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Going whole hog in Avon

Wren Wertin
Vail CO, Colorado
Illustration by Ali DoyleEach course of Vin 48's wine and swine dinner set for Tuesday features a different part of the pig. An endive salad will be topped with cured fat back, the cheeks will be encased in pasta as tortellini, pan-roasted grouper will find a tangy foil in ham hock vinaigrette and so forth.
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AVON, Colorado ” If E.B. White’s Wilbur in “Charlotte’s Web” had been a Larga Vista hog instead of a run-of-the-mill pink, things might not have gone so well for the little pig. By all accounts, Larga Vista Tamworth pigs have the kind of porky, meaty flavor missing in what’s currently marketed as The Other White Meat. Some people even find it irresistible. The boys at Vin 48 sure do. They up and bought a whole darn pig from Larga Vista Ranch, just outside Pueblo, and they’re serving it course by beautiful course on Tuesday for what they’re calling Wine and Swine.

The concept’s simple: Each course features a different part of the pig. An endive salad will be topped with cured fat back, the cheeks will be encased in pasta as tortellini, pan-roasted grouper will find a tangy foil in ham hock vinaigrette and so forth. Eight courses in all, each one will be paired with an Argentine wine.

Sous chef Nick Maxwell wanted to buy a pig and use everything, from snout to haunch. He even had plans for the blood ” boudin noir ” but, sadly, that’s the only part of the pig that didn’t make it to Vin 48. (Secretly, several staff members were relieved.)

“There are so many things you can do with pork,” said Charles Hays, executive chef and one of the three owners. “It’s such a versatile medium. And it’s perfect for charcuterie.”

Hays and Maxwell make a good team, each feeding off the energy of the other. When one starts to spiral out of control with ideas, the other reins him in.

The pig came slaughtered but whole. A dishwasher skinned it in mere moments, and Maxwell and Hays set about properly butchering the beast. The loin, the belly, the hams, the fat back ” each has a very specific preparation, be it smoking, curing, braising or stuffing into sausage casings.

“It’s definitely going to be a pork fest,” Maxwell promised.

Pork and wine, that is. Each course is paired with an Argentine vino ” and it’s not all about malbec, either. Julie Kinnaird of Vine Connections thinks the pairings are spot on.

“I think a lot of these courses would mirror what you see going on in restaurants in Argentina,” she said. “And obviously in Argentina they use a lot of pig products. It’s a natural fit.”

Argentina has a climate unique to viticulture.

“With the red wines for instance, grape growers can leave the grapes on the vines for longer than anywhere else in the world,” she said. “By the time they’re picked, the tannins ” which give wine its structure ” aren’t as harsh. Even a very young wine is much more approachable and softer.”

Doug Wiley is the fourth generation to be on Larga Vista Ranch. Named by Great Grandmother Malone, the ranch became a commercial dairy. Wiley has been steadily bringing it back to being a sustainable farm, with an emphasis on being a raw-milk dairy. He’s reclaiming and re-nurturing his land one field at a time.

“The land gets to know you,” he said.

His son, 18 months old, was smitten with the land from his first experience. “The first day we put him out in the field he wouldn’t even let you pick him back up. When we left he got so mad. He probably loves the land more than I do.”

The federal government recently got involved in what could and couldn’t be called organic, and it costs a heap and a half to be certified. It also stops at a minimum requirement, and doesn’t acknowledge doing better. Wiley, an organic farmer, snubbed the new regime and went his own way. He calls his method “beyond organic.”

“I’ve been farming organically for 25 years now,” said Wiley. “So when the government took over the word, I was a little put out.”

He has gone beyond organic. He doesn’t just abstain from pesticides and growth hormones ” each part of the operation actively contributes to the whole. To draw a diagram would be to make a circle, with lots of curlicues connecting pieces together.

Take the pigs. They harvest their own corn, pinning the cobs with their hoofs and snuffling at the kernels. When they’re done with the corn, the stalks and cobs are sent over to the cows, who chew and chew. The cows, in turn, donate part of their milk (albeit not intentionally) to supplement the pigs’ diets. Meanwhile, the pigs are running through pastures, poking at things with their snouts. In farm speak, that’s called turning the soil, a necessary part of the operation. Plus, those same pigs are generating natural fertilizer.

“As long as we provide them shelter and enough to eat, they can take care of themselves and their young,” said Wiley, who chose the heritage Irish breed because they’re hearty, outdoor dwellers. He crossed them with Duroc and Hampshire, resulting in a particularly tasty creation.

“They call pork the other white meat, but when hogs get to graze the meat is really red,” said Wiley. “I’ve had people come back and say, ‘I think you gave me a beefsteak.’ Of course I get a little chuckle out of that.”

Anyone eating a Larga Vista pig gets to join in laughing. Larga Vista Ranch only sells 100 pigs a year, so to try one is a real treat. Luckily, Wiley is inclined to share his passel. Salud.


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