In April of this year, when spring menus were sprouting all over Phoenix, executive chef Jeremy Pacheco announced he’d be doing something a bit more radical with the seasonal menu at Lon’s at Hermosa Inn. In addition to the list of local produce and products Lon’s always touts, Pacheco began using one entire heritage breed Mangalitsa pig from AZ Fine Swine each week — as in, from head to tail.
Pacheco says he didn’t initially intend to go whole-hog.
“We’re always trying to source local ingredients, so when we found AZ Fine Swine, we were excited," he says. "We were trying to get some select pieces ... [but] they weren’t really looking to sell that way.”
So the desire to support local food systems gave way to a culinary creative challenge.
“We weren’t afraid to do the whole pig, but trying to find use for the entire thing all the time was where the trial came,” Pacheco says.
Here’s how the basic breakdown went throughout the season: prime cuts like racks and chops were sold as specials on the weekend; belly was used in an appetizer with polenta johnnycakes and fennel-pink pepper jam; legs and shoulders were braised, pulled, and used in a pappardelle pasta dish with ramps, fennel, and fava beans; and head was turned into headcheese, pate, and other charcuterie. Pacheco says that the charcuterie was particularly fun for his cooks to play around with. He says the restaurant's guanciale, a sort of bacon made from the pork jowls, was a surprise standout. Pacheco plans to continue the “pig a week” program into the fall, but it’ll be a new pig this time.
“The Mangalitsa pig that we were getting from AZ Fine Swine was really an incredible animal," the chef says. "What was challenging with them is that the fat content is really high. The breed itself is known for its lard. So we have a ton of lard left over in the freezer.”
Instead, Lon’s weekly pig will come from an affiliate of Crow’s Dairy, Lon’s supplier of goat cheese, who raises hogs solely on a diet of whey left over from the cheese-making process. How does the taste of the meat compare?
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“Creamier,” Pacheco says. Go figure.
If you attended the beer dinner Pacheco hosted with chef Justin Beckett earlier this year, then you've already tasted ham made from one of these pigs. “With the fat content a little bit lower on these pigs we’re getting now, I think the bacon and the pork bellies are going to be a little bit better, because they were almost too fatty with the Mangalista," he says. "I don’t want to talk bad about AZ Fine Swine pigs, because they are amazing! It’s just the difference with the breed and what you get out of them. In the spring, we were just kind of figuring it out. Now that we’re starting it again for the fall, we know what to look for and how we’re going to deal with it a little better.”
Lon’s at the Hermosa launched its new fall menu last week. Aside from more house-made charcuterie, diners can expect a house-ground pork burger as well as some sort of fresh pasta dish with pork, perhaps a Bolognese or ragout.
For more information, check out the Lon's at the Hermosa Inn website.