Did you know that you now only have to cook pork to 145 degrees? I didn’t either, but it was one of the cool facts I learned when I was invited to go on an Oink Outing this summer. Oink Outings…I just love saying it…are day-long events that are put on by the Minnesota Pork Board to help educate the public about how pork gets from the farm to the table safely. Each outing consists of a small group of bloggers or moms who have some social influence, employees of the Minnesota Pork Board, hosts from the farms that are toured, and executive chefs from some of the best restaurants in the Twin Cities.
My Oink Outing was held on a Tuesday in June (I know-I procrastinate). Our group, four bloggers and two moms that are part of a running club, were joined by hosts Mary Langhorst and her son Lincoln from the Peter Marcus Farm in Lafayette, Minnesota. We met at The Hilton in downtown Minneapolis, where The Hilton’s Executive Chef, Julian Grainger, first gave us a cooking demonstration and then a behind the scenes tour of The Hilton’s kitchens. Fascinating stuff! This place serves presidents and dignitaries from all over the world, from as few as 500 meals per day, to 8,000!
Chef Julian Grainger of the Minneapolis Hilton, giving us cooking lesson.
Chef Julian was amazing! He showed us how easy it is to make Banh Mi Pork Tian, and then he fed us a wonderful lunch. First, there was a cool Watermelon and Feta Salad with Crispy Prosciutto and a Balsamic Reduction--very refreshing--then the Banh Mi Pork Tian. Dessert was a scrumptious Candied Pecan and Bacon Ice Cream topped with, of all things, a Bacon Lollipop! I took copious notes, that I have yet to decipher. Luckily, Chef Julian was gracious enough to share the pork recipe and I made it into some awesome Asian Pork Tacos. I will share that recipe with you at the end of the post.
The first course.....
Banh Mi Pork Tian...the delicious entree served to us by Chef Julian.
Can you believe this ice cream? Candied pecans and bacon...then topped with more bacon. Pure pork love. :)
After such a great meal, we were ready for the main part of our Oink Outing. Chef Julian joined us, as we piled into a mini-van and made our way to the Peter Marcus Farm, an hour and a half south of the Twin Cities. Now, I'll be honest with you, I wasn't sure what to expect. There are so many concerns these days with the safety of our food that I wanted to see the source, but the skeptic in me had a few doubts that we would see the real deal. It turns out, there was no need for doubt.
One of the main objectives of the Oink Outing project is to provide transparency as to what happens on a daily basis on the farm. The folks from the Minnesota Pork Board and our hosts, the Langhorsts, encouraged us to ask any questions throughout the tour, no matter how tough. We were allowed to use our cameras and nothing was hidden.
The first thing that impressed me, upon our arrival at the farm, was that the smell was kept to a minimum. This is thanks to an air filtration system. With that, and the climate controlled building, the pigs are kept happy and comfortable.
Impressive also is the procedure for entering the pig barns. This was no casual thing. Questions were asked and answered (we had agreed beforehand, not to visit any other farms or zoos for at least 3 days before the tour), and then we were given coveralls, boots, and a bar of soap to wash up. The health of the pigs is of utmost importance--viruses travel quickly and can be devastating. So, we suited up (Mary Langhorst actually showered, since she had been in contact with other animals) and we started in the farrowing (or birthing) barn.
We left our dirty street shoes on the other side of "the bench" before we donned some boots.
We stepped into the farrowing barn just a few minutes short of actually seeing piglets being born. The sows were all comfy in their stalls and were in various stages of birthing. The surprising thing for me was all of the planning that goes into these births, from the conception (Lincoln Langhorst gave a pretty good explanation of that process--in the most scientific terms, of course), to the timing of the births, to the length of time the piglets are kept with their mothers. The tiny piglets we saw (and held!) were just a few minutes old, and they each had their favorite teat. Different colored stripes on the piglets' backs help to keep track of which shots they had been given.
The piggies clamor for food...the one with a blue stripe has already had a vaccination.
Here, I get to hold a twenty minute old piglet.
Cute at any age...
We had a lot of information about the raising of pigs to discuss on our trip back to the cities. In the end, we saw the dedication and the care given to the animals at the farm, and we were impressed with the operations of the entire facility and the openness of our hosts. Consider this: Our pork supply has never been as safe and as healthy as it has been in the last 15 years. That could not have been possible without ethical and humane treatment of the animals and strict safety measures.
A couple of facts:
1. Minnesota is the second largest pork producing state, second only to Iowa. Part of the reason for this is economics...the farms are located near corn producing farms, so feed is nearby.
2. The pig farm tours are just one of the ways the Minnesota Pork Board gets their message to the public. This year booths were set up at several farmer's markets around the Twin Cities with Pork Board employees answering questions. For each question asked, a pound of ground pork was donated to Second Harvest Heartland. This year 1860 pounds of meat was donated!
Our Oink Outing Group
I'll leave you with some links to some sites that have far more information about Minnesota Pig Farming than I can remember to provide. But first, let me share the recipes for Chef Julian's Sweet Soy Pork and Napa Slaw. I combined the two to make an incredible Asian Pork Taco.
Sweet Soy Pork (adapted from Chef Julian Grainger)
3-4# pork--picnic shoulder, butt, loin, or tenderloin
1 cup sweet soy
1/2 cup water
Rub the pork all over with the sweet soy.
Place in a 10" baking dish
Add water to the pan, cover with plastic wrap (seriously! plastic wrap--it won't melt), and then foil.
Bake at 375 degrees F. for 2 hours. Pork should shred when pulled apart with a fork.
This is sweet soy sauce. You can find it in the Asian section of your grocery store, or at an Asian market.
I chose to put the pork in a crock pot (7-8 hours on medium-low) instead of baking it and it turned out great. I did put the 1/2 cup of water in the crock pot, but it made the sauce a little watery, so I probably wouldn't use it the next time.
1/2 cup red pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1 cup shredded Napa cabbage
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/2 cup rice vinegar
Combine all ingredients, toss, refrigerate.
The Peter Marcus Farm is part of a network of "farrow to wean" farms that make up Wakefield Pork, Inc.
For more information on Minnesota Pork Producers visit The Minnesota Pork Board.
Keep up with future Oink Outing events by visiting the Oink Outing Facebook page or the Oink Outings Blog.
Disclosure: I was given a stipend to cover expenses for taking part in an Oink Outings tour. As always, my opinions are my own.