Chewing the fat over pork eating quality

It was noon on a cold, foggy day and I fancied a hot pork roll.
I’d had one the previous week – a brown seeded roll with hot pork, stuffing, apple sauce and a bit of crackling on the side. The pork had been succulent and full of flavour.

Only this time, the pork was tough, dry and tasteless, like chewing cardboard. Every description we recognise from consumers who don’t choose to eat pork. I haven’t been so keen to go back for thirds. Once bitten, twice shy.

Eating quality is key to encouraging a repeat-buy. But the major challenge for the pig industry lies in the fact that the quality can be affected at any stage of the process: production, slaughter, processing or cooking.
Caroline Kealey, JSR’s director of meat science, discussed the need for a whole-chain approach at December’s Young NPA National meeting in London, titled ‘The Consumer is King’.

A crucial element of this discussion was that ‘fat equals flavour’.
The theory is that increasing intramuscular fat levels significantly improves the acceptability of pork to the consumer. Caroline agreed with calls by AHDB to move the pork pricing structure away from incentivising low back fat levels and towards encouraging traits that improve eating quality.
This call was supported by Mark Hayward, of Dingley Dell Pork, who had worked with Caroline to transform his breeding, using a 75 per cent Duroc cross and management of pigs to produce animals with high levels of intramuscular fat.

The theory is that increasing the intramuscular fat levels significantly improves the acceptability of pork to the consumer

In doing so, he transformed his business and now supplies some of the foodservice industry’s biggest names at home and abroad.
He said: “One day I asked myself, ‘am I a pig producer?’ No I am not, I am a food producer. That changed my thoughts on everything. Taste should be my number one priority.”

Boar taint was among the additional factors addressed by Caroline. She stressed that the worst thing a processor could do with tainted pork was to cure it.
She also said that the problem in the UK was being worsened by imports from Denmark, where a leading official has openly admitted to a policy of exporting boar taint-infected pork to the UK and Germany.

The cook is an important figure, too, she argued. Caroline highlighted the need to educate the public on how to properly cook pork and, in particular, to avoid over-cooking it.

The meeting sparked plenty of debate on what solutions might be found, while the main messages included: we shouldn’t forget we are food producers as well as pig farmers and guardians of our environment; we need to be brave and innovative in meeting ever-evolving challenges; and that, fundamentally, we need to work together throughout the chain to reduce the likelihood of a bad pork roll discouraging a repeat buy.

Lizzie Bentley is Young NPA North regional chair and technical support manager for Yorkshire Farmers.

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