The source of this phrase is often said to be the fact that the best cuts of meat on a pig
come from the back and upper leg and that the wealthy ate cuts from 'high on the hog",
while the paupers ate belly pork and trotters.
An alternative suggestion, also originating in America, is that piglets who get suckled from
the top row of teats of the mother sow tend to be healthier.
Whatever part of the pig you eat, as far as I am concerned it all tastes good. Every part of
this majestic beast, from the feet to the ears are all edible. There is an old saying that
Italians eat everything but the oink, and if they could catch the oink, they would cook that,
The pig dates back 40 million years to fossils which indicate that wild pig-like animals
roamed forests and swamps in Europe and Asia. By 4900 B.C., pigs were domesticated in
China, and were being raised in Europe by 1500 B.C. Christopher Columbus took a few
pigs on his 2nd voyage to Cuba in 1493.
Pigs are not native to North America, and the first recorded swine came to mainland North
America with Hernando De Soto in 1539. Upon arriving in what would one day be known
as Tampa Bay, Florida, the first thing several of the pigs did was run away. Of the 13 pigs
from his voyage, no doubt promptly became lunch for alligators, the others went wild,
resulting in boars that delight hunters still to today.
Native Americans reportedly became very fond of the taste of pork, resulting in attacks on
the de Soto expedition. By the time of de Soto's death three years later, his pig herd had
grown to 700 head, not including the ones his troops had consumed, those that ran away
and became wild pigs (and the ancestors of today’s wild pigs or razorbacks), and those
given to the Native Americans to keep the peace. The pork industry in America had begun.
Pig production spread throughout the new colonies. Hernando Cortez introduced hogs to
New Mexico in 1600, and Sir Walter Raleigh brought them to the Jamestown Colony in
1607. Semi-wild pigs conducted such rampages in New York colonists' grain fields that
every owned pig 14 inches high had to have a ring in its nose so they would be easier to
capture when loose. On Manhattan Island, a long solid wall was constructed on the
northern edge of the colony to control roaming herds of pigs. This area is now known as
Wall Street and the pig population of Pennsylvania colony numbered in the thousands by
As the seventeenth century closed, the typical colonial farmer owned several pigs,
supplying salt pork and bacon for his table. After the Revolutionary war, pioneers began
heading west taking their indispensable pigs with them. As western herds grew, the need
for pork processing facilities became apparent. Packing plants began to spring up in major
cities and pigs were first commercially slaughtered in Cincinnati, which became known as
"Porkopolis". More pork was packed there than any other place in the mid-west at that
The types of pigs brought over by the early settlers were leaner, meaner and way faster
moving than our modern day swine, and they could hold their own against most predators.
In addition, the hog is not a grass-eater. While able to survive nicely on roots, tubers,
worms, fruit, lizards, frogs, and clams, their preferred food was nuts. North America came
equipped with endless acres of beech, oak, hickory, walnut, pecan and other nut-bearing
trees. As the nuts rain down from the sky in the autumn, happy hogs fill up with the food
they love best, which transforms into the tastiest pork there is. Some of the most
expensive hams in the world today are the Spanish varieties from pigs still raised in
exactly this fashion, then smoked and dried for a year. And just as the nut supply has
been pretty much devoured and the swine are at their fattest, the weather turns very cold.
Those pigs chosen for stock were confined and some felt that feeding them corn for the
last few days improved the meat while others fed them on surplus milk, either whole or the
skimmed milk left over from butter or cheese production. Still others just didn't feed them
anything at all, making the upcoming job of cleaning out the intestines for later sausage
production somewhat easier.
Pork production is an important component of American agriculture and an important part
of the American diet and way of life. Fewer than 100,000 farms are producing pork in
2000 with production is concentrated in the Corn Belt states and in North Carolina.
Modern pork production is mostly done in enclosed buildings to protect animals from the
weather, from predators and from the spread of diseases.
Today pig raising is far from the techniques used by their predecessors. For one thing,
what the pig is being fed is carefully designed to avoid diseases that plagued the past.
Years ago pork had to be cooked very well to avoid trichinosis, a disease mainly caused
by poor feeding, now many top chefs suggest cooking pork a little pink, and not to dry it
out by over cooking to prevent getting ill. Being raised on grain instead of slop ( farm
waste ), and the use of antibiotics and careful inspections makes pork products safer than
chicken and ground beef.
Pork today is leaner than ever before, decreasing the amount of fat in diets and resulting
in health benefits for all ages. But leaner pork also affects the way pork should be cooked.
Because there is less fat to moisten and to add flavor to the meat, care should be taken to
not overcook pork. It was once thought that pork must be cooked to an internal
temperature of 185°F to ensure that trichinella spiralis parasite would be killed. It is now
known that trichinella spiralis is eliminated at 137°F, however, it is still recommended that
pork be cooked to an internal temperature of 145°F to 160°F so it is safe to eat. Cooking
the pork any higher will produce tough, dry meat, and always keep in mind that internal
temperatures always rise while meats are resting, so give them a 10 - 15 degrees when
removing from the oven, grill or fry pan depending upon the size and weight of any cut of
For best results in cooking pork, here at the Inn we always suggest marinating and brining
or using a dry rub for your pork for a more tender and flavorful end result.
So if pigs could fly, we would have some really big and super tasty "Buffalo Wings".
Below is a diagram of your favorite pork part and what section of the pig it comes from.