1 October, 2022, 16:46

E & R Pork: Tucson’s Heritage Breed Pig Farm

A growing number of chefs in Tucson, Phoenix, and as far away as Los Angeles work with E & R Pork for its superior quality.

“Beef ain’t beef and pork ain’t pork.”

This idea — that not only were some breeds of meat animals different, but better — led Erika Pacheco and Rod Miller to found E & R Pork.

Originally raising heritage breed pigs for themselves, the duo began to farm in earnest in 2013. Since then, E & R Pork has expanded at a dizzying pace.

The 120 pigs that reside in the original farm are only a small fraction of the 1500 animals that make up Pacheco and Milller’s herd. The rest are split between two other farms.

Several different heritage breeds are represented, including English Berkshire, Hungarian Mangalica, and the striking Red Waddle, whose jowls shake with the same fleshy dangle as a turkey’s neck. At full weight, these pigs reach up to 300 pounds.

“The butcher Ben Forbes brought in a whole E & R hog for some in-house butchery,” said Erika Muñoz, co-owner at Seis Kitchen. “We worked with our crew on specific techniques.”

Pigs at E & R Pork (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Pigs at E & R Pork (Credit: Jackie Tran)

When asked about the reasons for raising heritage breeds, both Pacheco and Milller point to taste — for example, the Red Waddle has meat as dark as a cut of beef; the Mangalica’s meat is marbled and perfect for aging into charcuterie.

“The pork was amazing to work with and even more amazing to eat,” Muñoz said. “Really nice fat content. The flavor is truly different than some mass-produced pork. Seriously. The fat is dreamy. Great for chorizo, chops, so on and so forth.”

While the animals are slower growing than commercial pigs, the payoff is worth it; E & R Pork works with a growing community of chefs in Tucson, Phoenix, and even as far as Los Angeles who request their product. James Beard award-winning chefs Nobuo Fukuda of Nobuo at Teeter House and Chris Bianco of Pizzeria Bianco are just two of E & R’s several partners.

The public has also shown an increasing interest in knowing where and how their meat is made. Demand for purebred and heritage meat has only grown, and E & R Pork’s operation has grown with it. Scaling up a farm comes with challenges, but Pacheco and Miller aren’t ones to take shortcuts.

“We don’t sacrifice the quality of the animals,” Miller said.

Piglets nursing at E & R Pork (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Piglets nursing at E & R Pork (Credit: Jackie Tran)

The passion that Pacheco and Miller have for their animals reflects in their product. They are involved in every part of the process, from the breeding of the pigs to their eventual processing at the University of Arizona Meat Sciences Lab.

Additionally, E & R Pork doesn’t use antibiotics on the herd, and they are USDA certified. They are also responsible for all of the distribution; their animals go directly from the farm to their customers.

As part of a zero-waste initiative, they collect spent grain from Hamilton Distillers, Sentinel Peak Brewing, and Borderlands Brewing Company to use as feed along with non-GMO grain from Bonita Bean Company and wheat germ from Hayden Flour Mills. Compost is delivered to local pecan farms.

“We do what’s right for the animal,” Miller said. “We have to be good stewards.”

As busy as they are, Pacheco and Miller are looking to the future. “The Tucson public has been very, very good to us,” Miller said.

Rod Miller and Erika Pacheco with piglets at E & R Pork (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Rod Miller and Erika Pacheco with piglets at E & R Pork (Credit: Jackie Tran)

With plans to consolidate their separate facilities into one larger property, the creation of their own charcuterie, and an expanded chicken and duck egg program, E & R Pork shows no signs of slowing down.

Look for E & R Pork at Time Market, Rincon Market, Food Conspiracy Co-op, and Forbes Meat Company. Several restaurants also serve E & R pork in various dishes, including Welcome Diner and Casino del Sol. If you’re looking for a special cut of pork, or even a whole or half pig, the best option is to give E & R Pork a call at (520) 490-0166.

For more information, visit eandrpork.com.

Samantha Colaianni has family roots in Tucson that go back before the Gadsden Purchase. When she's not cooking Mexican food, she's baking Mexican pastries.