Going the Whole Hog

By Laurel Miller | June 11, 2015
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Large Black heritage breed pigs on the field
Photograph: Olivia Siegal

For a relatively small region, the Roaring Fork Valley has become a national epicenter of humane livestock production. Family farms and ranches from Carbondale’s Sustainable Settings to Basalt’s new Mountain Primal Meat Co. (look for a feature in our Spring ’16 issue) are raising beef, lamb, pigs, and poultry on a small scale, implementing management methods that have a low—and usually beneficial—environmental impact, and take the animals’ welfare into consideration as a top priority.

So it is with ACES at Rock Bottom Ranch in Basalt. The educational working property raises various livestock, including heritage breed pigs (the Large Black and Tamworth breeds, which are listed as critically endangered and threatened, respectively, according to the National Livestock Conservancy).

While the pig program was in existence when Jason Smith—chef, farmer, and director of the ranch—came on board in early 2013, he’s responsible for giving it momentum and providing a platform for the plight of heritage breeds via RBR’s involvement with educational initiatives like COCHON 555, the national friendly-fire chef competition dedicated to raising awareness about heritage pork breeds. Says Smith, “It’s absolutely increased our visibility. Agriculture is a long, slow, process.”

Smith leading a farm tour at ACES at Rock Bottom Ranch in Basalt
Photo 1: Smith leading a farm tour. Photograph: ACES
Photo 2: One of RBR’s Large Black pigs asks what’s up. Photograph: ACES

For the last two years, RBR has donated Large Blacks to Cochon 555’s Denver and Aspen events, and this year will take on a larger role as they bring other livestock to the metaphorical and literal table at Cochon’s Heritage Fire on June 19, during the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen. The annual event is coming to Snowmass (at the Lawn and Hill at Base Village) for the first time; previously, it’s only been held in Napa.

At Heritage Fire, forty-five chefs from Colorado and other parts of the nation will showcase all manner of wood-fired, whole animal cookery, from game birds and goat to Highland and Wagyu beef. RBR is contributing “pork, rabbits, ducks, and chickens in addition to as much seasonally-available produce as possible,” says Smith, who feels the event is well-suited to a diversified farming operation like the ranch. Neighbor Mountain Primal Meat Co. will also be supplying American Berkshire hogs for the event. Says Smith, “It’s great to get together with chefs and other like-minded farmers from different geographic regions, and swap information.”

Cochon 555 chef PORK tattoos
Photo 1: Cochon 555 chef camaraderie. Photograph: COCHON 555
Photo 2: Author Miller assists Smith with an RBR pig harvest.

One of RBR’s Large Black hogs will also be featured in the June 20 Grand Cochon butchery demo (the final stop on the tour, in which 10 of the winning chefs duke it out for the title of King or Queen of Porc; this year it will be held at the Viceroy Snowmass during FOOD & WINE weekend, although it’s independent of the festival).

This fall, RBR will again offer pork butchery classes led by Smith in their airy new demo kitchen/classroom (bonus: tasting plates of various meat cuts…if you’re lucky, you’ll get to sample his spectacular meatballs with sauces made from the ranch’s preserved tomatoes). Check their website for dates and pricing.

Interested in purchasing Rock Bottom Ranch pork, lard, or being part of a pig share? Call 970.927.6760 or email jsmith@aspennature.org.

Article from Edible Aspen at http://edibleaspen.ediblecommunities.com/things-do/going-whole-hog
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