Australian Pork: Paddock to Plate Farm Visit
The World Loves Melbourne's has always had a love affair with Australian Pork and we were privileged to visit Western Plains Pork farm in Mt Mercer, Western Victoria (150km from Melbourne) to see first hand the farm practices and conditions that lead to quality pork. Like many foodies, we are always on the search for the best produce.
Let's face it, most people want to know more about their food these days. We want to know where it comes from and the story behind it. "Paddock to Plate" has been a catch cry. By this we are looking for sustainable and quality farming practices and little interference when it comes to getting the product to the plate. We have to say we've never been to a large pig farm like this; we were excited for the opportunity. For us Western Plains Pork is well known among foodies in Melbourne; and to see the heart of the operation was a privilege.
The World Loves Melbourne went on a fabulous and eye opening farm tour with Judy Croagh the Marketing Director of Western Plains Pork, and Mitch Edwards the Marketing and PR Manager of Australian Pork (both pictured above).
Tim and Judy Croagh have been farming on the Western Plains for about 19 years (farm property above) and have seen many changes in the industry. With a premium produce Judy recalls the early days when she went around knocking on doors and introducing herself and her premium pork to the top chefs of Melbourne. "Even a decade ago pork wasn't featured on many Melbourne menus." But in recent years there's been a huge rise in consumption of pork, and savvier cooking of pork by Melbourne chefs.
Pigs are "outdoor bred" at Western Plains Pork; this impressed The World Loves Melbourne to see pigs roaming around in large spaces. They looked healthy pigs to us!
Today in many top Melbourne restaurants you'll see various popular pork dishes; pork belly, pork ribs, pork roast, pork jowl, suckling pig and other pork dishes. Melbourne can't get enough. Pork marketing has also evolved - the campaign by Australian Pork of #porkonyourfork and other campaigns have been a huge success.
We've seen a wave of pork dishes in Melbourne over recent years and the wave continues to grow. We at The World Loves Melbourne love some decent crackling with tender pork, or some high-class ribs with a decent dry rub or marinade. Slow cooked pork is amazing; often we are eating 12-hour cooked pork from a "Smoker". Or the fatty bliss of the jowl (there's much skill in cooking this). We love it all! We drool at an Asian inspired pork dish with zesty flavours.
Not only that but there is a huge growth in cooking pork at home. And of late there's a rise in BBQ pork cooked at home. We see more and more BBQ judging competitions across Victoria. Pork is on the rise and rise.
The Caramelised sticky pork dish at Chin Chin (an example of Asian inspired pork dish with zesty flavours) has been a favourite...
As has the Pork ribs with dry rub at San Antone in Crown.
And new restaurant Rock Sugar also brings out the best of Asian inspired pork dishes.
ShangDong MaMa has in recent years some of the best pork dumplings in town...
Yes, we have a love affair with pork. So to visit the farm at Western Plains Pork in Mt Mercer and see how quality pork is produced was a highlight. The freshest tastiest pork comes from quality farming practices.
The World Loves Melbourne met with farmers who have a passion for excellence in farming - no short cuts. Judy was a delightful host, driving us around the farm to look at all aspects from baby pigs and Eco-shelters to the computerised feed for the mature pigs (the technology involved in farming is amazing). Not only is the feeding process automated but each pig has a tag and the exact feed they need is given to them. Judy spoke of their amazing staff who keep long hours to give the pigs and farming process the utmost attention.
Countryside here is beautiful. The Western Plains are something else. The lake here has filled to capacity after recent rains - from around 30% to 100% in 24 hours! Water is pumped from here for the pigs to drink.
Paddock to Plate may seem a simple concept but there's a bit to it. This concept refers to the total stages of food production – from origin (farm), to processor (abattoir), to retailer, to consumer. Food security, freshness, seasonality, and farm economics (sustainability) are the key issues associated with paddock-to-plate.
"Quality farming practices" and "freshness" of the meat when it reaches the consumer’s table are a big deal. No mucking around here. You get the best of pork and the freshest of pork; no keeping in sheds for days on end.
In Australia all unprocessed, fresh pork is locally produced, whilst locally processed pork products (i.e. ham, bacon, small goods) are identifiable by the Australian PorkMark Program with its distinctive pink square logo.
Today, consumers are better informed and more conscious of where their food comes from and how it is prepared/grown/transported/stored/packaged/sold. The pork industry has many farms that are leading the way in terms of sustainable farming practices and animal welfare.
Sustainability is a key. Western Plains in particular has developed a 9-year paddock lifecycle system that prevents the build up of nutrients that can compromise the water table. Judy showed us the different paddocks, including somewhere once there were pigs and now there are crops! How cool is that! A commitment to being carbon neutral is also significant.
The freshest, tastiest Australian pork comes from high quality farming methods. In Australia we have both intensive farming (where grower pigs are kept inside in sheds) and outdoor bred (pigs in open paddocks). Our intensive pork industry adheres to world-class standards, and free-range/outdoor bred pork farms are growing in popularity – especially with chefs and butchers who buy direct to ensure the freshest and best pork cuts are served to their customers. To see all this was amazing! Next time we consume a tasty pork dish (probably tomorrow) we will appreciate what goes into a premium producer from places like Western Plains Pork.