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Matt Alford of Elkhorn Farm and Forge offers pork from pigs raised the old fashioned way

Matt Alford of Elkhorn Farm and Forge offers pork from pigs raised the old fashioned way


SUBMITTED PHOTOS:  - Matt Alford, chief hog herder at Elkhorn Farm and Forge, raises and sells humanely raised pigs for sale. Barb Randall and her friends could taste a difference from store-bought pork.

You know what hog heaven feels like: total and complete happiness and bliss.

Know what it tastes like? Like pork from Elkhorn Farm and Forge, lovingly raised by Chief Hog Herder, Matt Alford.

Matt found a column I wrote recently on the internet about summer grilling. He raises and sells humanely raised premium pork and wanted to know if I’d be interested in visiting his farm as a way to help locals find great meat to grill. Wear my boots, he advised.

My older brother worked on a pig farm as a teen. I remember there was a little porker that kept escaping the pen. Doug would have to drive after him in his old Chevy sedan, then put the pig in the back seat for the drive back to the ranch. He quickly realized pigs are smart. The oinker would stand on the back seat with his forelegs resting on the top of the front seat and squeal with delight — he loved riding in Doug’s car and created opportunities to do so as often as possible.

By the end of the summer a strong pig manure smell had permeated Doug’s car, along with lots of mud. I figured that was what was in store for me at Elkhorn, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Barb Randall toured Elkhorn Farms and enjoyed watching Matt Alford interact with the pigs.

Matt had just moved his pigs from the pasture behind his farmhouse to forest pasture he leases less than a mile from the farm so we hopped into his truck for the short drive to visit the pigs.

As we walked from the truck to the pigs Matt explained that he raises his pigs the old fashioned way: outdoors where they can roam freely on pasture and in the forest. They spend their days rooting, running and resting in contended happiness. And they do run and cavort — they are happy to be out of doors.

Matt raises the heritage breeds Gloucestershire Old Spots, which he refers to as Gloucesters or GOS, and Large Blacks, and crosses between the two.

“GOS are known for having a nice temperament and being easy to manage,” he said. “These breeds are known for having more lard and superior tasting meat. Part of that great taste is also due to the pasture aspect of our farm. Hogs love to forage around in the soil for tasty treats and the diversity in their diet adds nutrition and flavor.” Matt also feeds them a mix of locally raised peas and wheat.

I watched Matt interact with his pigs. He knows each and every one and speaks their language. He snorts with them, and they come when he calls. It’s a delight to watch.

Each month, Matt brings in 12 new weaner pigs to take the place of the 12 he slaughters. Weaned from their mothers at about eight-weeks-old, they are eating solid foods and will be fine without their mothers at this stage. When Matt brings these pigs into a sort of nursery he sits down among them and starts snorting, talking their language.

“They need to get to know me,” he said. Eventually the new group of weaner pigs will join the larger herd, but it seemed the bonds were made among the different “age” groups of pigs. Some “teenaged” pigs weighing about 200 pounds were lying side by side in straw when we arrived but roused when they heard Matt coming and came to greet him. While we were talking, other pigs came out of the forest to see what was going on.

I was totally charmed by the pigs. Think a whole herd of “Babe the Pig” in real life.

And there wasn’t any odor or mud because Matt is a diligent steward of the land and of the pigs. When the pigs have cleaned the underbrush they are moved to a new section of the forest or pasture. Fresh food and water are always available.

“I really like pigs,” he said. “Our pigs live the good life here at Elkhorn, and we enjoy having them here. Our philosophy is everything we do here is great for the pigs or we don’t do it at all. When you buy pork for Elkhorn, you are supporting happy hogs, raised locally in their natural environment without added hormones or sub-therapeutic antibiotics.”

Matt admits that he does get attached to the pigs, and slaughtering can be tough on him.

“We know them individually, and we’re sad when it’s time for them to go,” he said. “We see that as a good thing. We care deeply about the welfare of our pigs, and it’s what drives us to provide our pigs with the very best life possible.”

Even down to the slaughtering. Matt uses Mt. Angel Meat Company in Mount Angel and The Meating Place in Hillsboro to process his pork. Both companies guarantee that you receive your hog and only your hog back. Matt said many butchers will process the meat from multiple hogs at once and randomly assign equivalent poundage back to you, but they won’t guarantee the meat you receive is from your hog.

“We also want to know — not hope, guess or assume — that our hogs are treated humanely during the entire kill process, so they are calm right to the end and their lives end in an unexpected, fear-free, pain-free instant,” Matt said. “Both of these butchers understand that and provide this level of care and commitment. These butchers have operations that are 100-percent transparent and open to our observation.”

I conducted a blind taste test of Elkhorn pork chops against a grocery store brand with some friends, using Matt’s recipe of grilling them with just a little olive oil, salt and pepper. We could definitely taste a difference. The Elkhorn pork put us in hog heaven — tender and juicy with that delicious authentic flavor of pork, just like grandma used to make.

Because of his sustainable model, Matt can guarantee restaurant clients that he will have fresh pork year round in quantities they need. His premium meats are available for home delivery too. You can order a whole, half or quarter-share (literally the whole, half or quarter hog) or 10, 15 and 20 pound boxes of cut and wrapped meat. He delivers weekly in the Portland metro area at no additional charge for orders totally $20 or more, and delivers as far south as Eugene about once a month.

Matt invites anyone interested to take a farm tour and see just where your pork is raised. Go online to http://elkhornfarmandforge.com or give him a call at 503-780-2596 to learn more.

If you missed it above, here is Matt’s recipe for grilling pork. The simplicity allows the true flavor of the pork to shine through.

Bon Appetit! Make eating an adventure!

Matt’s Recipe for Grilling Pork

Makes 4 servings

4 pork loin chops

Salt

Pepper

Olive oil

Lightly dab olive oil over the meat and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill over a medium-hot bed of coals on one side; turn 90 degrees after 2 minutes to get grill marks, continue cooking for 2 more minutes and then flip the chops over. Cook on second side, turning 90 degrees after 2 minutes. Cook to desired doneness, about 3 more minutes total. Use an instant read thermometer to ensure the pork is cooked completely; it should register 165 F.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached online at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by calling 503-636-1281 ext. 100. Follow her on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Alford raises 40-60 pigs at a time; each month he harvests 12 and replaces them with weaner pigs.

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