Retailer: Tails & Trotters
Tails & Trotters is a 2014 Local Hero Award nominee in the Retailer category. Read about the Local Hero Awards and the nominees. Voting is now closed. Winners will be announced at Summer’s First BBQ on June 12 – get your tickets today to feast with the Pacific Northwest’s finest!
At Tails & Trotters, pork production is a careful craft. Inspired by the nut-finished pigs of Spain, founder Aaron Silverman built his production practices based on centuries of time-honored European tradition coupled with more than 20 years of personal farming experience. Tails & Trotters pigs are fattened on a diet of Pacific Northwest hazelnuts, giving the end product a unique local flavor.
We spoke with Aaron and his business partner Mark Cockcroft about the care involved in producing their signature pork.
What is your background in the food industry?
Aaron: I got into food through farming. I have a degree in sustainable agriculture, and in 1996, I started a farm called Creative Growers to grow vegetables for restaurants. In 2004, I went to Torino, Italy for a Slow Food conference. I spent a day sampling European prosciutto produced with different breeds of pigs that were finished on different diets. I was inspired to come back and start a similar program here. Over the next few years, we developed a finishing program to fatten the pigs near the end, specifically for prosciutto production. In 2006, I moved my family to Portland to start our next chapter with pigs.
How did Tails & Trotters get started?
Aaron: We started the business in 2008. At the time, we were bringing in four to six pigs a week for wholesale to restaurants, a few retail outlets, and a little bit for farmers’ markets. We were one of their first tenants at KitchenCru, which allowed us to start developing the value-added products that form our core product base to utilize the whole pig. Our program is predicated on bringing in pigs that have a special diet of hazelnuts at the end of their lives. It changes the chemistry of the fat in the meat, and is really geared toward making prosciutto.
How did you develop the unique program and diet for your pigs, and what does it involve?
Aaron: The hazelnut finishing program was developed on my farm with our nutritionist. Eventually, we needed to find a reliable, proven grower for the pigs, and we were referred to Pure Country Pork. We purchase the hazelnuts from George Packing in Newberg. When we showed up, they were sending nearly 150 tons of product to China every year – now we take 75-90% of that product. These are nuts that are just off size or color, so we take those to Pure Country for the pigs’ finishing diet. If any pigs are medicated for health issues, they are not sold in our program, and out of at least 3,000 pigs, we have only had two pigs removed for health issues. We take pride in having a really healthy pig that is well cared for.
Is there a philosophy that guides your pork production?
Mark: One of our main philosophies is to use the whole pig – every part of it. The pig is a generous creature, and our job is to respect and celebrate that bounty, making sure none goes to waste. At the shop, you see the end result in all manner of delicious things. The three ingredients of prosciutto are pork, salt, and patience – it can take up to two years to create a delicious prosciutto. In the meantime, you have the rest of the animal to work with. We’re very lucky here in Portland that we have such a fabulous food town and lots of adventurous restaurants and people who are willing to experiment.
What sets you apart from other producers and retailers?
Aaron: Even though our end goal is a product, we don’t start only thinking of that product. We go all the way back to the beginning. We know that in order to get a good end product, we have to put a lot of care into making sure we have good, healthy pigs. Our philosophy with the products is also based on showcasing that pig. Our bacon or ham is not as heavily smoked as what you might find elsewhere, because our goal is to showcase the pork. We want be able to taste how the pig itself is reflected in it.
Mark: The Oregon Pinot industry is kind of a model for what we do. The early Pacific Northwest winemakers decided to do their own style. We also have our own style, and we’re really trying to make an Oregon-style ham inspired by the European version. In a sense, it’s Prosciutto Pacifico as opposed to Prosciutto di Parma or Jamon Iberico. It’s taking those time-honored traditions and pairing it with local flavor and the terroir of the Northwest.
Are there any trends in the food industry that you find particularly encouraging?
Aaron: When we started in 1997, there were only six kitchens that would allow us farmers in the door to talk to them. But now it is much more widespread, and kitchens and owners are more open to higher food costs. The customer base is also more open to the higher food costs that are inevitably required for fresh, farm-direct and artisan products.
Mark: The real crux of what has happened is an awakening of interest in food in this country. It’s been an education through the stomach. I hear from customers that our product is like the pork they used to have growing up. For a long time, they bred pigs to be very lean, and it was cooked until it was dry and unappealing. But the pendulum has swung the other way, as people have started exploring and being more adventurous with food. People are getting that full pork flavor again, and it can be a pretty powerful thing.
Tails & Trotters
525 NE 24th Ave
Portland, OR 97232
Photo of Aaron & Mark by T&T and Catticut P.
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