Move Over, Beef: The Newest Luxury Meat Is Texas-Raised, Acorn-Fed Pork
Ibérico pork from Spain is akin to high-end Wagyu and Kobe in the beef world. It originated centuries ago on the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans are credited for developing this ancient breed by feeding them acorns from the live oak trees planted along the southwestern edge of modern-day Spain. The luxurious flavor, texture and quality of Ibérico makes it a coveted meat the world over. Now, there’s a Texas-raised equivalent called Ibericus. It’s sold by a company named Acornseekers, distributed in Houston by DR Delicacy and Spanish restaurant BCN Taste & Tradition at 4210 Roseland already offers dishes featuring the specialty meat.
Sergio Marsal and Manuel Murga founded Acornseekers and says the new kind of pork, which comes from Spanish Iberico pigs raised in South Texas, is in response to the imbalance between imports from Spain and consumption demand in the United States. They’re working with DR Delicacy CEO Diane Roederer to raise awareness of this new, domestic product.
“What we realized is that the market here is so huge that if you don’t produce locally you are not able to give as much production as the market needs,” explains Marsal. After determining in 2008 that the Texas live oak acorn equaled its Spanish counterpart in quality, Murga, a third-generation Ibérico farmer from Sevilla, Spain, embarked on a five-year collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture to develop the initial protocol for importing live Ibérico pigs from the European Union.
On September 1, 2014, “145 magnificent females and 5 very lucky males” arrived at Acornseekers’ primary farm in Flatonia, Texas. The herd has since grown to 3,500 pigs at seven locations including six affiliate operations in Texas, California and Florida. Each farmer must adhere to a strict contract to ensure breed integrity and all animals are processed in Columbus, Texas. The name Ibericus is a new registered breed and a subtle clarification to distinguish purebred Ibérico pigs raised on United States soil.
There are 23 Ibericus primal cuts, each with its own unique flavor and texture characteristics. Just as with traditional Spanish Ibérico, the acorns impart nutty flavor that’s noticeable well after the last bite is swallowed.
“In Texas, you see the pork chop. We all have that image of dry, white meat. There was nothing before here to compare to Ibérico,” says Roederer. “So we’re trying to educate the consumer that this is like the Wagyu of pork.” The price is also comparable at $25 to $30 per pound, depending on the cut.
For now, Acornseekers and DR Delicacy is focused on introducing Ibericus to consumers by way of chefs, but it will eventually be available for sale to the public. A trial sale with H-E-B last summer that sold out in one week indicates that Texans are ready.
For now, curious diners can try the Ibericus in two dishes created by executive chef Luis Roger at BCN Taste & Tradition in Montrose. One is the suckling pig, which uses the secreto cut—so named because of its hidden location behind the front leg. It’s cooked overnight and finished on the flat top (to ensure crisp edges) and paired with apples. The second dish is confit pork cheeks prepared with red wine sauce, sage and aromatics and served with lentils and shoestring potatoes.
As of press time, Kirby Steakhouse in The Woodlands is the only other area restaurant serving Ibericus, but numerous chefs in the Greater Houston area are currently experimenting.
“I have been working with several cuts for the past two years,” says Roger, who is a native of Spain. “I’m very excited. I’m still waiting for the first cured ham. It’s going to be the cherry on top.” He says that his favorite cuts to work with are the suckling pig, pork cheeks and feet. When the ham becomes available in spring 2019, Luis says he will use Acornseekers exclusively and pass up Ibérico from Spain.
Nutritionally speaking, Murga says Ibericus has higher levels of natural antibiotics and aromatic compounds than its Spanish relatives and some deem the flavor as superior. He says that during a visit to Flatonia last year, his own mother tasted the Texas product and declared it better than what she prepares in Spain. Part of the authentic flavor is also thanks to the pigs’ “vacuum” approach in the pasture, consuming everything from small foliage to spiders, snakes, insects and even scorpions. They feast on pasture most of the year and are finished on a diet of acorns between October and February before slaughter in March and April. That’s plenty of time for the acorn’s oleic acid to permeate the meat.
With the introduction of Ibericus to the Texas livestock repertoire, beef’s days of hogging the export market may be numbered. At the least, it’s about to have some competition.