Does a $13.99 per pound pork chop taste better than a $4.29 per pound pork chop? Yes, but…..
Linda: We got to wondering if the hype about naturally raised pork was just that, or if we could actually taste the difference between a standard grocery store pork chop and a fancy butcher shop chop. So we set off to buy and blind-taste-test four bone-in pork chops, one each from Dominick's ($4.29 per pound), Faith's Farm ($8.95 per pound), Whole Foods ($9.99 per pound), and Publican Quality Meats ($13.99 per pound). We cooked the chops by salt and peppering them, searing them on both sides, then roasting them in a 400 degree oven until the instant read thermometer read 140 degrees. We tented them and let them rest for about 5 minutes, and then one of our assistants plated a slice of each chop, so we could taste them "blind".
Linda: Here are my tasting notes from the blind-taste-test. (Once we wrote the notes, the sources were revealed.)
In order of my preference (least to most):
Publican's (from Ken Kehrli's Iowa farm): better than Dominick's but not very interesting. A bit chewy. However the heavy layer of surface fat was delicious; it melted in your mouth like butter.
Whole Foods (called organic, from a step 3 supplier in Wisconsin): tasty, very tender
Faith's Farm: my favorite. Juicy and flavorful. (Not as tender as Whole Foods but I prefer a bit of chew.) Looking at the raw chop, it is the only one with visible marbling (fat) in the interior of the chop. What can I say, fat tastes good.
Sharon: I came away from this experiment a little underwhelmed. First let it be said that I love pork. But I think that pork is a little like chicken, the other white meat. It seems to benefit when it is well seasoned, maybe brined, or encrusted with fresh herbs or sauced. Although I thoroughly enjoyed this tasting, it left me wanting more for the naked chop.
Here's what I thought of each chop:
Dominick's: Just o.k. It reminded me of a mass-produced chop (where one looks exactly like the next).
Publican's : My first bite was tough; the second not so tough. Is there really that much variance within one chop? Overall very flavorful.
Whole Foods: My favorite. It had the best texture and flavor. Of note, the only "organic" chop we tasted.
Faith's Farm: This was by far the juiciest. The flavor was good, although I thought the texture was stringy.
Linda: So the answer to the question is "yes, naturally raised pork does taste better". But we didn't need to spend over $9.99 per pound to get a good tasting chop.
But it's not enough to learn that the more naturally raised pork tastes better. We wanted to know why.
ROAD TRIP!!!! Here's what we learned by visiting Faith's Farm in downstate Illinois. Kim Snyder, the owner of Faith's Farm, gave us a tour of the farm and explained her philosophy of raising animals. She lovingly tends to a mixture of pigs, cattle, chickens, along with a few rabbits, turkeys, and even a couple of bee hives.
Her pigs are heritage breeds, Berkshires and Hampshires, and hopefully in the future, Gloucester Old Spots. They are happy pigs. They roam outdoors, rut, doze, and eat grains and hay, at will. The piglets are adorable, playful, and fun. In other words, they are raised in a natural, old-fashioned way. (Pigs raised on modern factory farms stay indoors, in close quarters, and are hybrids bred to withstand the stress of these conditions.)
Raising a pig on Faith's Farms costs more than on a factory farm. And it is more expensive than some other naturally raised pork. For example, at slaughter a pig weighs 300 to 400 pounds. It takes Faith's Farm 12-14 months to achieve this weight. Other natural pork producers do it in 6 months, by more intensive feeding and more limited exercise. Kim doesn't force the piglets to be weaned from their mother, and as a result her sows only produce one litter a year, not the two litters achieved by many other producers. We were impressed with Kim's commitment to raising healthy, happy animals. After visiting her farm, I'm committed to eating only naturally raised pork.
Sharon: Before visiting, I wasn't quite sure how I felt on organic vs. non-organic products. I've always felt it was important regarding fruits and vegetables because of the obvious addition of pesticides. But I don't think we often give enough thought to the manner in which the animals that we consume as a major protein source in our diets are raised.
I felt like a kid again being among all these content, healthy (and quite friendly) animals. Like being at the zoo, only better. There are no pens or cages to stunt their movement and daily activities; only non-obtrusive paddocks to control the pasture in which they are feeding. Once they totally clear out a pasture, they are moved to another which is lush with vegetation. There are various structures resembling "houses" which are available if the animals wish to retreat to. But the doors are always kept open. Happy, happy animals!
So the question remains. Organic vs. non-organic. After spending the morning with Kim I know for sure that I will be fully aware of where my food comes from and how it is raised. Aside from the obvious humane aspects of how animals are raised, I think it is equally important that as consumers we are fully informed of everything that happens to our food from farm to table. I highly recommend doing a little research on your own. I think you will find it quite enlightening.