Written by Lilani Goonesena.
The little piglet squeaked and squirmed before eventually falling asleep in our arms, wrapped in her knitted blanket.
Lily is the poster pig for Mt Gnomon Farm, a runt of the litter rescued by owners Guy and Eliza. She now sleeps in their bed and demands food at 2am. And she was part of the welcoming committee when we arrived on the fourth day of our Electrolux Appetite for Excellence produce tour.
It’s all about the pigs at Mt Gnomon Farm and specifically, rare heritage breeds such as Wessex Saddleback. Once a common foraging breed in England, they are now extinct in their homeland but thriving in niche Australian farms. They are placid, easy going animals that produce rich, marbled and intensely flavoursome meat.
“Wessex Saddlebacks is an older breed of pig that are slower growing and mature earlier than commercial breeds”, says Guy. “We’ve started crossing them with Duroc and Hampshire boars. The plan is to breed bigger animals and get better value with every pig”.
Guy and Eliza are a young, energetic couple who are passionate about ethical, sustainable farming. They also have a herd of Traditional Dairy Shorthorn, Scottish Highland and Belted Galloway cows, 60 Shropshire ewes, and a handful of goats and ducks.
“We’ve been smoking our own ham and bacon and making our own chorizo and sausages for six months. With our new facilities here we’re planning to experiment with different breeds, smokes and cures”, says Guy.
They envision long table lunches in summer on the outside deck and cooking classes in the kitchen. Last winter, they planted an orchard of 1000 heritage apples, pears and quinces trees. In three years’ time, they can make traditional cider.
Farm tourism is growing in popularity, particularly in England and Europe where Eliza visited last year on a Churchill Fellowship.
Next it was time to see the farm for ourselves. And to feed 400-odd hungry pigs. We donned our gumboots and tramped through the thick mud up to the pigs’ paddocks.
The pigs are fed once a day, spending the rest of the day foraging. The rich red soil here is high in aluminium and iron oxide and planted with turnip, rape, oats and natural grasses for the pigs to eat. Foraging increases muscle content and a varied diet gives the meat more flavour. Guy also wants to add some saturated fat to their diet, such as whey, eventually by milking their own Dairy Shorthorns.
While Guy distracted the increasingly vocal pigs, we slipped inside the pens and tipped big sacks of grain and bags of chestnuts into their troughs.
“There’s about a quarter of a tonne of feed daily. When it’s really wet and muddy, it can take 2½ hours. Feeding free range pigs is really labour intensive”, says Eliza.
Snuffling away at the troughs, they were as happy as pigs in mud. Literally.
We left them to it and squelched onto higher ground to see the cows. The shaggy-haired, big horned Scottish Highlands were impressive and we kept a safe distance.
Finally, we returned to the centre invigorated by the cold brisk air and ravenous for Eliza’s home-cooked lunch. We feasted on homemade bacon, chorizo and lentil stew, followed by pulled pork fajitas with spicy chutney, and their juicy, chunky sausages with whole fennel seeds and smoked paprika.
George Tomlin is a chef at The Town Mouse in Melbourne. For him, interacting with the pigs and seeing how they live was the most rewarding part of the day. “I think as a chef it’s really important to see where your produce is coming from. How the animals are bred and brought up, and today we got to see that”.
After lunch, we had a final cuddle with Lily, wrapped snuggly in a stripy knitted blanket and looking very much at home.
Contact Guy & Eliza at Mt Gnomon Farm; Penguin, Tasmania