By Chris Dunn
Slow-braised Pork Butt Ragu on Polenta, second course at Farm, Food, Friends and Family.
Sunday night, the Jason Dady Restaurant Group presented an outdoor evening of "Farm, Food, Friends, and Family" at the Floresville farm of Mark and Kelley Escobedo, owners of South Texas Heritage Pork.
"Our purpose here is to celebrate the taste and style of the pork they produce," said Dady. "They're the best pigs in the state."
First course: Ham and biscuits with Honey Butter.
A congregation of crossbred English Tamworth and Large Black hogs, oblivious to his praise, blissfully rooted in the background while chef /restaurateur Dady, his brother, Jake, and several volunteer sous-chefs prepared and passed hors d'oeuvres to the 47 people lucky enough to have a place at the table for this event.
The appetizers, which could have been a satisfying meal in themselves, included pork belly spring rolls with cilantro, mint, basil and nectarines; thin slices of braised pork belly wrapped loin; mini BLT sandwiches with the salty crunch of bacon and the tender sweetness of tomato confit; lardo (yes, pure pork fat) on toast; and one of the evening's highlights—pork meatballs with bacon, pears, apples, guanciale (pork cheek) and fennel.
Realizing the mountain of pork I had yet to scale, I took a break and chatted with Kelley Escobedo about the farm. "Taking care of pigs is simple, but not easy," she said, explaining that the animals only require "food, water, shade, and shelter," but providing for them takes time and attention. "We listen to the animals, and they tell us what they need."
Kelly Escobedo and chef Jason Dady
The Escobedos started raising hogs with the goal of providing healthier and more natural food options for their family. This led to the discovery of heritage breeds, which have largely been abandoned by corporate breeders as not being suited to confinement pens and large scale production.
"Because we weren't farmers, we had no preconceived notions," said Escobedo, adding that it worked to their advantage being open to non-conventional farming practices. She pointed out that even though we were standing 10 feet away from a dozen hogs, there was no odor, because when the animals are unconfined and eat a natural diet, they lead cleaner and healthier lives.
The first course arrived. House-cured smoked ham, buttermilk biscuits with honey butter, and two fruit jams—black pepper and plum, and lavender and pear—what could be better than breakfast for dinner?
The second course was Slow Braised Pork Butt Ragu with Dutch Oven Polenta, Cherry Tomato Confit, Blue Cheese and Red Onion Marmalade. Dady pointed out that the ragu itself was very simple, focusing on the rich flavor of the meat. The juices pooled around the meat and polenta had the mouth-feel of demi-glace.
The third course was served family style—large bowls of rustic, mustardy potato salad, locally grown squash and okra, and heaping platters of sous vide pork chops, cheeks, loins, and legs. It was more than anyone could eat; luckily, Dady provided containers for guests to take the leftovers home.
Approaching our porcine limit, we were presented one more course—Pig Cobbler—that featured scone nougat made with pork lard topped with braised late harvest peaches, nectarines and vanilla Chantilly cream. Through a pork fat fog I seem to remember it was delicious.
The evening turned out to be an exploration of pork's potential; what can be achieved in humane and sustainable agricultural practices and what can be gained in return. Looking at the sun setting behind a group of happy pigs and people, Dady beamed, "This is what we live for."
South Texas Heritage Pork is widely available in San Antonio, including The Quarry Farmers Market, The Pearl Farmer's Market, and at several restaurants.
Photographs by Chris Dunn
South Texas Heritage Hogs