Victoria's best kept secret: Christine Ross' Free Range Pork

Francesca Fogarty 21 January 2009

This little piggy went to the market, this little piggy stayed at home. Nice for some, depending on where home is. Green pastures? A bit of mud to roll around in? Some juicy vegetables for the picking? 

You see, this little piggy, the one that went to the market, is a free range piggy. Not a "bred free range" piggy as some brands around town profess to be. No, this one is the shiz, bona fide, no buts about it. Free range in all its glory.  And what a beautiful range it is. Nestled in green pastures at the Eastwind Rare Breeds Farm, this piggy is one of Christine Ross pigs from Yarra Valley Free Range Pork. This piggy, and his 150 odd brothers and sisters roam around, play and generally enjoy life before we, ah, enjoy them.

Free range pork, distributed by companies such as Fernway Farm and Yarra Valley Free Range Pork is slowly making its way back into the mainstream. It's been a long time coming. As a generation Y member, free range pork has been a luxury up until now. Strangely, for my parent's generation, free range pork was a given, "Of course its free range, what else could it be?" they would say. Over the last 30 or 40 years, the pork industry has changed, with happy little pigs playing in the mud being replaced by animals in pens large enough only for them to stand up or lie down in.

So where exactly did that bacon come from, the one you are eating with your free range eggs and artisan bread at your trendy corner café? Unfortunately, probably not from Christine. You see her pork, whist being lauded as some of the best pork on the market, is also the most expensive. So expensive in fact, that few can afford to use it. Fortunately Christine runs her company out of love and care for her dying breed rather than her profit margins.

However, it begs the question why the good stuff isn't getting to the table. How many Christine Ross's will it take to change the pork industry and to stamp out the inferior products on the market which appropriate the free range name?  Most other pork companies out there are currently selling their pork under the title "bred" free range. This means that the mommies are free range, the piglets are not. The piglets are raised their entire lives in pens before going to market.

Christine's pigs aren't really suitable for commercial production en masse. Being a black breed means that these piggies occasionally leave behind some of their black hairs in the packaged end-product, which is considered unsavoury by retailers. They also grow too slowly as they're not packed full of antibiotics and hormones like the middle bacon from aisle five. Large Blacks simply don't bring home the bacon, as the saying goes, at the same rate or cost efficiency as commercially bred pork.

However, as far as taste goes, they are undisputedly better. Ross' Large Blacks share similar characteristics to the prized jamon iberico de bellota from Spain. Much like jamon, this quality product attracts a premium price tag but guarantees the unsurpassed depth of flavour that can only be found in well-cared for breeds.

After all is said and done, Christine is doing two things. She is bringing the tastiest, juiciest free range pork onto the market, pork that allows you to wear a halo around your head whilst eating, and pork that ticks the conscience box . But Christine is also doing something else, something even more important than satisfying your stomach. Christine is saving a breed, Large Black pigs, from extinction.  But that is another story. One you'll have to wait to read!

The Large Black Pig


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