the berkshire Distinction
Three hundred years ago - so legend has it - the Berkshire hog was discovered by Oliver Cromwell's army, in winter quarters at Reading, the county seat of the shire of Berks in England. After the war, these veterans carried the news to the outside world of the wonderful hogs of Berks; larger than any other swine of that time and producing hams and bacon of rare quality and flavor.
The excellent carcass quality of the Berkshire hog made him an early favorite with the upper class of English farmers. For years the Royal Family kept a large Berkshire herd at Windsor Castle. A famous Berkshire of a century ago was named Windsor Castle, having been farrowed and raised within sight of the towers of the royal residence. This boar was imported to this country in 1841, creating a stir in the rural press which has seldom been equaled. From these writings, it appears that he must have weighed around 1,000 pounds at maturity. His offspring were praised for their increased size, along with their ability to finish at any age.
According to the best available records, the first Berkshires were brought to this country in 1823. They were quickly absorbed into the general hog population because of the marked improvement they created when crossed with common stock. In 1875, a group of Berkshire breeders and importers met in Springfield, Illinois, to establish a way of keeping the Berkshire breed pure. These agricultural leaders of the day felt the Berkshire should stay pure for improvement of swine already present in the United States and not let it become only a portion of the "Common Hog" of the day. On February 25 of the same year, the American Berkshire Association was founded, becoming the first Swine Registry to be established in the world. This society drew forth an enthusiastic response from men working with the breed both in this country and in England. The first hog ever recorded was the boar, Ace of Spades, bred by Queen Victoria.
The home of the American Berkshire Association is West Lafayette, Indiana. Here, a bedford stone building carries the records and registry of the most influential breed of swine in the history of the world.
Scrumptious taste, succulent texture, incomparable delight
Berkshire pork, also referred to as Kurobuta (meaning “Black Pig” in Japanese,) is visibly different. Its darker, richer colored meat flows with an abundance of intramuscular fat (marbling) which gives the cooked meat an unparalleled juicy, tender and savory flavor. The distinction is so much that in a summary of tests conducted over a 20-year span at the National Barrow Show in Austin, Minnesota, Berkshire pigs scored highest of all major American pure breeds in sensory quality. That’s impressive!
Many will tell you that it’s the intense marbling (fat that accumulates inside the muscle, a.k.a. intramuscular fat or IMF) that makes the Berkshire meat supreme. The truth is, although it consistently ranks very high through multi-breed studies, Berkshires are not the best marbling breed! In fact, that crown gets worn by the Duroc breed (red colored pigs with floppy ears.) So if that’s the case, why do Berkshires still get the glory for superior eating quality?
STOP! If you get bored with science, just know that Berkshire meat is better, because of the way it is. But if you’re not satisfied with that explanation then please, keep reading
The answer actually comes down to something very scientific, pH. That’s right, the acidity of the meat! Take a field trip back to high school and we might remember that blood has a relative pH in the 7's, meaning its fairly neutral. That makes sense since blood is about 50% water and pure water holds a pH value around 7. Those values correlate back to muscle having a pH in the 7's as well. During the harvest process as the blood leaves the muscle the pH starts to decline. The faster the decline and the lower the pH drops (becoming more acidic,) the meat becomes paler in color, softer and starts to lose water. All of those resulting in a poorer eating experience. Berkshires have the unique advantage of a very slow decline and a higher final pH. That’s why Berkshire pork is always so dark and is able to maintain its tenderness and juiciness through the cooking process. Research has also shown that stress levels play a huge role in the ultimate pH of meat. That’s why pigs coming from R Family Farms are always handled using low stress methods… it’s easier on the help too!