Portrait of the Ossabaw as a young pig.Photo courtesy Colonial WilliamsburgIt sounds like a fairy tale: Some Spanish hogs, brought over by Spanish colonists in the sixteenth century, take over an island off the coast of Georgia and run wild there for hundreds of years. Feral and boarlike, they are also about the best tasting pork imaginable, and cousins to the world’s most celebrated ham. Is it a fable, conjured by the heated imagination of foodies? Or an eye-opening truth, as irrefutable as a piece of gamey and rich roast pork? We’re happy to say that it’s the latter. Bev Eggleston, of Eco-Friendly Foods in Virginia, has started selling his amazing pork to a handful of New York restaurants, and soon he may be giving the Spanish a run for their money in the ham business.
Eggleston’s Ossabaw pork, both pure and cross-bred with other heritage species of pork, tastes like the wild pastures it comes from. The pigs forage for themselves on the Virginia farm, eating anything that tastes good, and run freely in open spaces, getting good muscle tone. (They’re finished on either milk and whey or acorns.) Boqueria chef Seamus Mullen calls it “the best pork I’ve ever eaten,” and other very discerning meat men, among them Gramercy Tavern’s Michael Anthony, Savoy’s Peter Hoffman, and Fiamma’s Fabio Trabocchi, all swear by the stuff. “Our pigs are really special,” Eggleston says. “The chefs in New York know it, and I’m going need to ramp up our operation to keep up with all the calls I’m getting.” Meanwhile, since the Ossabaw pigs are genetic cousins to the Iberico pigs of Spain, an American version of the wildly fetishized jamon Iberico should be coming out of Eggleston’s piggy paradise soon. For our part, having eaten the Ossabaw fresh, we could live without the ham entirely. Still, we’d be glad to see Spain lose its pork primacy. We consider ourselves patriots, after all.