A very disappointing visit to Watts Grocery led to last week's reflection on the vagaries of restaurants that push local sourcing of their ingredients as part of their appeal. I noted the irony of a restaurant, located in the heart of the #2 pork producing state in the Union, pushing local ingredients, obliged to source its pork from an outfit based in California (an inquiry to Niman Ranch as to locations of their hog farms got no response). Several comments, however, made me think that I missed the point, slightly. Several folks pointed out that there are local, non-industrial hogs being raised in the Triangle, but likely not in the volume that would support a restaurant that needs a reliable supply of certain cuts (in the case of Watts Grocery, loins and chops, evidently).
Loins and chops are probably still what they teach you how to cook at many culinary schools, and there is a value to being able to crank out a number of covers of chops and loins and have them not come back. It is, however, a model that depends upon a supplier who can reliably deliver cases of loins and chops. This is, unfortunately, not how hogs grow, so one has to deal with a relatively high-volume supplier, be it Niman or Smithfield.
Is there any way out of this bind? Well, Fergus Henderson might have an idea or two. Henderson, and Stateside nose-to-tail adherents like Tony Maws at Craigie on Main, have the advantage of needing fewer animals, because they are putting the whole beast on the menu. If Watts Grocery were willing to go a little further into the hog, they might not have to go as far for each hog.