The Berkshire is primarily black in color, with white coloring on the short leg. Although it is a colored breed, the meat dresses out white and, as this is an early-finishing breed, an ideal carcass weighs between 36kg and 45kg. It has large erect ears and a dished snout. It has a short deep body whose skin becomes white if carcass is correctly prepared. The breed is in fact ideal for meat production, due to the deep hams it possesses all the way to the hock. The Berkshire produces pork of a lovely pink hue, with heavy marbling and a fine texture. The high fat content of the breed makes it ideal for long or high temperature cooking. It also results in pork that is juicy, tender and full of flavor. The high fat content also results in excellent crackling. The breed has its origins in the Thames valley around the late 16th century. It is often said to be England’s oldest pig breed. Early examples of the breed are described as large tawny red pigs with pendulous ears, short legs, and big bones. The history of the Berkshire is linked to Cromwell and his troops. Their references to the breed are thought to be the the earliest mention of the Berkshire. This early breed was a larger pig than the Berkshire of today. The improvement of the breed is generally ascribed to Lord Barrington, who introduced Chinese or east Asian blood to the breed. This resulted in Berkshire that we now know. A smaller animal, with prick ears rather than the larger droopy ears of yore. The breed was a firm favourite with the royal family in the 19th century and enjoyed great patronage from the aristocracy. Queen Victoria owned a boar called ‘The Ace of Spades’, starting a long lasting relationship between the Royals and the Berkshire. The Berkshire, although traditionally very popular, suffered a decline in popularity after the Second World War. This was due to a demand for leaner bacon, and a rejection of colored pig breeds. This was further compounded in the 1960s with the development of breeding companies that favoured white breeds. However, due to a few loyal stalwarts, the Berkshire survived. Today’s increasing interest in traditional meat produced in a sustainable manner has renewed interest in the breed. The breed is on the Rare Breed Survival trust list due to a lack of numbers within the U.K as a whole. The latest figures state that there are 706 sows in England as a whole.
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