Free-range pork, poultry and other livestock products have gained popularity in recent years. Consumers consider themselves to be informed about where their food comes from and when it comes to meat production, they are particularly concerned about animal welfare. According to the Free Range Pork Association (FRPA) of South Africa, this is especially true when it comes to pig, broiler and egg production.
The FRPA states that although many consumers might have misconceptions about intensive pig production, their perceptions still influence their buying behaviour. According to them, consumers should be able to choose meat that is produced the way they want it to be produced. In addition, consumers who prefer free-range produce are usually willing to pay for it.
This article discusses the differences between free-range and intensive pork production, as well as some popular processing techniques for free-range pork.
What is free-range pork?
Many consumers believe that free-range production systems promote the welfare of pigs. But what exactly does free-range pig farming entail? According to the FRPA, there are several different production methods that can be employed to raise free-range pigs. This is due to country-specific differences, as well as differences in their environments and weather conditions.
They define free-range pig farming in South Africa as follows: “Free-range pig farming means that pigs are kept outdoors in big enough camps where they can eat, sleep and play outside for their entire lives to allow them to express their natural instinctive behaviours.”
In a free-range system pigs are kept on big, open land or in large camps where they can roam freely on pasture or grasslands. Pigs are moved to new and fresh camps at specific intervals. Shelter must be provided to protect pigs from the sun, wind and rain. It must also provide insulation from harsh temperatures and inclement weather. Because pigs do not sweat, they need pools of water (wallows) in which to cool down. Enclosures should be kept as dry as possible with no persistent muddiness other than in wallows.
Although pigs in free-range pig farming systems are still fed a balanced diet, a large percentage of their nutrition is still derived from natural resources. They are not fed any meat or meat by-products. Likewise, a free-range pig producer will never use antibiotics or artificial growth stimulants. Free-range pig farming also means that producers keep a thorough record of each pig; all stages of production are thus recorded and traceable.
What is intensive pig farming?
The South African commercial pig farming industry has a large footprint. According to the latest figures from the South African Pork Producers’ Organisation (SAPPO), 2 473 654 pigs have been slaughtered so far this year (January to September). The pork produced is consumed locally as well as exported. In September this year, 902 363kg of pork was exported (SAPPO). This industry operates on a large scale to remain profitable.
Pigs are housed in indoor facilities that are well ventilated and temperature controlled. Strict biosecurity protocols are in place to ensure that pigs are not exposed to health risks. For example, African swine fever is spread through wild pigs and thus could more easily put free-range pigs at risk, because they are kept outside.
The local pig production industry follows a strict welfare standard and SAPPO has outlined guidelines for pigs in each production phase, as well as the transport and slaughter of pigs. The Pork 360 Farm standard is one such guideline and aims to ensure that good-quality pork is produced on welfare-friendly farms with good biosecurity, environmental stewardship, and minimum antimicrobial usage.
Meat quality research
Although there is not much research on how meat quality between the two production systems differs, a 2013 study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Research sheds some light on this topic. The article titled ‘The influence of a free-range housing system on pig growth, carcass composition and meat quality’ reveals that the pigs kept outdoors during the study showed lower fat thickness and had slightly higher crude protein levels. The group of pigs kept outdoors also had a higher average daily weight gain compared with pigs in the indoor group.
Free-range pork can be used in several delicious dishes, including mouth-watering charcuterie meat. Charcuterie is a French term for cooking that is dedicated to the preservation and processing of meat products, especially pork products. Bacon, ham, salami and sausages are examples of pork products that have been processed to last longer and taste better.
Salt is one of the main ingredients in charcuterie as it protects the food against harmful pathogens. Today, nitrates are commonly used to serve this purpose. Pâtés are another form of charcuterie that extends the shelf life of a product. Below is a summary of some of the different types of charcuterie.
Forcemeat is a combination of ground lean meat that is mixed with fat. The ground meat and fat can vary in texture and various products can be made from it. Sausages, for example, have a rough rind, whereas pâtés and terrines are finer. Forcemeat products also contain salt to aid in preservation.
In charcuterie, salt serves many purposes in the preservation process. It helps destroy pathogens while dehydrating the meat. By dehydrating the meat excess water is drawn from the protein, thus prolonging its shelf life. Salt also helps in the fermentation process for products such as salami.
Fermented sausages are made with salted ground meat in which beneficial bacteria break down sugars to enhance the flavour. The drying process involved in salt-cured products further enhance the longevity of these products.
Smoking meat is a good preservation method as it dehydrates the meat while serving as an antibacterial. Free-range pork is usually smoked by exposing it to smoke from burning or smouldering wood chips. Examples of smoked pork include bacon, gammon, certain types of ham such as Black Forest ham, and prosciutto.
The types of wood used vary between countries depending on which trees grow in the area. In Europe, alder is traditionally used for smoking wood, but oak is now more commonly used. Oak and alder are also popular in the United States (US) and so are pecan, maple, apple, cherry and plum. In South Africa kameeldoring and rooikrans (acacia) can be used to impart a local flavour.
Make your own charcuterie board
Make your own charcuterie board this summer to impress your friends and family. This platter can consist of any cured free-range pork, such as ham and salami or pâtés. You can pair these with crackers, cheese, fruit or vegetables, as well as preserves.
Below is an example of how you could go about making a charcuterie platter. A cutting board works great as a serving platter. You can determine the size of the platter and what goes on it. A small platter works well for a date, or bigger boards can be used to serve appetisers to guests at functions.
- Choose your favourite salami, ham, cheese and accompanying ingredients. Choose colourful fruit and vegetables so that your platter does not look dull.
- For preserves, think olives, jams, pickles and similar ingredients.
- Place the free-range pork products, cheese and other ingredients on a cutting board in a visually appealing way.
- Preserves and dipping sauces can be served in small containers on the board to enhance the visual appeal. – Ursula Human, AgriOrbit