Food & Drink

Feast Q&A: Put a fork in the pork from this artisanal farm

Chops from heritage pork were seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked in a splash of olive oil at Corti Bros. Market.
Chops from heritage pork were seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked in a splash of olive oil at Corti Bros. Market. apierleoni@sacbee.com

Over recent years, Corti Bros. Market has experimented with heritage breeds of pigs – Mangalista, Mulefoot, Berkshire, black Iberian – breaking them down on site and offering unique tastes and textures to its customers.

Now the store is exclusively sourcing the historic Glouchestershire Old Spot breed from the Parade Farming Co. in agriculture-rich Trinity County, some of the most flavorful and tender pork ever to appear at the market. It sells for $7 to $19 a pound, depending on which of the 10 cuts you buy.

“This artisanal product has been so well-received that I think the desire for it will outweigh availability very shortly,” said store director Rick Mindermann.

Business partners Chris Robb, 31, and Keating Wallau, 24, run the 800-acre, spring-fed farm, sitting at 3,000 feet not far from the tiny town of Hayfork and the Trinity Alps Wilderness. Parade’s mission is to “regenerate American soil via age-old livestock and range-management techniques,” which means in part raising “heritage outdoor pork.” If any story exemplifies the farm-to-fork philosophy, it’s theirs.

We caught up with Robb by phone, in between his chores. Visit the farm at www.paradetheland.com.

Q: What’s your background?

A: My parents met at Stanford, but went back to the land in the 1970s and started a small natural-foods store in (nearby) Weaverville. I was born at home and went to the store every day, strapped to my mom’s back. I grew up exposed to the natural-foods movement and good-quality food. It’s one reason farming made sense to me later.

Q: And as an adult?

A: I ran a small creative-media agency, working on building brand strategies for companies. Eventually I burned out on constantly having to work for somebody else’s vision. I wanted to do something I cared about and work on my own vision. About that time I was introduced to holistic livestock-raising and regenerative farming. We leased this property last June and went to work.

Q: How big is the herd?

A: It ranges from 50 to 100 hogs, depending on the season, with six breeding sows. We’re raising multiple heritage breeds – Old Spot, Red Wattle and Tamworth. Ultimately we’ll cross-breed them for the characteristics we like the most. We don’t have a lot of money (for research), but we will have the best genetics for hogs in California if not the country.

Q: What’s their diet?

A: Because of where we are, they get more natural forage than in a typical pasture-raised program. They have access to a lot of different forest floors, (an array of) perennial grasses, and a lot of acorns and apples that fall to the ground. (Also) we’re sourcing natural corn and oats from California and Oregon.

Q: Is that why the meat tastes so good?

A: A lot of characteristics feed into the product (including) the elevation and the spring water, but the genetics certainly are a big reason.

Q: Your approach to livestock farming is “heritage” in itself.

A: We work on holistic management and herd-grazing. The hogs stay together and are in constant motion. We move them to new grass and ground “cells” and leave them there for short periods. After they’ve fertilized the landscape and tilled it by naturally interacting with it, we move them to a new cell and let them do it again. All that results in the (stimulation of) perennial grasses, and the regeneration and increase of the microbiology in the soil.

Q: Word is spreading about the quality of your product.

A: Most of it is going directly to restaurants and chefs. We recently sold a whole hog to Bar Tartine and two of them to Bi-Rite Market (both in San Francisco), and delivered hogs to (restaurants) Valette and Mateo’s Cucina Latina (both in Healdsburg). We want to pace ourselves.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe

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