By Rob Gaston, April 21, 2014

When people are asked what food they associate with Indiana, there are no quick or obvious answers.  While Hoosiers may tell you “pork tenderloin”, others think there’s just corn in Indiana.  Restaurants that regularly use local foods are now working together to feature Indiana ingredients that are seasonal and have a significant history to the state.  As the season progresses, we will showcase the fresh and seasonal ingredients being used by Dig IN chefs all around the state.  Look for Dig IN tweets, posts,  and pictures of ways that Hoosier chefs are using these locally farmed ingredients in season and at the peak of their flavor.

Many of us probably sit down to a beautiful ham on Easter or other special occasions, and recently we focused on a chef and foodie favorite ingredient-pork-and its importance to us as a state. Indiana is the 5th largest producers of hogs in the country, coming in at about 8.5 million head per year, with 70% of those being raised on small family farms.  This is the item most people are quick to associate with the state, and indeed has a long history here.  Nic Mink, food anthropologist with Butler University writes, “Indiana was a state, quite literally, built on the backs and the fats of swine. Specifically, the Southeast corner of the state, an area extending roughly between Richmond, Indianapolis, and Louisville was the center of the American hog economy during the first half of the 19th century. There, Hoosiers fattened pigs by the millions, producing in some years about 1/4 of all hogs raised in the emerging nation. There, too, pork became a centerpiece of Indiana cuisine, adopted in roasts, used for stews, and baked in pies.”  Hoosiers can truly say that pork runs through our hearts.

Pork is often best prepared by simple cooking and seasoning,  allowing the natural flavors come out.  According to Thom England of the culinary program at Ivy Tech Community College,  “I love that chefs are really showcasing the quality of Indiana Pork as they make the dishes.  They aren’t covering them up with tons of sauce and topping, but are really letting the flavor of our “stars of swine” shine through!” And here are some of the top pork dishes we found on restaurant menus:

Chef Tyler Herald at Napolese is cooking up 100# of Gunthorp Farm’s pork belly per week, on a pizza with fennel, provolone, and local apples.

-At Oakley’s Bistro, Chef  Steve Oakley gets in a 20 to 30 pound suckling pig every week.  It is roasted for hours with olive oil and rosemary until the meat is falling apart, and the paddled with whole grain mustard into a delicious spread called rillettes.

-At the recently opened Rook,  chef Carlos Salazaar (a protégé of Oakley) has become known for his Pig Face Hash, which is brined overnight and infused with the flavors of soy, tamarind, lime, cilantro, and garlic, finally topped with a sunny side up egg and pork cracklings. Easy to see why Salazaar is earning all kinds of awards and recognition.

Look for more information on seasonal Indiana ingredients coming to you each month!