Compart Family Farms pioneering dry-aged pork

Is pork steak's long-lost cousin?

NEVER BEFORE, in the course of reporting a story, has a source asked me to take a shower or wear communal underwear. But that's standard operating procedure for all those who enter Compart's barns, due to concerns about biosecurity. The irony was not lost on me that visiting pigs—animals most people associate with rolling around in the mud—required soaping up and donning a pair of clean boots and coveralls.

Since harmful diseases can easily infect swine via wildlife and rodents, the Comparts raise their animals in indoor barns with walls of pricey air filters—the sort used in hospital wards—to keep viruses out. Some of the deadliest viruses, when airborne, have been found to travel more than five miles, so producers are always on high alert. If a truck driver carrying a load of swine feed passes another truck carrying hogs on the road, some trucking companies require that he heads to a wash station to sanitize the vehicle before making his delivery. Compart says that a disease outbreak could incur a $300,000 loss to his business.

Compart's pigs are segregated into barns according to age, starting in a farrowing barn and ending in a finishing one. The younger animals are more rambunctious, and when startled by human visitors, they tend to clamber atop one another. But once the pet-sized pigs get comfortable, they're more than amenable to a few pats on the back or behind-the-ear scratches.

FireLake's dry-aged porterhouse: It all starts with the right pig
courtesy of Compart Family Farms
FireLake's dry-aged porterhouse: It all starts with the right pig

Location Info

Map

Firelake Grill House and Cocktail Bar

31 S. 7th St.
Minneapolis, MN 55402

Category: Restaurant > Grill

Region: Minneapolis (Downtown)

Details

Where to find Compart Duroc dry-aged pork locally:
Bacio, MinnetonkaBistro 11, LorettoFireLake, MinneapolisSpasso, MinnetonkaZelo, Minneapolis

The animals are fed by an automated system in which a feeder is programmed to move through the pens and deposit a predetermined mix of corn, soybeans, vitamins, and minerals. When the pigs are 175 to 180 days old, they reach their slaughter weight of 265 pounds. When we reach the finishing barn, the hefty hogs laze about, blissfully ignorant of their impending trip to Sioux City, Iowa, for butchering.

From Iowa, select cuts are sent to dry-aging facilities at J&B Wholesalers, a food distributor in St. Michael, Minnesota. J&B found that Compart's meat was more amenable to the dry-aging process than most commercially available pork because it has a higher amount of fat and a higher pH. With temperature and moisture carefully regulated, controlled airflow slowly draws moisture out of the meat as enzymes work to tenderize it. After a few weeks the meat is ready. It's cut into individual portions and Cryovaced, destined for high-end restaurants.

At the end of my farm tour, Compart goes to a cooler in his office and pulls out a plastic-wrapped, dry-aged pork porterhouse. It's medium-pink in color, lighter than a steak, but with a similar pattern of white fat veins running through it. Were it larger and redder, it might be mistaken for a pricey cut of beef. "Everybody told us we couldn't do it," Compart says. "But we're elevating pork to the next level." He notes that advancing Americans' perception of pork has actually meant looking back. "People say, 'This is how pork used to taste.'"

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