A few passionate farmers have kept traditional pig breeds going, feeling that the superior flavour of the meat and the truly wonderful individual characteristics of the breeds make for a far more pleasurable farming life. Having been something of a rarity, these pigs are becoming more popular now, because of their rarity the gene pool is far smaller than it was 100 years ago, which makes it more of a challenge. By carefully crossing breeds, a process that is known as 'hybrid vigour' steps in, increasing both litter sizes and the strength of the piglets. Each breed has its own special quality that is important for the final meat. Some have long backs for excellent bacon, others produce the best cuts for roasting; some have wide, strong bums for fine hams others have meat-to-fat ratio that makes fantastic sausages, pies and charcuterie.
It is important for pigs to have a generous amount of fat, as this is vital for sausages, bacon, ham, charcuterie and roasting joints. During cooking the fat provides sweetness and moisture. You may not have known that throughout the year, the amount of fat on a pig varies, so the meat changes seasonally. In the summer, pigs don't have as much fat, but in the winter, they lay down more to help them keep warm.
Pork is best cooked on the bone with its fat, as both bones and fat deepen the flavour and enrich the final dish. The Importance of pork fat cannot be underestimated, not only does it intensify the flavour, it bastes the meat as it cooks and prevents it from drying out. So, never trim the fat off before cooking! You can always take it off before eating if you prefer.
If cooked properly and slowly, pork fat will melt, seep through the meat and then disappear into the cooking juices from where it can be skimmed off, leaving a sweet and tender, juicy piece of pork.
All too often meat comes at a suspiciously bargain price. With meat, there is no such thing as a bargain. Cheap meat will always come with a compromise, both to the animal's quality of life and to the flavour and quality.
FORE END CUTS
As is the case with all animals, the meat closer to the front of the pig is the sweetest tasting. This is because most of the pig's weight is carried by the front legs, and most of the body's movement takes place at the front of the pig, with its head, neck and front legs. All this constant exercise bulks up the muscles and adds fat marbling throughout. The meat from this area - with all the connective tissues around its complex muscle structure - needs to be cooked long and slow to break down the muscles. The extra fat adds flavour and melts through the meat to increase moisture and give it a juicy, tender flavour. In short, the front of the pig gives great, sweet-tasting meat that is good value.
Pigs have exceptionally long backs and occasionally one extra rib, called a floating rib. The middle of the pig offers great quality meat in the upper part of the body and of course the wonderful belly, which is very popular roasted with its crispy crackling, or cured and turned into streaky bacon.
HIND END CUTS
The rear of the pig has less fat running through the meat and this part is used to make the classic British ham. You can also roast the back leg, but careful attention is needed so that the meat doesn't dry out during cooking due to the lack of marbled fat within the muscles.