I have a friend and coworker that always talks about Acorn fed pork. He says he buys the pork in a local organic market and that the pigs are raised in CT ethically, free range style. I never paid much attention to this conversation as I had no point of reference to it. Then over the Holidays, we were visiting with some friends in Norwalk and they were laughing about the homeowner because he has a tractor that he fills with multiple loads of debris from his yard that he has to haul into the woods. I assumed they were talking about leaves- seemed the obvious topic. Much to my surprise, they said it was Acorns! Hmm. Now my curiosity was peaked. Here I had a friend talking about Acorn fed pork, and I had another friend with a bumper crop of Acorns and I thought, there must be a connection!
First I researched the history of Acorn Fed Pork and found out it is a Spanish tradition and a delicacy. “The legendary jamón ibérico de bellota (Iberian acorn-finished ham), also known as pata negra, is widely considered to be the finest pork in the world. This Spanish ham comes from the black Iberian pig (cerdo negra) and is raised in southern Spain near the border with Portugal in oak forests called la dehesa. During the six month period (la montanera) every fall and winter that they forage in the Dehesa, the pigs eat 15-20 pounds of acorns (bellotas) every day, gaining up to two pounds a day, and enjoy fresh air and exercise. After they are “sacrificed,” the hams are cured for 12-36 months, producing a truly artisan meat.” (Full Article can be found here)
I am quite intrigued and will certainly look for this the next time I am at Barcelona wine bar or at the specialty deli counter though the article states it can be upwards of $100/lb and imports are restricted to those that meet USDA standards. If I can find duck prosciutto for a client, I am sure I can find Jamon Iberico!
That being said, I guess my friend and colleague was wise to purchase locally sourced Acorn fed pork! The article goes on to stress the benefits of this practice as an exercise of sustainability. So I kept researching and found a local farm, which must be the source of his purchases, Walden Hill which seems to be located in the New Haven County area, but does work with The Whelk and Speckled Rooster Farm in Westport. The Walden Hill website has great information, but I also enjoyed reading this interview given by Jennifer Milikowsky, one of the founders of Walden Hill, found on The Splendid Table.org. Combining these articles and also digging deeper into the phenomena of a bumper crop of acorns, I went back to the source of the first informative article, “The Mast Tree Network” “Mast is the botanical name for the nuts, seeds, buds, or fruits of trees and shrubs that are eaten by wildlife. There are two main types of mast: Hard mast includes hard nuts and seeds such as acorns, hickory nuts, and walnuts. Soft mast includes berries and fruits such as crabapples, blueberries, and serviceberries. Both types are important year-round food sources for wildlife, but hard mast is often considered more important, especially as a winter food source, due to its higher energy content.”
Now it was all making sense. My friend Rob with his bumper crop of Acorns, and my friend Dave with his enjoyment of the Acorn Fed Pork and Walden Hill mentioning on their site that they work with individual homeowners as well as farms and forests to harvest the Acorns for their hogs. So I am happy to share this sustainable and hopefully delicious story with you so that you not only learn about new culinary delights, but you are able to possibly share this information and message of sustainability. If you are lucky enough to have a magnificent Oak Tree in your yard, and if it produces a bumper crop of Acorns, (they may be viewed as a suburban nuisance), now you have someone to contact who could use the acorns as a food source as nature intended, as there are only so many acorns that squirrels can hide in your yard!
Care to share your own acorn story? I love to hear from you. We can hatch a plan for your next event!