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OPINIONFresh Food

Born-Again Pork Fan

National Pork Board 2018 Summit delivers eye-opening experience
Photograph courtesy of the National Pork board

It may come as a surprise to some that I, a self-proclaimed bacon enthusiast, have never been much of a pork fan. While I find bacon to be undoubtedly delicious in all its applications, the thought of pork in any other form has always spurred flashbacks to childhood dinners, when I’d smother my mother’s pork chops in applesauce to mask its paper dust texture and utter lack of flavor.

I’ve believed that pork is inherently dry and tasteless—that is, until I attended the National Pork Board’s (NPB’s) 2018 Pork Summit, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in late July, where I ate (and thoroughly enjoyed) more pork in three days than I have in my lifetime. As it turns out, pork is in fact a juicy, tender and flavorful product—not to mention a healthy alternative to chicken and beef—but is often overcooked due to a lingering stigma about the quality and safety of pink meat.

ali bouzari pork 101
Culinary scientist Ali Bouzari discusses the science and factors that determine pork quality during the Pork 101 presentation at the University of Iowa. Photograph courtesy of the National Pork Board.

Certainly, I am not the only millennial with an unsatisfying pork-eating experience. As the cooking temperature stigma continues to fade, retailers have an opportunity to draw weary shoppers back to pork with new, innovative products such as globally inspired meal kits. After two days of attending presentations, butchering demonstrations and sampling events, chefs at the Pork Summit teamed up for a market basket exhibition, testing the cooking techniques they learned throughout the event. Teams curated five pork dishes, including globally inspired entrees, like a pork milenesa breakfast torta, that can easily translate to retail in convenient hot bar and meal kit applications. 

butcher dario cecchini
Renowned butcher Dario Cecchini demonstrates his nose-to-tail butchering techniques. Photograph courtesy of the National Pork Board.

With that, the NPB revealed at the Pork Summit its initiative to bring pork rotisserie to retail as an alternative to chicken, emphasizing opportunity in fresh pork loin due to the surplus in supply. Shoppers who buy rotisserie chicken generally have larger basket sizes, and offering a pork rotisserie can yield the same results, providing an inexpensive product that can be used in various applications, including meal kits with dishes such as a carnitas-style quinoa bowl.

tacos de carnitas
Tacos de carnitas dish prepared for a retail meal kit application during the market basket exhibition. Photograph courtesy of the National Pork Board.

As shoppers become more comfortable with fresh pork purchases via prepared products and meal kits, the NPB is also working to unite the pork industry on a common nomenclature for fresh pork products to reduce consumer confusion at the meat case. “There’s not a lot of consistency across the country at the retail meat case when it comes to chop cuts and names,” says Jarrod Sutton, VP of domestic marketing for the NPB, based in Des Moines, Iowa. “We want to mirror some of the cuts and names our beef colleagues have long marketed, and consumers are familiar with—like the porterhouse and the ribeye—to provide a better and more consistent experience at the meat counter.”

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