A true artisan analyses and ensures that every part of their project is at its peak of perfection. The whole is only as great as the sum of its parts. If our goal is to provide the finest quality pork, we must then include every aspect of the production, even those items that may not seem directly related. This is what sets us apart from the rest. We are constantly evolving and adapting our methodology to improve every part and to achieve an even better final result. Here are a few distinctions that we have adapted to our unique operation.
Quality and Flavor = Breed + Feed + Lifestyle
It all starts with the animals. We chose our cross carefully and with much consideration to the final result. We crossed two Iron Age heritage breeds, English Large Black and Tamworth, considered to be the best two bacon pigs in the world. Known for their abilities to forage and convert grasses to fat, these pigs produce incredibly sweet and rich flavored pork that is nutrient dense and beautifully marbled.
From pasture management to our custom feed, everything is considered in terms of how it will affect the flavor and quality of our products. We utilize a rotational grazing system in which we adapt as much to the environment as possible, allowing the natural foraging instincts and abilities of these animals to be fully utilized. Because we are utilizing an undeveloped 100 acres of land, there are dozens of native species of wild edibles and other food sources. The native shrubs produce fruity berries that sweeten the flavor throughout the spring and summer. Nuts from the many trees produce a nuttier flavor in the fall. All components of our feed source, including our custom non-GMO supplemental feed come from local farmers and producers leaving a small carbon footprint, but also keeping our terroir very specific to this area. We peanut finish all our pork in the fall and winter and continue until peanuts and peanut hay are no longer available. We have a great relationship with our peanut grower, whose farm is 5 miles from ours, and as a result he saves all peanut hay for us to use throughout the season. All producing a true Texas terroir.
From access to pasture, to pasture management and available food sources, everything about our operation is unique to us. First, we have studied the behavior of pigs for a long time and learned a lot from observing them. The more natural the setting, the better the results for everything from social structure among the herd, to ability to forage and utilize wild edibles and replenish and rejuvenate the soil. It is a symbiotic relationship. We conform to the animals natural instincts instead of making them conform to ours.
As an example, swine are nocturnal by nature. If we were to allow them access to pasture only during the daylight hours, they would not forage during their naturally instinctual times. We are able to allow them full access to pasture by utilizing Livestock Guardian Dogs, which help protect them from predators and because we base our paddock system to allow each group of animals to come and go through the barn, they can forage or sleep as they desire.
We also utilize a hot wire system using push-in fiberglass rods and insulators that allows us to leave the natural setting almost completely undisturbed. We do not cut down trees to put up fencing, we are able to fence around them using this method. It is also easily removable and will leave no trace when we are gone.
During the dormant months we feed hay bales (peanut has as much of the season as we can) and feed local grains over the hay to encourage tilling of the soil. The pigs fertilize as they go. The results is better soil structure and PH levels and more edible plant growth each season.
Water is essential for survival. We all understand the importance of water, especially in the hot Texas summers. Almost every swine operation utilizes some sort of free water system. Either nipples or troughs that the pigs can access at any time. We have tried many variations of automated watering and found that we achieve better results and cleaner flavor by just cleaning and refilling water barrels several times per day. The visual cue to the animals is instantaneous. Even if they didn’t realize they were thirsty, by providing them clean fresh water it stimulates them to want to drink. Water nipples can become hot and hot water is not as refreshing as cool water. Troughs become dirty, because all pigs will try and climb inside the trough or will climb inside and muddy water is also not as refreshing as fresh, clean water. Just by this one small gesture, we produce a clean flavor in our final product.
Shelter is also crucial to the comfort of our herd. We provide free access 24 hours a day to the barn, which is centrally located on the property and has two open sides for great ventilation. Because we utilize a non-invasive hot wire paddock system, we do not remove any shade trees that are available to the herd. They also have full access to water to wallow in and breed stock even has access to swim in two stock tanks, which is vital to their comfort and temperature control. The more comfortable they are, the less they will work to maintain their weight and health resulting in a better overall product.
We essentially live with our herd. We can see and hear them 24 hours a day and are there to protect them should danger arise. We utilize several Livestock Guardian Dogs who monitor the perimeter of the property and keep predators at bay. The dogs are our eyes and ears to the danger, but they are also fiercely loyal and will fight a feral hog to the death to protect their charges. They are the only reason we can allow full pasture access 24 hours a day.
The Spanish have known for many generations that slow growth is the key to real flavor in swine. The average pig goes from birth to slaughter in 6 months in the US. Heritage hogs are known to grow slower, yet still the US average is about 9-10 months from birth to harvest for heritage hogs. We grow our hogs 24-30 months before harvest. The downside to this is we must be patient. Growth they gain in the spring and fall is lost in the hot summers. Limited vegetation in the winters coupled with often cold temps also takes weight off. The extra time is not providing us with more meat, so essentially we are increasing costs for the same net weight. So why do this? Because flavor develops over time. The shifting of the seasons affects the fat content and flavor. The marbling is greater and the meat is deeper red and richer in flavor and color, all due to the longer growth and extra time to forage.
Charcuterie is a lost art form for which we are basing our entire operation. From the breed selection, pasture management, custom feed blend, increased comfort and happiness of the herd, everything is based on our final product, Jamón Tejano, which will be our signature product. We have been working on this project for several years with input from local chefs. It is not currently available for consumer purchase, but we hope to have this on the market very soon. The peanut finished hog will be cured and hung for two years and the nutty flavor enhanced by a coating of house made peanut butter during the aging process.
If you want the very best product, you continue to grow and learn. Our most valuable assets are our customers and the chefs and vendors we work with. We not only value their input, we seek it out as often as possible. If we are tomorrow what we were yesterday, we have failed.
Thank you. We hope you have learned a lot about why we are different and we hope you will try our product and let us know how we are doing.
Kelley and Mark Escobedo
South Texas Heritage Pork