• Meg and Aaron Dickson of 81 Acres (Ainsley's Market Menu)
Eighty One Acres has brought back a heritage pork breed to provide consumers with an ethical and flavourful cut of pork.
By
Johnny von Einem

11 Oct 2019 - 1:53 PM  UPDATED 11 Oct 2019 - 1:54 PM

On an 81-acre farm in Currency Creek, a small township in South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, Meg and Aaron Dickson are realising a long-held dream.

The couple met atop Mount Buller, Victoria, while working the snow season, and soon after settled in Melbourne where they fell into fairly standard day jobs.

Both have family history in farming – Meg in South Australia and Aaron in Newcastle – and so the Dickson pipedream was to eventually return to the land, which they did in 2010.

This is where Eighty One Acres, the business, was born.

“People keep coming back to us and they’re like, ‘That is the best pork I’ve ever had. It’s like I remember pork tasting when I was little.’

The couple decided to farm pigs. At the time, there had been a swell of interest around free-range pig farming, Meg says, and both she and Aaron were only interested in farming if they could do so ethically.

They chose a rare breed, the Wessex Saddleback, which is ideal for raising free-range: they’re highly productive, placid in nature, and their meat has a unique flavour profile due to a varied diet as natural foragers.

Meg and Aaron bought two boars to continue breeding.

Four years ago, Meg and Aaron bought three sows and two boars from Fiona Chambers, a genetics breeder based in Victoria, and the slow work of building a small business began.

The couple started selling to market in June last year and the response was immediate.

“We were given a fantastic opportunity at Willunga Farmers Markets,” Meg says.

“People keep coming back to us and they’re like, ‘That is the best pork I’ve ever had. It’s like I remember pork tasting when I was little.’

“When you look at the colour of the pork and our meat, it’s a lot redder. It’s a lot more like a lamb or a red meat, like a beef.”

The pork has a much darker colour than standard offerings.

Eighty One Acres has also found a niche within the South Australian restaurant scene, with their pork appearing at Mitolo Wines’ cellar door, The Olfactory Inn, Lot 100 (a communal cellar door) and Leigh Street Wine Room - an Adelaide restaurant recently opened by Nathan Sasi.

Sasi uses the Eighty One Acres pork for Leigh Street Wine Room’s pig’s head fritti dish.

“I did heaps of research online, farmers’ markets and stuff like that… and spoke to them about their farming practices and that really aligned with us,” he says.

“When you work with those heritage breeds, the flavour is better, there’s muscular fat, they’re bred for flavour, whereas a [standard] pig is bred for mass production: low fat, big scores of meat.

“That’s the really important thing for me, is yeah, cool, it might not necessarily fit the bill of what people like conventionally, but flavour-wise it’s incredible.”

81 Acres opted to give their pigs more room, for the benefit of the pigs, and for the land.

The pork's flavour is in part due to the space Meg and Aaron grant them to forage and roam.

Free-range standards for pig farming are “pretty relaxed,” Meg says, but she and Aaron have opted to give their pigs more room, for the benefit of the pigs, and for their land.

“The free-range accreditation is something like 20-25 adult pigs per hectare. So we’ve got 16 and we’ve got 32 hectares,” Meg says.

“You could breed huge numbers and still be classed as free range, but the land would be bare. We like to use a rotational paddock process, and it is amazing.

“We’ve had paddocks that are full of weeds ... and the way they munch down weeds and all the things that you don’t want [means] they’ve already improved our pastures phenomenally.”

“We’ve had paddocks that are full of weeds, and you put the pigs through them, they dig up the ground, they root around ... The nutrients that they put back into the soil, and the way they munch down weeds and all the things that you don’t want [means] they’ve already improved our pastures phenomenally.”

Most importantly though, Eighty One Acres provides an opportunity for consumers to make a more considered choice in their pork consumption – one that is ethical and has the added benefit of having a more interesting flavour profile.

Made with Eighty One Acres pork
Chargrilled jerk pork on watermelon and coconut salad

Jerk seasoning is not just exclusive to chicken and the fresh watermelon in this recipe balances out all that heavy spice and charring. The recipe is designed as an entree but can be made into a main dish for 3-4.

“It was a long time ago that we started looking into what we wanted to do, and realised how pigs were raised in a commercial industrial environment and just thought that there should be a better option,” Meg says.

“If there is a movement towards that, we just wanted to be a part of it, because they’re just such a beautiful animal.”

 

Ainsley Harriott traverses Australia's lively regional produce markets on the brand-new season of Ainsley's Australian Market Menu. Catch it at 7:30pm Thursdays from 10 October to 14 November on SBS, catch up on SBS Food at 7:30pm Sundays, or stream on SBS On Demand. Visit the Market Menu website for recipes, the episode guide and more.

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