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DAN BARBER is the Chef of Blue Hill, a restaurant in Manhattan's West Village, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, located within the nonprofit farm and education center, Stone Barns[…]

Dan Barber: The importance of fat and old-world breeding methods.

Question: Why does your port taste better?


Dan Barber: Well the farmers do sort of this, I don’t know, old world breeding, which is they have a boar and a sow, so they do natural breeding. Like 99 percent of the breeding of pigs, for one it happens with a lot of animals. But with pigs specifically it’s done with frozen semen. It’s basically artificial insemination. So they have these super boars of which there’s like something like 2,000 super boars that they take the semen from.

And that gets impregnated into these sows in the industrial level because they don’t . . . they want the good genetics, and there are certain boars that have been bred to be great producers – “producers” meaning their offspring grow quickly. They have good fat to meat ration, etc., etc. – whatever the industry is looking for. That’s the other white meat. That’s where the other white meat is coming from – from frozen semen of a very select few boars. And so the natural way of course to do it is to get a boar and a sow together, and a sow when she’s in heat, and have them . . . have them work that way. But that’s a hard thing to do.

It’s a frustrating job because you gotta get the sow when she’s in heat, and the boar revved up, and it’s gotta work. And you know there are some complications there, so that’s sort of old world farming. Does it produce better flavor? Well I would argue that it does, but it would be a tough argument because there are other people who would say, “Well why wouldn’t you get the super boars? That’s what they’re bred for.” And it’s a no-brainer when you’re an educational facility. That’s part of the reason we do it. We’re an educational facility, so we’re there to show how it’s done. But I would argue that the flavor is better because you can control your future stock when you know your boar. So you can choose your boar, you can choose your sow, and you can marry that together. And you can through patience, through time, through generations increase the quality of your meat just by getting to know your meat.

And that’s what we’re there for, and that’s the exciting part about it. When you buy off the Internet – go to – you can get frozen semen. And you can . . . You can use that, but it . . . But you really don’t know what you’re getting, and you don’t know what you’re introducing to your farm. And so in this way you’re in a closed system. And it seems to me to be a much more interesting way, and for me flavorful way to farm for the future.



Question: How important is fat?


Dan Barber: Yeah. I mean you know the other white meat – basically they’ve gone in the other direction. They’ve tried to work out any fat because basically in the ‘70s chicken . . . the chicken industry exploded. And it was lean, white meat, and it took away . . . It directly impacted the pork industry, so the pork industry launched this enormous effort in the ‘80s to bring back sales. And they did it by . . . with the slogan, “The other white meat.” And that was basically to breed out the fat and to get the other lean white meat, which was cheaper and supposedly delicious. And more healthful for you and whatnot. So we’ve lost a tremendous amount of breeding knowledge of a stock of pigs that provide fat. When you have intra-muscular fat and fat, you have tons of flavor because the fat carries the flavor.

So what we’re doing is breeding older varieties of pigs that have a lot of flavor. They grow slower and they’re a little bit more difficult to raise. And you can’t raise them in this confinement factory facility, so it’s more expensive; but it’s delicious, and it’s much better for the environment, and there are studies that show that it’s much better for you, so on all three. But you know the trick, it seems to me here, with just looking at the overall gestalt of this thing is like that flavor is the leader. Now if you had one of the farmers sitting here, he might argue – and I think pretty passionately. Well if you had the animal farmer he’d probably argue pretty passionately that it’s the humanity of the pig that they’re after so that the best life of the pig is what his goal is.

And knowing the vegetable farmer, Jack, he’d probably say something like it’s the ecology. It’s about the environment. It’s about you want to encourage all the flora and the fauna, and it all relates. It’s one ecosystem and one mini ecosystem, and that’s what you’re after. And food is important . . . The quality of the food is important in there, but you’re gonna have to . . . ___________. And so . . . So me like my father always said, like to a shoe man there’s nothing like leather, right? So to me like . . . On this place like there’s nothing like the best _________ of food.

I don’t want to say I win in this. I think we all win, because if you lead with flavor; if you lead with the flavor of the pork or the carrot, and you backtrack, you’re gonna end up having to practice the best ecological stewardship. You’re gonna have to have the best biology in the soil; the best nutrient density in the soil because otherwise you don’t get the flavor. For that pig you’re gonna have to do the best breeding practices, which are gonna lead to the best ecological conditions for the pig and the best humanity. So this idea that flavor, and hedonism, and delicious food runs amuck to environmental stewardship and . . . and humane treatment of animals, and even making money, is a false choice. It’s the same thing. And that’s why I believe strongly that chefs . . . You know chefs can lead this in the future because our . . . our leather is good flavor. It’s hedonism.

And that’s what we’re talking about here with all of this is hedonism, and why the message seems to me to be so strong for the future, and why people are catching on. Because it’s not about . . . It’s not about sacrifice. You know it’s not about a religious kind of thing where you have to give up something to find a sense of fulfillment. In fact it’s the opposite. You do more of the hedonistic, pleasurable eating experience, and you’re doing better. So if you’re after the best flavor, it’s axiomatic that the best ecological practices, environmental practices are gonna be in hand. They’re not far behind.

And the most humane treatment of the landscape and of the animals is not far behind, and also the best economy. You know it is a false assumption that really flavorful food is expensive food. It’s not. It’s really not, and we prove that at Stone Barns every day. You know the cost of doing business in agriculture is about distribution. It is not about the actual agriculture, the actual growing. If the farmers were the ones getting rich in our big food chain, it’d be a whole different story. They’re not. They’re struggling to get by. It’s the middlemen – the men who are distributing; who have the power of distribution, and the sellers in the marketplace – that make the money. The value you add to the product or make the money just in pure distribution in economies of scale. It’s never about the . . . the number of carrots that you can take out of the ground per acre. So economy, ecology, flavor – they’re all one and the same. And I think that’s a powerful message for the future because it’s not about giving up something. It’s about doing more of the same.


February 11, 2008