldn’t pick which was which beast and probably pick the British breed as having the better flavour.

#12 Speedy on 21.02.10 at 9:08 pm

I don’t know if anyone comes back and reads this but thanks again to Michael for all this info. some friends and I are wanting to buy bulk happy happy pork in Sydney and my searching leads me back here.

terminology all seems grey and very confusing, and seems like not many people do bulk pork for us to get our hands on.

#13 Zoe on 03.03.10 at 8:39 pm

Speedy, contact the Australian Free Range Pig Farmers for a recommendation; that’s how I found Michael. One element might be that pork is a seasonal product, and not a Summer one.

You can also sign up for their forum (free) and ask directly there if, access through that last link. Good luck.

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