[caption id="attachment_3698" align="alignright" width="300"] John Backes feeds the piglets at Circle B Ranch. They operate a closed herd meaning they breed, farrow and raise all their hogs. The breeding is completely genetically controlled to avoid inbreeding.[/caption]
Nestled in Seymour, in Amish country, is a farm where two New Jersey natives raise English heritage hogs.
In 2009, Marina and John Backes moved from the fast-paced city life in New Jersey to a 90-acre farm in the lush Ozark Mountains.
Prior to that, John owned a mechanical contracting company on the East Coast, and Marina had a successful upscale catering business.
“This was supposed to be our retirement,” chuckled Marina.
But they are anything but retired; hard work is part of their daily life. Now, instead of managing people, John looks after 350 hogs.
They operate Circle B Ranch and raise Berkshire pork, an English heritage breed prized for its marbling and juicy meat. They also raise Red Wattle hogs and cross-breed the two. Red Wattle originated in the United States and is considered a threatened breed, according to the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.
In the past few decades, large-scale pork operations have bred their pigs to be leaner and have whiter meat. At Circle B Ranch, the meat is redder, has more fat and more flavor.
According to The American Berkshire Association, modern-day commercially available pork contains 75 percent less fat than it did in the 1950s, which makes the meat drier.
In response, there’s been a recent surge in demand for the Berkshire breed. The marbling in the meat helps it stand up to higher temperatures and makes it coveted among chefs, who are some of their best customers.
The type of hog they raise is important, but even more important to the couple is how the animals are treated.
The hogs are pasture fed, free to roam and forage the land. There are no added hormones or unnecessary antibiotics in the diet, they said. The water source is a fresh spring or well which reduces the risk of the animals developing parasites that could affect meat quality.
The Backes operate a closed herd, meaning they breed, farrow and raise all their hogs. The breeding is genetically controlled to avoid inbreeding, which the Backes say is detrimental to the animal’s health and meat quality.
The farm is Animal Welfare Approved, which is a food label for meat and dairy products that come from “farm animals raised to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards,” according to the AWA website.
They are also certified as humanely raised, which was the plan from the beginning. They believe it’s the right thing to do and it makes for a better product.
“A happy hog is a tasty hog,” said John.
How did it get started?
John and Marina first visited Missouri when their son, who wrestled for Iowa State, competed against other schools in the Show-Me state. They fell in love with St. Louis but found the real estate prices better in southwest Missouri, so they started looking for property.
“We did one of these,” said Marina, winding her finger and plopping it down as if it landed on a map. “John found it on the Internet, booked a flight out and bought it. We wanted a calmer, easier pace of life.”
For the first few years, John commuted from Seymour to New Jersey.
Marina lived in Seymour and started buying hogs.
They decided to raise pork because they felt their land was most suitable for a natural pork operation, and it would be faster to get the meat to market than operating a cattle business.
But Seymour was a culture shock. Her first night on the farm, Marina’s mom was with her and asked “Where are we going to dinner?,” Marina laughed.
There wasn’t much around.
The hardest part of relocating has been leaving behind family and friends, although their daughter and granddaughter moved to the farm and live with them. But the business has come fairly naturally.
Early on while John wrapped up his work in New Jersey, Marina started bottling a line of sauces which has become an important part of their business.
First, she bottled her family’s authentic Italian tomato sauce recipe, then a barbecue sauce and cranberry chutney she had developed while catering.
Her line of products is available from Joplin and Springfield to Kansas City and St. Louis.
Last year, she added ketchup and hopes to continue expanding her line.
In all, they sell about 30 different products from nitrate-free bacon to hot dogs with no fillers, andouille sausages and frozen meatballs.
The business has three main markets: restaurants; direct sales to consumers at farmers markets; and sales through grocery stores.
While Marina, who takes care of the marketing and sales, loves direct sales to consumers, it’s time consuming. She delivers all the meat and products to restaurants, grocery stores and spends Saturdays at the Greater Springfield Farmers Market.
She wants to expand her product reach.
As for the pork, they don’t plan to change a thing.
“We put out a good product,” Marina said. “People appreciate the quality and effort we put into it. We are where we want to be.”
Where to find them
You can find Circle B Ranch products at a variety of stores and restaurants in Missouri. They sell at the Greater Springfield Farmers Market on Saturday mornings. For a complete list of locations and products, including restaurants, visit:https://www.circlebranchpork.com/
About Berkshire Hogs
The first Berkshires were brought to the United States from England in 1823. They were quickly absorbed into the general hog population because of the marked improvement they created when crossed with common stock. In 1875, a group of United States Berkshire breeders and importers decided to establish a way of keeping the Berkshire breed pure.
On February 25 of the same year, the American Berkshire Association was founded, becoming the first Swine Registry to be established in the world. This society drew forth an enthusiastic response from those working with the breed both in this country and in England.
Berkshire pork is sometimes referred to as “Kurobota” which is the Japanese name for this breed. Japan has been importing these hogs from England since the 1800s and the meat is prized in Japan similar to Kobe beef.
Source: American Berkshire Association
Red Wattle Pig
The Red Wattle is a large, red hog with a fleshy wattle attached to each side of the neck. The wattles have no known function. The Red Wattle comes in a variety of shades of red, some with black specks or patches, and red and black hair. Some individuals are nearly black.
Red Wattle hogs are known for hardiness, foraging activity, and rapid growth rate. They produce a lean meat that has been described as flavorful and tender. Their active foraging makes them a good choice for consideration in outdoor or pasture-based swine production.
Source: Livestock Conservatory
Marina Backes shares her recipe for Cranberry Chutney Brownies
- 7 oounce dark or semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped (I used a combination of the two)
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1 cup all- purpose flour
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cubed and softened
- 3/4 cup Marina’s Cranberry Chutney
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons Marina’s Cranberry Chutney for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8 or 9 inch backing dish with butter or non-stick spray.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder and salt- set aside.
Set up a double- boiler with a heatproof bowl, set over a small saucepan of simmering water. Melt chocolate and butter over low heat and stir until smooth.
Remove from heat and stir in sugar, then beat in the eggs, one at a time- complete before adding the vanilla extract.
While whisking, gradually add flour mixture and stir until just combined.
In a separate saucepan, heat Marina’s Cranberry Chutney over medium to low heat until more liquid.
Pour brownie batter into prepped baking dish and then drizzle Marina’s Cranberry Chutney over the top.
Tip- Use a knife to swirl jam around to create a marbled effect.
Place brownies in the oven and back for about 30-35 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean.
When done, remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.
Garnish with extra Marina’s Cranberry Chutney and enjoy.
Adapted from 12 Tomatoes Dark Chocolate Raspberry Brownies Recipe