Recently Beecher's cheese magnate Kurt Dammeier set 15 piglets on a decidedly high-fat diet, feeding them whey until each animal grew to over 200 pounds.
Dammeier, the owner of Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, Maximus Minimus food truck, and Bennett’s Pure Food Bistro (as well as two other forthcoming spots), recently acquired local meat supplier NW Earth and Ocean and renamed it Fraunhofer Meat and Fish. He started raising heritage piglets—a cross of Berkshire and Yorkshire—with an eye toward launching his own line. “I just love to eat pork,” he says, but Dammeier wasn’t quite satisfied with the flavoring of traditional pork. So he started his piglets on a six-month special diet of grains, nuts, and whey, from his own Beecher’s cheese. “The fat in the whey is a big part of it,” he explains. “Dairy fat is healthy for these animals.”
The idea isn’t new, but it does seem to be catching on around here. Earlier this year, the Walrus and the Carpenter was serving a cheese-fed pig from Yarmuth Farms. Dammeier says the Italian city of Parma is famous for feeding its pigs whey from Parmesan cheese and then making prosciutto. He says the whey creates a unique flavor in the pork. “I’ve eaten quite a bit of it and it is spectacularly different,” he says. “The fat just melts in the mouth. It tastes like compound butter.”
He’s not the only one that thinks so. Branden Karow, chef Ethan Stowell's Staple and Fancy, recently took one of those whey-fed pigs for a spin on the menu, making sausage, hams, pancetta, and zamponi. He describes the flavor as “creamy,” like the difference between veal and cow. The entire pig was eaten up in just three or four days.
Dammeier sent that first round of specialty pigs to places like Metropolitan Market, Staple and Fancy, Café Juanita, the Rainier Club, and his own bistro. After the success of the first 15, Dammeier is planning to do it again, this time raising 30 pigs. The cost of the meat, he says, is worth it—for him, it’s the pork equivalent of Wagyu beef.