Pork hock and bacon terrine. We were hooked, umm hocked … TP photo

We finally managed to get into forage last night for a serious meal. And believe me, it was serious.

Chef Chris Whittaker was showcasing pork from Gelderman Farms (Abbotsford) with Audrey and Jerry Gelderman in attendance. Think Porkapalooza—and then some.

Audrey and Jerry Gelderman also find time to farm 30 acres of blueberries

Part of the conversation revolved around the need to better educate people as to why superior product is worth supporting over mass produced (and all too often poorly treated) animals.

The Geldemans have been farming for 37 years, during which they’ve greatly increased their direct dealings with chefs and individual consumers. Over the years they’ve seen a lot of changes.

Their animals are free to run and root, and (like all Canadian pork) are not subjected to any growth hormones. They’re now CFIA and Animal Care Assurance certified. In short, the pigs are well cared for and relaxed, which shows up in more sociable behaviour.

The better conditions also result in meat with higher fat content, which, interestingly enough, does not find favour with mass processors, who insist on the leanest meat possible.

However, the Geldermans discovered it’s that very fat content, along with better coloured and more flavourful meat, which is precisely what dedicated, source-driven chefs such as Whittaker are after.

Pickled pigs ear and watercress salad. It’s a keeper

“Producing food for North America has become a huge challenge,” says Jerry Gelderman, who suggests it’s “a major disconnect that, increasingly, the producer is not tied to the people.”

No doubt some of the highlights from last night will make it onto the regular menu, such as the pork hock and bacon terrine with pickled walnuts, and the remarkable pickled pigs ear and watercress salad (once watercress is back in season).

Forage pork hock and spot prawn chowder. TP photo

Needless to say, the much celebrated pork hock and spot prawn championship chowder (which is very much on the menu) also made an appearance.

Gelderman Farms pork truly is superb, a fact that became even more apparent with each bite, culminating in the evening’s show stopper: perfectly roasted pork belly with evenly crunchy crackling (no small feat), braised cabbage and celeriac pomme purée. The texture and taste of the meat was among the best we’ve encountered, with just the right amount of fat for flavour and moisture.

Roast pork belly with braised cabbage, pink lady apple and celeriac pomme purée  … may call for further research

Striking about this dish, beyond the flavours (including the nicely matched puréé), was its simplicity and uncluttered look. (It also paired very well with Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills 07 Pinot Noir—as well as with Orofino Similkameen  Riesling!) This dish will be on the forage menu ongoing as a Thursday ‘special.’ And is hereby inducted into the Hired Belly’s Pork Belly Hall of Fame!

Oh, and did we mention the whipped smoked pork fat? … You may never eat butter on your dinner roll again. (As long as you don’t tell your doctor.)

Check in with forage (1300 Robson St., Vancouver, 604-661-1400) for more Producer Dinners upcoming.