The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Black Pig Meat Company

Black Pig Meat Company


November 27, 2011

Chef Duskie Estes, along with her husband, John Stewart, runs two restaurants – Zazu Restaurant in Santa Rosa, California and Bovolo Restaurant in Healdsburg – and operates the Black Pig Meat Company, which makes bacon, piggy pops and a whole host of other pork products. Through their love of all things pork, Estes and Stewart won the nationwide Grand Cochon 555 event, a national culinary competition promoting heritage breed pigs, at the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen this past June. We talked to Estes and Stewart about how sustainably and humanely produced foods can both taste better – and be better for you.

What was the idea behind opening the Black Pig Meat Company?

Estes: I was a vegetarian for more than half my life. John became passionate and incredibly skilled at meat curing – to the point of tattooing a meat cutting chart on his arm when he was proud of his first prosciutto (armandino batslis logo). The way we came together was with a commitment to all pasture raised animals, heritage breeds, and no antibiotics or hormones.

Stewart: The idea really came about by accident. I wanted to make better bacon for the restaurant so I started curing bacon. I took the first batch of bacon I made to Bruce Aidell’s house for a breakfast he invited us to and it turned out he really liked it. Then I started making lots of bacon and another person, Dan Phillips of the grateful palate, who is a bacon fiend and has a bacon-of-the-month club, ate the bacon and really pushed us to get it thru the USDA. He said he would buy 2800 pounds if we did (that is a powerful motivator), and the rest is history. We have hopes of adding other products in the future but currently bacon is all the meat company sells.

How does your business define sustainability? 

Estes: We define sustainability as taking responsibility for our impact on the earth, animals and people, not only of our own actions, but also on the actions of our suppliers.

How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business? 

Estes: By purchasing our ingredients from producers who behave in an environmentally responsible and humane way, we can incorporate sustainable practices into our business. For example, we use only pastured animals with no antibiotics or hormones. We support ranchers who provide animals with “a great life and only one bad day.” We try to “know the face that feeds you” by putting our money directly in the hand of a farming family we know. We always consider carbon footprint in our purchasing choices. On our own farm, we feed our chickens, pigs, goats, and rabbits scrap from our restaurant and we try to get scrap from our neighbors, like Redwood Hill Dairy and Coastline Produce. We reuse menu paper three times by using both sides and then also using them as plate liners.

What are your short term and long term goals? 

Estes: Our goals are simple. We want to continue to create more pork products and other gourmet products, spend a little more time with our family, and make a more sustainable living for our family. We hope to leave this place a better place too.

How do you measure your progress?

Estes: We try to live responsibly and avoid actions that we'll later regret. And when we model that behavior for our children and see them behave that way, we know we're making progress. 

How does focusing on quality, instead of quantity, improve the pork production process for your business?

Estes: Our "slow bacon" process is a month in the making versus a day, and the slower raising of pasture-raised hogs creates a better product. The taste of the meat quality of our bacon is the best. The cure recipe is perfectly balanced for sweet, smokey, and salt versus many bacons weighing one of those notes. We can’t make in quantity for the requirements of our hogs or the lengthy hand rubbed process. We have even discussed allocations like wineries do with wine, but we've decided against it because we don't want to manage that process and we'd prefer to run out now and again.

Stewart: Focusing on quality, not quantity will improve the quality of almost any product. In bacon or meat in general, it gives us a much better flavor, and often that flavor is specifically in the quality of the fat. We are really just following the flavor there.

How do retailers factor into your efforts?

Estes: We encourage retailers to talk to their customers about why sustainable products are worth spending more for.

Why are sustainable business practices important to the food industry?

Estes: Most products that are produced using unsustainable methods are usually not as healthy, nutritious and flavorful as sustainably produced foods. No one should want to put that stuff in his or her body.

Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer? 

Estes: Consumers are responsible for the impact of their choices. If the food you purchase came from animals that were treated cruelly, you are supporting the cruelty and bear responsibility. If the food you purchase was grown with methods that damage the environment, then you supported that and bear responsibility for it. Also, in most cases, sustainable production practices makes healthier, better tasting food.

In upcoming issues, we will feature interviews with food companies that are making strides in their sustainability efforts. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing to get involved please contact Allison Bloom