Pork has had some tough times over the past decade: if it wasn't a religious taboo, it was associated with poor hygiene and suffered a reputation as the ultimate bad-for-you food. But recently, restaurants have been helping the pig make a strong comeback, feeding an increasing appetite for all things porcine, from lardo to speck to regional-style barbecue.
Heritage breed pigs, old European stock with names like Gloucestershire Old Spot and Tamworth, have a currency among chefs. "It just tastes better," David Chang, the chef-owner of Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village, said as he extolled the virtues of Berkshire pork, raised, like the others, on independent farms. "I compare it to having fresh-squeezed orange juice versus concentrated." The roasted bones infuse the broth for his ramen, served with a confit of pork shoulder and pork belly cooked in smoked pork fat.
At Heritage Foods USA, a purveyor of rare-breed poultry, pigs and other livestock, the cultivation of this old stock is wed to 21st-century technology. Its "traceable label" provides online access to data about every pig it sells, from what the animal ate to where it was raised and slaughtered. Patrick Martins, a founder of the company, sees this transparency as an answer to the environmental, ethical and health issues that have clouded commercial pork production.
"Undeniably, this is the future of food," said Mark Ladner, the chef and a partner at Del Posto, the latest addition to the Batali-Bastianich empire. Formerly the chef at Lupa in Greenwich Village, Ladner says he will use heritage breeds at Del Posto when it opens this fall.
The current passion for pork has no better exponent than the writer Peter Kaminsky, whose recent book, "Pig Perfect," chronicles an eight-year quest for swine splendor. Online, a cadre of niche food blogs, like Bacontarian, the Bacon Show and I Heart Bacon, profess their devotion with recipes, news and reviews.
Pork is also making an impact on art and design.
The artist Victoria Reynolds finds beauty in marbled pork flesh, which she meticulously renders in paintings that, in their richness of color, recall the work of the old masters. There are kitschy bacon bandages by Accoutrements, and also bacon bracelets, an ironic take on meat as apparel by Thwart Design. And harnessing what he calls bacon's "primal aroma,"
Matty Sallin, a graduate student at New York University, has engineered an alarm clock that cooks a slice of bacon in lieu of ringing a buzzer.
Even the National Pork Board has taken note of the pig's new cachet. After 20 years of promoting pork as a chicken alternative, it has adopted a marketing campaign that boldly commands, "Don't be blah." The other white meat is the new black.