Last week I had the privilege and oppurtunity to cook a 200 pound Gloucestershire hybrid pig. It’s better known as the “Old Spot” or GOS. Truly the finest animal which has ever graced my pit. While I have certainly smoked larger pigs, this was the single most expensive pig I have ever cooked.
I’m no expert on hog breeds but just working with the raw product you see an amazing difference. This is a rare breed. Breed to be a lard hog. I think the one thing that needs to be done in this country is to find new uses for lard. If we increase lard demand, farmers will start to breed lard hogs again and our pork chops will cease to be the dry doggie chew toys they are now. The buffer of fat against the loins was just simply amazing. When I pulled the loins out, normally dry, they were simply DRIPPING with juice and moisture. The hams pulled into soaking strands of moist tender flesh. The shoulders are as shoulder go – de rigour for whole hog BBQ. First thing you noticed was how red the flesh was, THIS is what pork should look like. I’m not a big eater of sashimi (bit bland) but this pig could be served sliced raw with some wasabi!
My cooking method for the day is the standard fire banking style taught to me by Ed Mitchell and his brothers Audrey and Steve. What I found was that there was a whole lot more fat dripping out during the cooking process that raised the temperature quite a bit. Something I’ve never seen when cooking our standard commodity pigs.
There are lots of cool information out there on the GOS. Despite the fact they are mainly the domain of heritage farmers, they were once the dependable commodity pig. They were easy to raise, went out and dug their own food, had strong maternal instincts towards their young, Did we already mention they’re delicious?
The Gloucestershire Old Spots of America guys gave this helpful chart
- Head: Medium length with a slightly dished nose. The ears should be well set apart, dropping forward to the nose.
- Body: The shoulders should be fine but not raised. A long level back with well sprung ribs and a broad loin are desirable. Deep sides, with a thick, full belly and flank from the ribs to hams are standard.
- Hams: Large and well filled to the hocks.
- Legs: Straight and strong.
- Skin and Coat: Skin should not show coarseness or wrinkles. The hair should be silky and straight.
- Teats: There should be at least fourteen well placed teats.
- Objections: Heavy jowl, short elevated ears, a mane of bristles, crooked legs, and serious wrinkles.
- Coloring: White skin with black spots.
Let’s be perfectly clear. I’m not really into over thinking my food. Most organic things are lost on me. Free-range chickens and turkeys are as exciting to me as reading the Wall Street Journal. This pig on the other hand just made me giddy. It really needed no other embellishments than the traditional North Carolina cooking method. Smoked til tender. Pulled chopped and dressed in a light tangy vinegar pepper sauce. Heavenly and quite honestly speaks for itself. I was watching Michel Bras, the 3 Michlen starred French chef, dress a plate of his restaurant garden’s organic vegetables. There really isn’t anything exciting to look at. They need to cut the vegetables into funny shapes, scatter the plate with edible flowers. Smear the corners of the dish with their sauces like it was some painting at the Louvre. Let’s be honest. They NEED to do that. Why? Because it’s just a plate of vegetables. If we did the same thing with the some supermarket produce it would likely taste exactly the same unless you really wanted to sit around and think about it. And even with all that fussing it really isn’t producing anything that is drool worthy.
If you’re a Carolina Whole Hog guy, the only imprimatur you have is the quality of your pig. People are certainly not flocking to taste your sauce. It’s kinda like being a sushi chef. No amount of fancy knife tricks or secret sauces are going to help you if you don’t have good fish. Carolina seasonings are salt and wood.
Some fun facts about the GOS
- This is indeed some ROYAL pork! No less than the British Royal Family prefer GOS for their bacon and chop needs.
- The most expensive pig ever sold in England was a GOS.
- They were popular with people who owned orchards as they ate up all the dropped apples and reduced the pest problem all while “marinating” themselves with apple flavor. This gave them the nickname “Orchard Pig”
- The European Union designated the breed with a “protection status” meaning that you can’t just call any old pig a GOS. – Traditional Speciality Guaranteed Status
- In 1914 the Kaiser of Germany heard so much about this tasty pig that he order 2 for himself. But then this annoying little incident called World War I ruined his dinner plans.
- Old legends thought that the spots on the pigs were caused by the apples falling on them as they were snacking around the orchards.