If you've eaten pork recently at any of New York City's more high profile restaurants chances are you've tasted the fruits of Bev Eggleston's labor. Eggleston, a protÃ©gÃ© of Joel Salatin, the champion of small-scale ethical farming practices profiled in Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, raises pigs, sheep and chickens on his Virginia farm and sells his exalted products (Frank Bruni called Eggleston's pork, "outrageously fine swine" in his review of Terroir) at Washington, D.C. farmer's markets and to dozens of top restaurants in D.C. and New York.
Writer Louise McCready spoke with Eggleston to learn more about his pigs, his upcoming NYC home orders program and plans for bringing live pata negra hogs to the U.S.
How is your New York business unique?
In D.C., we sell at farmers' markets because we feel like we're more local. In Manhattan, we have a strong wholesale presence but no retail, so we're developing a home orders program. We've added a twist to the home metropolitan buying clubs. Each month, you get an unknown quantity of unknown inventory. The EcoFriendly foodie is cognizant that they help us develop a product. We tweak the recipe and send it back to them a couple months later.
Does that mean you'd deliver a dish made from a Gramercy Tavern recipe?
Either the chef will find a recipe that he hasn't put on the menu yet, or it will be the place for a chef to try a new product. We have our meats, their recipe, and a hundred consumers who allow the recipe to get tested before putting it on the menu.
We're going to make sausages, dried salumi, sopressata, chorizo, both fresh and dried lomos, patÃ©s, soups, stocks, glacÃ©s, consommÃ©s, stews, and terrines. We're going to make things that come from the head, the hooves, the butt, the bones, and the knuckle such as thyme-infused and rosemary-infused pork lard I'll grind into sausage or sell as a spread.
When will you be ready to sell these products?
Probably this summer. Right now, our one processing plant is serving both cities. I want to give to New Yorkers what they're asking for - localized food.
What animals are you selling now and why are they special?
With beef, a double-muscle Piedmontese breed, which makes for a unique flavor and quality. We age the beef and grow it on grass only. Gramercy Tavern buys a lot from us, and Peter Hoffman and Danny Meyer both decided they wanted it to be in all their restaurants.
The Katahdin breed is a hair sheep bred that sheds short hair instead of big fluffy mats of wool, and has less lanolin and a lower fat content. A lot of Americans don't like lamb because the fat sits on your tongue and coats your mouth, but the Katahdin is mild, low in fat, and doesn't taste like mutton.
The Ossabaw, the Five-Way Cross (which we call the Farmer's Cross), and the Ossabaw Crosses are the three main breeds of pigs. We cross the Ossabaw with the Durock, a standard hog, and an older breed, called the Waddle. When we mix a Waddle with the Ossabaw, I call it the Waddabaw. Farmers' Cross with Ossabaw: Crossabaw. Berkshire with Ossabow: Berkabaw.
Most chefs prefer the Five-Way Cross because it's an all around killer pig. The Ossabaw and the Ossabaw Crosses need a customer and a chef who's ready to utilize that high fat content pig by making charcuteries or by using a lard based recipe.
Which chefs in particular like the fattier pig?
Michael Anthony at Gramercy Tavern and Ignacio Mattos at Il Buco. Other fatty pig lovers would be, of course, David Chang and Momofuku Ssam Bar chef Tien Ho.
Due to the recent increase in the price of IbÃ©rico pata negra hams, have any chefs chosen to buy from you rather than import from Spain?
JosÃ© AndrÃ©s, the unofficial Ambassador to Spain who's responsible for getting those hams imported through the USDA and approved, loves our Ossabaw pig because it's the American equivalent of the pata negra. He's going to help us import more breeding stock from Spain because the ones we got off Ossabaw island were there so long, they're inbred. We're in the planning stage right now of getting pata negra - not the hoof - the live animals.
Sample Eggleston's pigs at these restaurants in and around New York City: Blue Hill at Stone Barns,
Boqueria, Craft (Tom Colicchio's Crispy Port Trotter made Frank Bruni's list of Best New Restaurant Dishes for 2008), Craftsteak, Del Posto, Gramercy Tavern, Hearth, Il Buco, Inside Park at St. Bart's, Insieme, Lupa, Mercat, Momofuku Ko, Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssam Bar, Savoy and Terroir (Marco Canora's Pork Blade Steak, was another of Bruni's top dishes for '08).
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