Ingredient of the Year 2009

From the hot dog stand Japadog in front of the Sutton Place Hotel on Burrard to the tables at West Fourth’s Fuel, the Berkshire swine (aka the “Rolls-Royce of pigs”) has found a home on dozens of Vancouver menus over the past couple of years. The product of humane raising without antibiotics, hormones, pens, or crates, local Berkshire pork is exquisitely marbled, the integrated fat loading the tender meat with flavours so clean that they bear little relation to the bland “other white meat” produced by factory farms. In Japan it’s called Kurobuta, or “black pig”, and it’s often marketed as such in North America. Though commonly thought of as a singular breed in its own right, a Kurobuta pig is actually a Berkshire pig (with or without the marketing lipstick). The semantics question stems from the 1800s, when British diplomats gave the Japanese several pigs as portly, delicious gifts. These were the most prized of the English heritage breed, and in Kagoshima Prefecture, the same bloodline has been maintained. The pig was later made infamous by George Orwell in his dystopian novel Animal Farm, in which the main villain, Napoleon, was a burly, “fierce-looking” Berkshire, thought by scholars to be a caricature of Stalin (“not much of a talker, but with a reputation for getting his own way”). While Berkshires can be extremely stubborn, jokes Dirk Keller, who maintains much of Vancouver’s supply at his Sloping Hill Farm in Qualicum Beach, “they are not mean at all.” Indeed, he deadpans, “any reference to a person as a ‘pig’ is an insult to pigs.”