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This little piggy went to market

Steve Wright is the first Liverpool Confidential Food & Drink Hero, in a new series. Here’s why . . . . .

Published on August 2nd 2007.

This little piggy went to market

Words by Michael McIlvenna

WHY do pigs get all the worst lines? You can be as gentle as a lamb, wise as an owl, but you’ll only ever be pig ignorant. A dirty pig.

Pigs get lousy PR. We know about the battery hen, but hands up who knows how factory farmed pigs live?

Hens still suffer a squalid existence, but at least people know that now. And if you want free range eggs you can get them at your local News n' Booze. But try walking into Sayers and asking for a free-range sausage roll.

Pigs are highly intelligent and much like us – biologically, socially. They love having their backs scratched, listening to music and, given the chance, would almost certainly watch Trisha.

Yet, on an average commercial pig farm, we impel them to spend their lives hundreds to a shed, under fluorescent strips, their teeth often clipped and tails docked, with or without anaesthetic. Even call centre workers get to keep all their teeth.

You reap what you sow. The ingredients of a factory-made sausage look like they came from a Hoover bag and read like a lab technician’s notebook: sodium metabisulphate, antioxidants, diophosphates. That’s not to mention the residue of antibiotics administered to combat diseases caused by their “lifestyle”. Oh, and the skin, rind and gristle passed off as meat. The Great British Banger.

At Foxhill’s Pedigree Pig Farm, the animals range a 180-acre spread amid the industry, commerce and endless estate housing of Halewood.

Steve Wright is one of the tiny proportion of free range pig farmers. A product of Halewood Comp, he established the small, family-run business in 2005. “It was always going to be done properly. I don’t believe an animal that should be outdoors, can properly live on a plastic slatted floor, it’s just not right.”

Steve, 26, added: “When we were buying feed for our pigs, I would say to suppliers, 'show me the best you’ve got.' Then I’d say ‘eat a handful’. They always said ‘no chance’ but, somewhere along the line, people are going to end up eating the stuff that the pigs eat.”

A special feed was developed for Steve and some like-minded farmers he knew: “Paradise” is a rich mix of seeds, wheat, barley, beans and sweetcorn, GM free and supplemented by fresh fruit and vegetables.

The difference shows. “It’s in the taste, texture and colour. Commercial pork is pumped full of water, so bland it’s like eating cardboard, and the fat’s bad for you.“The fat on our pigs gives the meat a lovely flavour, and it’s good for you.”

Free range pork fat contains high amounts of Omega 3 fatty acids, so it doesn’t just taste great, it might make your kids brainy, too.

Foxhill’s sausages are 70 per cent meat (some commercial products are said to have as little as 25 per cent genuine meat content) and nought per cent gristle. Their gammon, cured according to his Auntie Marge’s secret recipe, took gold in this year’s North West Fine Foods Awards.

Foxhill’s now do hog roasts for functions: a whole pig, slow roasted for 18 hours, served with apple sauce and sage and onion stuffing, the whole lot home-grown and home-made.

At farmers’ markets across the region, Steve passionately puts the case for free range over commercially produced pork – but it isn’t always easy.

“People will say ‘I can get sausages half the price of yours in Asda.’ I say, 'yes, but what’s in them? What’s the meat content? What kind of life has that pig led?'”

Sue Nelson, boss of North West Fine Food, weighed into the debate (and annoyed the hell out of mainstream pig producers) by declaring, in The Independent last year, that “cheap sausages are just crap”.

And Steve adds: “People are starting to come back and say ‘you were right’. Slowly, slowly, we are building up a customer base, recognising regulars.”

Steve cares about his animals. “When I first took them to slaughter, there were tears. But I knew they’d had a good life.”

The boars and the breeding sows, named after family and friends, will live on the farm all their active lives. “I haven’t come to what I’ll do with them after that. A lot of people send them off for pork pies, but . . .” Steve goes quiet. “It’s a difficult one. They become like pets, really.”

Greeting Steve’s Food & Drink Hero status, Deborah Robb, of North West Fine Food, said: “You know exactly what you are getting with Foxhill’s and what you get is always excellent.”

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