It's always fun to discover interesting new farms in Iowa. Some are organic vegetable farms, others grow a variety of berries. Some are a century old, and others run by young farmers. Some attract tourists and other attract the national media. Rustik Rooster Farms is not very close to the Little Lake House, in fact, it's quite a haul, but hearing about this farm and seeing Carl Blake on television and at Iowa's EntreFest 2014 piqued my interest, and the foodie in me had to know more! Carl had amazing stories to share- about the internet, his family, and his "self-therapy" system of planting 2,000 tomato plants with a crutch and his casted foot. He is a fascinating person. But the big reason Carl is where he is today is because of hogs.
Carl Blake runs a hog farm. Doesn't sound like the most glamorous thing to many people, but in his case, he raises a very rare and unique hog, the Iowa Swabian Hall hog. What's so special about this pig? Everything! A very rare "heritage" breed, the Swabian Hall hog is known for its rich, red meat that's well marbled, more like beef than pork. Carl has spent considerable time breeding hogs to have exactly the right characteristics as their ancestors from 100-plus years ago. In fact, Carl says that pork really is NOT meant to be the super lean "white" meat we know today. Instead of the mass-produced everyday pig, Carl's hogs are a unique breeding of Chinese Meishan pig and the muscular Ossabaw pig, very much like the German Schwabish- Hallisches Schwein.
|Carl Blake talks with Andy Stoll at Iowa's EntreFest 2014.|
|The hogs are almost too cute to eat!|
Rustik Rooster Farm is a 15 acre, 1881 farmstead north of Waterloo, in Frederika, Iowa. Here Carl's 400 or so hogs are free to graze and wander the farm doing, well, what pigs do- root around in the grass and soil, and eat. They eat hydroponically grown barley that's raised on the premises, grasses and grains. This wonderful environment helps contribute to exactly what Carl wants- the best tasting pig in the world.
|Andrew Zimmern spends quality time with the hogs|
These award-winning hogs are big favorites of chefs all over the country. Des Moines' Centro executive chef Derek Eidson praised the Swabian Hall hog for it's incredible fat, which he compares to olive oil. Chefs in Wisconsin, Denver, Chicago, meat markets in Minnesota, all rave about the pork and it's unusual qualities. Charcuterers have also taken notice, crafting pancetta and prosciutto like no other pork. There is a considerable waiting list to even get a hog from the farm, and these chefs all agree, it is more than worth the wait.
|Prosciutto made from Swabian Hall pork|
What is in the future for Rustik Rooster? How about a house-made charcuterie range, expanded operation and a shorter waiting list for these fantastic hogs? Carl has big plans for the future and something tells me a lot of people are anxiously waiting! If you are lucky enough to live near or visit Des Moines, you may be able to taste some of this amazing meat at Centro or Django in downtown Des Moines. These restaurants feature the Swabian Hall hog whenever they can.
***All photos property of and courtesy of Rustik Rooster, except EntreFest photo.