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Ossabaw hogs offer a history lesson that's anything but dry

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Concepts like the preservation of genetic diversity, or the value of the hardiness of a breed, are often starters in a conversation about heritage breed livestock. But really? Dry, and rather academic, these ideas. If you've got some special pigs that taste good, you've got our attention. The Ossabaw hog is just that pig.

Ossabaws came to the new world with Spanish explorers in the 1500s, and somehow got left behind on an island in Georgia. Despite the limited resources found on an island, the hogs thrived. They became adapted to the cycles of scarcity and plenty by storing large amounts of fat. When farm-raised, this trait means well-marbled, red meat. The pigs are perhaps no beauties (dwarfed, with pointy ears, and long snouts), but their square shoulders mean a very tasty smoked picnic ham.

Humans have historically tried to prevent the cycles of feast and famine that all nature had to endure by preserving food when it was plentiful, to consume when it was scarce. Smoking and curing are methods that are still used today for the preservation of meat. Today, these methods are popular because they offer us unique flavors, which is exactly what is done at an Indianapolis company called Smoking Goose. Products described here are available for on-line order.

Smoking Goose got their Ossabaw hogs from Connor Prairie, an interactive history park just north of Indianapolis in Fishers, Ind., where different periods of the 19th century are re-enacted. Smoking Goose will cure and age these cuts for anytime from a week to a year.

Bacon, for example, was made from pork belly, and cured under sea salt, flavored with root beer syrup, for a week. Petite, bone-in Ossabaw hams were cured with sea salt, cane and brown sugar, mustard seeds, and black peppercorns. Both were then smoked, the ham with persimmon, the bacon with persimmon and cherry. The bacon is then ready. The hams will age for 11 to 12 months.

Brasolara sausage is the latest Ossabaw product, aging now, and scheduled to be ready soon. Organic white wine, sea salt, black pepper, garlic, and orange zest were added to ground Ossabaw pork shoulder, then placed in natural casings. This is an example of a salumi, an Italian word we might describe as a cold cut. Brasolara ages and cures for nine months.

History plays an important part throughout the process. The history of the breed, the animal, and the final product, are all ingredients in the rich flavors offered.

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