Pork that comes from a relatively rare breed of pig that has been raised in humane and environmentally friendly conditions for a number of generations.
The French-inspired menu will change often, as Slone and Locci hope to follow in the tradition of their predecessor by using seasonal, local ingredients. The chef also puts an emphasis on high-quality meats. Dinner began with an amuse bouche crafted from mushrooms with truffle oil and fava beans. Pan-seared Niman Ranch beef fillet rested on a bed of spinach with delicate but crisp-coated mashed potatoes alongside. Tender roasted Berkshire heirloom pork was paired with dried cherries, smoked pecans and white bean ragout.
—"What's New," San Francisco Chronicle, April 30, 2003
Last week, for only the second time in my life, I tasted pork so delicious it needed no seasoning beyond salt and pepper. Both times the meat was superior heirloom pork, suffused with a bright, clean flavor, with none of the unpleasant aftertaste pork often has. Not coincidentally, both pieces came from pigs raised in a manner vastly different from that of ordinary supermarket pork.
The first time I had heirloom pork was at Cabbage Hill Farm in Westchester County, which is dedicated to saving historic breeds.
The pork I had last week, at Gramercy Tavern, is available by mail and will eventually be in some New York City grocery stores. Sold under the brand Niman Ranch, which is known for its fine beef, the pork had first been described to me several months ago in terms of its environmental soundness rather than its taste.
The pigs are raised on small family farms, not indoors at factory farms that are similar to modern-day chicken houses, with thousands of animals kept close together. Because the Niman pigs are raised in pastures instead of indoors, their waste products return to the soil naturally, the company says, instead of creating environmental problems.
—Marian Burros, "Pork With a Pedigree," The New York Times, September 22, 1999
Heirloom pork is an example of a heritage breed (1993), a breed that has not undergone genetic modification, via either genetic engineering or selective breeding. (Headline writers like to refer to these breeds as antique animals.) Most modern pigs have been genetically modified to enhance characteristics that maximize profit, although these characteristics usually reduce the animals' taste and, to a lesser extent, their nutritional value. For example, the variety of pig grown on most farms today has been modified to produce less fat. This gives more meat per pound -- and hence more profit -- but the resulting pork has less taste.
Similar phrases I've seen are heirloom chicken (1993), heirloom cattle (1998), and heirloom cows (2002).