Taste History Today: Ossabaw Pork

From the ossabaw tasting dinner at Boqueria


New York chefs have been going ga-ga about a new type of upscale pork, that is actually from a very old breed: The Ossabaw.

The Ossabaw breed is descended from some of the 700 animals left along the Southeast coast by Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto in 1539. The idea was that the hogs would give future colonists a ready supply of meat.

The swine left behind were Ibericos, which Spaniards let graze on acorns and then cured into their famous Jámon Iberico, a flavorful pink ham with droplets of fat that makes pork lovers swoon…Although many of the Ibericos in America eventually died out or assimilated with dominant barnyard breeds over the years, some Ibericos remained genetically pure. These are the Ossabaws, whose name comes from the remote Georgia barrier island where the breed thrived in the wild for centuries. (The News and Observer: High on this Hog)”

There has been a recent movement to save the pig, by breeding it and marketing it’s meat to upscale restaurants, mostly in New York. “It’s oxymoronic to think that eating a rare breed is actually saving it, but it’s true,” said Chuck Bassett of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy of Pittsboro. I’ve never tasted it, but the meat is supposed to be exquisite.

Only a few Mennonite farmers agreed to industry-defying lunacy: raising these pigs in the open, and finishing them on acorns, beech and hickory nuts. The six-week autumn feast lays on an incredible layer of burnished yellow, nutty-tasting fat. At 250 to 300 pounds each, 40 Ossabaws are slaughtered each autumn, and the parts sent off to people ready to accord them due reverence.

The back fat was doled out to a who’s who of four-star and locally focused enclaves. Everyone from Craft and Craftsteak, Aureole, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Gramercy Tavern,Café Boulud, and Four Seasons, to Savoy, A Voce, Tao, Tabla, Morandi and Commerce got their slab. Salumeria Biellese takes the bellies for pancetta, the front legs for coppa(thanks, shoulders) and the trim for cured salami including sopressata and cacciatorini. (Time Our New York: Ossabaw Pig Legs Ready for the Eatin)


The meat is also occasionally available at Murray’s Cheese. You can see the pigs in the flesh at Mt. Vernon, in Washington DC, where they are bred every spring. Ossibaw is also being championed because it is raised organically on wild forage, and it’s fat has healthy properties similar to olive oil. I’ve heard, however, that they can be extremely aggresive, particularly the males.


For more on this heritage breed, read this great article at Rural Intelligence.

2 Responses to “Taste History Today: Ossabaw Pork”


  • I happen to have what’s left of 2 Ossabaw pigs in my freezer right now! They are fantastic tasting, the sausage is so lean! I cook up a pound of sausage patties in the skillet and seriously get less than a teaspoon of fat! The bacon is lean, but is very tasty! I have decided to raise my own and will be picking up my breeding pair when this icey weather breaks.

  • Wow, that’s amazing that you’ll be breeding them! I’ve heard they are very self sufficient, but the males can be very aggressive. I’d love to hear how it turns out; you should write about it!

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