Like a pig in style

So we’ve been warned. As the country’s largest pork producer, Rivalea Australia and Murray Valley Pork takes its biosecurity very seriously, even when you’re being escorted by brand ambassador and My Kitchen Rules chef Manu Feildel.

Our group of visiting media has spent the morning in a masterclass with Manu, cooking and sampling some of Rivalea’s premium moisture-infused Murray Valley Pork at the local Wodonga TAFE. 

But now we’re off to the farm itself at Corowa and there are some strict quarantine procedures in place.

Before we can enter, we need to leave the city behind with quarantine showers that have us scrubbed and sanitised before donning special gumboots and regulation farm wear. 

Any hair styling and makeup is gone and even Manu has lost his trademark slicked coiffure so familiar from his many TV appearances. 

It’s just as well though, because from now on we’re into the serious business of seeing how these pigs are reared and taken to market using a series of innovative techniques to improve both the animal’s wellbeing and meat quality. 

First up is the gestation house where we are greeted by some loudly energetic sows seriously curious to see who we are. 

Rivalea’s Animal Welfare Programs manager Dr Rebecca Morrison says the company raises 800,000 pigs in a year but all are treated as individuals. 

The whole farm is completely sow gestation stall free and the pigs live here in pens for a more natural experience. 

“They all have social interaction and can move around in that system,” Morrison says.  

“Our position is that sow gestation stalls are history.” 

The project to replace sow gestation stalls with group housing has been a multimillion dollar investment but the company produces more pigs as a result, Morrison says. 

Rivalea is also experimenting with different loose farrowing systems from around the world, including techniques from Denmark and Scotland.

These allow the sow her natural maternal behaviours, like nest building, while crates protect the tiny piglets from being accidentally crushed by their 300kg mum. 

The pigs are also naturally inquisitive and there is a research program investigating enrichment in their environment. Those reared in eco sheds have extra space and fresh straw to rummage in until going to market at 21 weeks with a 95kg live weight. 

Animal scientist Amy Lealiifano from Rivalea’s research and innovation group works on testing and monitoring the meat to assure the consumer gets a consistent succulent product. 

“You cannot manage what you do not measure,” Lealiifano says. 

“We work on improving our meat line for marbling and juiciness.” Moisture loss is an objective factor affecting the tenderness for the consumer and so Rivalea uses moisture infusion to stop any potential dryness in Rivalea’s branded product range.” 

The meat is injected with a brine solution with salts attaching to cells in the muscle to prevent moisture loss. 

Although it varies across cuts, the aim is a less than 2.5 per cent drip loss in a loin. 

The tenderness of the meat is further assessed using a “shear force machine” which replicates the human bite. 

A 1-2kg shear force is the base used for the moisture-infused product. Lealiifano says vaccine is also used to delay the male pig’s maturation to avoid “boar taint” an off-flavour that can affect the meat during cooking.

Leaving the farm with all this insider knowledge, there’s just one thing left to do and that’s to taste the product. 

For our evening, the party sits down to a fine menu of Manu’s pork recipes served up at one of Wodonga’s local restaurants. 

It’s pleasing to see that all that work on the farm they do hasn’t let us down. The moisture-infused meat is indeed as tender and delicious as promised, with Manu‘s confit pork belly and side of black pudding a special highlight. 

With our own bellies full, we head back to the Atura Albury Hotel for a nightcap and a well-deserved lie-down to complete our Riverina tour.