If I’m cooking with pork, I’m cooking with Irvings Farm Fresh! The quality and range of pork cuts and products from Irvings Farm is without equal in our farmers’ markets and shops. Which is why it’s the pork of choice for so many chefs in town.
A couple of weeks ago I drove out to Round Hill to meet Nicola and Alan Irving on their farm and to take a tour of their operation. Their black Berkshire pigs almost stole the show: they’re friendly and inquisitive, and exceptionally happy in their Round Hill pasture. The Irvings clearly enjoy tending their pigs, and handle them extensively to minimize the animals’ stress. And it shows!
But the Irvings’ own story was the biggest inspiration for me: in just five years their business has grown from sausage-making with bought-in meat to a full-scale farm with its own meat processing facility that services markets and restaurants all over Edmonton and beyond.
Along with their two young children, the Irvings arrived in Alberta, from the UK, in July 2005. And they quickly discovered that the kind of sausages they enjoyed back in England were hard to find in their new home. They were making their start on an acreage in Vimy, when with the help of a neighbour Nicola started learning some sausage-making techniques. By 2006 Nicola was producing the first Irvings Farm Fresh sausages … lean and delicious, without fillers and additives, her sausages were an instant success.
Soon the Irvings were raising their own pigs. They chose Berkshire Pigs from the start. A Heritage variety better known in the UK, Berkshire Pigs yield a premium pork that’s high in flavour and marbled with fat. It’s a rich, delicious, juicy meat that is known as kurobuta, or black gold, in Japan, where it’s prized as much as Kobe beef.
With a growing business, plus pigs of their own, the Irvings soon outgrew their Vimy acreage. So in September 2008 they moved their family, and their farm, to Round Hill. They bought a 78 acre farm with 25 acres of pasture, ideal for their Berkshire pigs. And early in 2009 they opened their brand new meat processing facility too. They’ve continued to invest in this impressive facility, and it in turn has allowed them to expand to a point where they’ve had to hire employees, both full and part-time.
I first discovered Irvings Farm pork at Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market not long after moving to Edmonton in 2009. With my British background, I was drawn to their back bacon and sausages, and to their gammon steaks and hams too. The Irvings’ back bacon is a real treat, and I urge you to try it. It’s cut from the loin, unlike streaky bacon, which is cut from the belly. Cured onsite and vacuum–packed, it has a 4 week shelf-life. But it’s so good that it’s unlikely to wait that long in your fridge!
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try out the Irvings’ sausages too: you should! There are varieties to suit every taste, from Old World to New. My personal favourites are the Traditional Lincolnshire, seasoned with organic Alberta-grown sage, and the Indian Masala Mild Curry Sausages, aromatic with East Indian spices but not blistering with East Indian heat!
But bacon and sausages are just the tip of the iceberg. Irvings Farm loin chops are so juicy and flavourful that my mouth is watering just thinking about them. I have some in my fridge, and they’ll be on my table tonight!
And if you like your pork roasted or stewed, then an Irvings Farm shoulder roast will be perfect for you. The Irvings sell skin-on roasts, so you can have crackling with your pork roast too. To get your crackling to crisp perfection take your pork out of its vacuum pack and let the skin dry out, uncovered, in your fridge for a day or two. Then score it, without cutting through the fat, and rub it with sea salt before you put it in the oven to roast.
The Irvings are at Old Strathcona year-round, and they’ll be at City Market from next week too! Or you can order their pork from Eat Local First. (For more retailers and products, check out their site.)
And over the coming months I’ll be revisiting Irvings Farm Pork as I bring some of their specific products to you as my Ingredients of the Week. Just watch this space!