Putting Pigs On a Hazelnut Diet

Putting Pigs On a Hazelnut Diet

Food & Drink

Putting Pigs On a Hazelnut Diet

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By Cari Martens

Not all of the hazelnuts from the American Pacific Northwest are destined to end up as part of a Starbucks’ coffee or latte. Some are eaten by hogs.

In an effort to create pork that’s more succulent, with plenty of sweet, slightly nutty-tasting fat, a handful of Oregon farmers are now mixing hazelnuts into their hogs’ feed.

Leslie Cole, writing for oregonlive.com, notes that nuts and pigs have enjoyed a long and happy relationship for centuries. Thin slices of Prosciutto di Parma come from pigs fattened on chestnuts and whey, while free-range hogs feeding on acorns result in Spain’s famous Iberico ham.

The fact is, pigs that eat oil-rich nuts in great quantities build up extra (and extra-tasty) fat, Cole writes, and that’s especially true for older breeds with genetics that encourage it. A well-marbled leg with months of curing turns into a luscious ham with ribbons of sweet, some say nutty-tasting, fat.

While most commercial pork is now bred to be lean, a small group of Oregon chefs and cured meat fans decided to try to go in another direction—and take advantage of the state’s robust hazelnut crop. Some of them hope to soon develop a Northwest-style prosciutto that will compare in quality to that which is now imported from Italy.

The eventual goal of selling a full line of cured meats, including coppa, lomo, bacon, and pancetta involves a lengthy licensing process with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. So the release date to sell these cured meats will have to wait until at least 2010.

It’s something cured meat aficionados in the U.S. will be watching closely in the coming months. We’ll keep a close watch, too.

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