For home cooks who love bacon, ribs and chops, there's good news. Through custom butcher shops and farmers markets, consumers can now buy the same artisanal, pasture-raised pork that is served at some of the Bay Area's top restaurants, from A16 in San Francisco to Rosso in Santa Rosa.
Mark Pasternak of Devil's Gulch Ranch in Nicasio and Pete Langley of Langley Farms in Petaluma are the dynamic duo behind DG-Langley Farms Brand pork.
"The chefs rave about the flavor of our pig," said Langley, a Sonoma County native who has been raising pigs since he was 12. "It's definitely distinguishable. It has a richer flavor and more of the marbling."
Pasternak made his name by raising rabbits, but he's also been raising pork at Devil's Gulch since 1971.
"All of your commercial pigs coming out of Iowa have never seen the light of day and never eaten anything that didn't have antibiotics in it," he said. "Our pigs are not factory farmed."
This month, the DG-Langley Farms pork was showcased in dishes created by Napa Valley chefs Cindy Pawlcyn and Jason Kupper during the Cochon 555 competition in Napa.
In addition, DG-Langley Farms provides the pork for the Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg and for chef/owner Charlie Palmer's annual Pigs & Pinot event, now in its ninth year. This year's sold-out Pigs & Pinot fundraiser will take place March 21 and 22 at the Hotel Healdsburg and adjacent venues.
"Mark is one of the most passionate pig farmers I've ever worked with," Palmer said. "Knowing the source of your product is paramount around the country right now, but nowhere more so than in Sonoma County."
Both Langley and Pasternak cross-breed heritage pigs such as Berkshire, Gloucestershire, Old Spot, Duroc and Yorkshire for bigger, healthier offpspring.
"When you combine two different breeds, it promotes a little more growth," Langley said. "So you get the best of both worlds."
Once the piglets are weaned at their home ranches, they are moved to two Petaluma pastures, where they are finished on a combination of grass, milk, spent grain, bread and tortillas.
"When you put them out on pasture and open land, they get more exercise, and you have to keep them fed really well," Langley said. "It makes a happier pig."
DG-Langley Farms sends about 5 to 20 pigs a week to be harvested in the Central Valley. The pigs range from small, 80-pound roasters to large, 270-pounders.
"The chefs like them bigger than the standard for the commercial industry," Langley said. "They like more fat coverage, to add flavor to the meat."
At Green Goose Farm in Petaluma, Roy Smith and Rebecca Black raise pigs not only for food but to condition the land, turning the grasses and annual oats into a perennial pasture.
"The pig has a plow in the front and a manure spreader in the back end," Smith said. "They do the work for us."
Like other local pork producers, Smith feeds his pigs with products gleaned from local breweries, creameries and produce markets.