Lots of artists, writers, celebrities and other people of note are associated with the Cotswolds, but we’re also fortunate to have a rare and special animal that owes its provenance to our lovely part of the world – the “cheese and cider” region of the Severn Vale.
Did you know that we’re famous for a rare breed of pig – the Gloucester Old Spot. These chubby chaps are the pride and joy of many of the local farmers, and butchers, that we’ve got to know in the area over our years as inn-keepers here at Edge, near Stroud.
When you come to explore this part of the world keep a look out for these pretty pedigreed porkies, who are beginning to proliferate again after almost becoming extinct in the 1960s.
Shop for Prized Pork
If you enjoy truly delicious locally reared free-range pork, bring a cold-box when you head this way for a visit or a day trip, because chances are you’ll find a farm shop or village butcher who has some Gloucester Old Spot high quality bacon or sausages, succulent chops and flavoursome roasting joints available.
Local breeders are gradually bringing the Gloucester Old Spot back into viable commercial production, but essentially this meat, that is prized by discerning chefs around the world, is not easy to get beyond South Gloucestershire where the breed originated.
The Lop-Eared Orchard Pig
Yes, we love our local large lop-eared piggies with their pale skin and irregular black spots. It’s not only that they taste good, but they’re also docile, intelligent creatures that are sweet to keep.
Once upon a time the Old Spot was known as the “orchard pig”, because traditionally these pigs – first recognised as a breed in 19th century – foraged in the local apple and pear orchards and dairy farms across the Severn Vale, particularly around the town of Berkeley, eating mainly windfall fruit and whey.
These hardy animals flourished and relished their free-range lifestyle – in fact they just don’t lend themselves to intensive farming methods at all. Without the freedom to range they just become too fat.
Folklore has it that the pigs’ spots are bruises resulting from collisions with falling fruit. To qualify as pedigreed breed standard a pig must have at least one clear spot.
Rare Breed Preservation
Times change, and despite their tasty meat the Old Spot fell out of favour – or should we say “flavour” – in the early 20th century as new pig varieties were developed which could be raised quickly and intensively, producing leaner meat more abundantly and efficiently.
We almost lost the Old Spot for good, with its numbers dwindling to the verge of extinction, but for the efforts of a breed society that was established in the USA, and preservation efforts by a few dedicated breeders in Britain. They are slowly making a comeback, but remain “at risk” with fewer than 1,000 registered breeding females.
Gloucestershire Farm Parks
Fortunately, it seems that these pastoral pigs are increasing in numbers and popularity once more – and with the sows being renowned for producing large litters and raising them with great maternal skills – there are plenty of Old Spots to see and appreciate once more all along the Severn Valley and beyond.
The best places to get up close and personal with Gloucester Old Spots are the farm parks that proliferate in the Cotswolds.
Here’s a list of some of the local farm parks:
- Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park at Guiting Power (GL54 5FL)
- Cattle Country Farm Park, Berkeley (GL13 9EW)
- Butts Rare Breeds Farm, South Cerney (GL7 5QE)
- St Augustine’s Farm, Arlingham (GL2 7JR)
When you head to south Gloucestershire to scout out our precious pigs, don’t forget to call in at the Edgemoor Inn for a warm welcome and a tasty meal.