A Taste of Iowa – Country Home Magazine

Country Home Magazine

Kelly and Nina Biensen don’t need their agricultural degrees from Iowa State University to figure out which way the wind has been blowing for small family hog farmers.  “The attitude has always been ‘get bigger or get out.’ But I don’t believe that.” The wiry, 48-year-old Kelly says.

On their fifth-generation central Iowa farm, the Biensens raise 700 or so Berkshire hogs, a stout English breed known for its flavorful meat.   On their fifth-generation central Iowa farm, the Biensens raise 700 or so Berkshire hogs, a stout English breed known for its flavorful meat.  Pigs roam about in large pens and eat soybean meal and ground corn.  They don’t need hormones and antibiotics.  When you bite into a fresh grilled Berkshire pork chop, you know right away that you have hold of a piece of red meat.

Like a prime beef-steak, it’s tender, juicy, and well-marbled with fat. It’s the way most pork tasted until a decade ago, when pork producers embarked on a campaign to breed leaner hogs and market their product to fat-conscious consumers as “the other white meat”.  Jeremy Morrow, partner/chef at Bistro Montage and Bistro 43 in Des Moines, pays the Biensens-and 84 other Iowa families in the Eden Farms marketing group-higher prices than they can get on the commodity market in return for a steady supply of high-quality ground pork, chops and tenderloins.

“Our philosophy is to seek out the best Iowa and Midwestern ingredients,” says Morrow, a 32-year-old California Culinary Academy graduate.  “The overall flavor and texture of Eden Farms pork is superb.”  In Morrow’s Country-Style Pate’, a French classic takes an Ioa twist with ground pork as the base, while East meets West in Pork and Mushroom Pot Stickers.  Pork chops and tenderloins appear on the menus in a variety of ways and are always big sellers, says Morrow.

Elsewhere in Iowa, other small family pig farmers are banding together under the American Berkshire Gold banner to sell their pork overseas.  Most Berkshire pork is currently bought up by Japanese consumers, but Biensen says that will change as demand increases in America.  Nina Biensen adds that nearly every day they receiver calls from family farmers asking about getting started raising Berkshires. “They’re looking for a way to put pride back in family farming,” she says.  And with the steadily increasing demand they’ve seen for their pork in just the past two years, the Biensens can see a day when the wind might shift back in favor of the small family farmer.

“People say,’ Kelly, you just want to go back to the horse-and-buggy days.’ I tell them that the industry is going to change again, and they’d better be ready to change with it.  Consumers are going to demand it.  You can do the right thing and make money.”