Today I’m sharing a fun photo recap on my experiences while visiting a pig farm – plus a fabulous recipe for the best ever pork lettuce wraps! (This post was sponsored by the National Pork Board – as always, all opinions expressed are 100% my own.)
Two weeks ago, I flew over to Iowa to meet with the National Pork Board and check out a real life pig farm! (Sometimes my job is just about the coolest thing EVER.) I had never been to Iowa before and was excited to see what it was like. I was also excited to see what really goes on behind the scenes on a pig farm. It’s honestly something I’ve never thought about. Like, ever. I just fry up my bacon or pork chops without even a thought of where it comes from or how much work/effort it takes to produce the pigs that make it.
When my plane flew into the airport, there were cornfields as far as the eye could see. That’s pretty much the opposite from where I live in Southern California. 😉 There are no farms or crops in my neck of the woods so I was definitely intrigued and a bit out of my comfort zone.
Me and a bunch of other (super awesome) bloggers were driven to the Hotel Vetro which was in Downtown Iowa. The hotel was recently remodeled and was uber modern. After freshening up, we were taken to Pullman Bar & Diner.
When I hear “bar & diner” I think of a crappy hole-in-the-wall bar or a greasy diner. Nope. Not this place! It was a super cute restaurant with an amazing special menu for us, shown below. The Brenneman family joined us for dinner and gave us a little of the background to their special pig farm.
Rob Brenneman started his farm in 1980 and is now one of the largest family-owned, fully integrated swine and grain operations in Iowa! I love how contagious his love for pigs is. We were all pretty excited about the next day’s activities!
On day #2, we met bright and early to drive over to the Brenneman Farm. Let me tell you, the showering in and out of the farm was a bit tricky. We actually had to shower our whole bodies when we came in, change into a clean jumpsuit, put fresh boots on, and pull our hair back into these little caps. All to make sure the piggies wouldn’t catch any sort of germs from the outside world. After all, healthy pigs make healthy pork!
Before we went on our journey through the farm, Dr. Tim, the Brenneman’s veterinarian gave us some great information on the cycle of the pigs life. The passion he has for the pigs health and safety on the farm is palpable and contagious!
Once inside, we walked into the birthing room and were able to see, hold, and even deliver baby pigs! It was a crazy, amazing experience. Having four kids of my own, I could appreciate such a miracle. The sows were in complete comfort. There are special workers at the Brenneman Farm who are constantly walking around, checking on each sow to make sure she’s laboring okay.
I cleaned up this little guy above. He was number 9 out of 14 piglets! I was so shocked that mama pigs can have anywhere from 14-18 babies! Once the mama pigs have had their litter of piglets, she oinks and they all come and nurse on her. It’s just about the cutest thing ever. A sow, or a female pig who is pregnant for the first time has a gestational period of three months, three weeks, and three days. Pretty cool, right?
After we left the birthing area, we went to another section of the farm. This was where they do the AI or Artificial Insemination. That’s the process that they use to impregnate the pigs. So, yeah. That’s what I’m doing below. EEK!!
Pretty crazy stuff! After that, we showered back out and put on our regular clothes and headed to another section of the farm. My friends Taylor and Sandra are with me below in our space suits. 😉 This was another safety precaution in keeping the pigs safe from any unwanted germs or chemical from outside.
Below is the inside of that barn. Lots and lots of pigs! They’re split up by gender and separated into pens. They were so inquisitive about what we were doing there, which was pretty funny. They would all come over to the side of the gate when we walked by and sniff our outfits.
You might recognize this guy below from my Instagram page. I dubbed him Wilbur. We both just stared at each other for about a minute. It was pretty cool.
We waved our goodbyes to the pigs and headed out to ride a combine on the corn fields! The Brenneman’s have acres of land that they plant corn on to feed their very own pigs. It just so happened to be harvest time so we hopped on the combine and took a ride around the crops.
I have to admit that I didn’t know what a combine was until then. Now I do! It was so cool to see how the corn was immediately shucked and separated from the cobs and placed in the back of the machine. All within seconds. When it filled up (and it filled up fast) someone else would drive a second tractor trailer over to the side of the combine and the combine arm would swing out and empty the contents of the inside into the trailer.
Here’s the Brenneman Pork crew below. Such a great group of people!
And then a few of my favorite blogging buds below with our very own ears of corn. I especially love the photo bomb from Cathy in the back, ha!
Day #3 was another fabulous day. We were able to see the fabrication process by Chef Jim Murray, who’s a chef with National Pork Board. We learned about all the different cuts of pork and where they are/how they’re cut to make the perfect packages you buy in the grocery store meat section. I’ve never been able to see something like this before and found it very fascinating.
After the fabrication, we stepped into Nina’s kitchen and got ready to prepare some delicious pork recipes with her. If you’re ever in Iowa, hit Nina up for some cooking classes. She’s wonderful and will teach you some cool cooking techniques and recipes.
When lo and behold, who walks in to join us in the cooking but the MAN himself – Bachelor Chris Soules!!!
He handed us all bacon roses and of course I accepted the rose. 😉
He was such a sweet guy! Never had one bad word to say about any of his Bachelor cast-offs. He dished about Worst Cooks in America and Dancing with the Stars – all while cooking several pork dishes with us.
It was an incredible experience. After all the dishes were cooked, we ate them until we were absolutely stuffed. And we made poor Chris take photo after photo with us. Luckily he’s used to so much attention from women, right?!
My favorite dish that Nina created was her Pork Lettuce Wraps. They’re out of this world delicious! She gave us all the recipes we made that day and I was so excited about it because I knew I would be making the Pork Lettuce Wraps again and again.
They’re rich in flavor but easy to make. Don’t let the longish list of ingredients scare you off! They’re made with ground pork, which I don’t usually cook with but was pleasantly surprised with how easy it is to use. It tastes a lot like ground turkey and is every bit as lean.
These lettuce wraps are perfect to serve as an appetizer for a party or to serve as a low-carb dinner at home. They’re savory with a little bite of acidity. Crunchy with bits of water chestnuts and shredded carrots but served with the softest Bibb lettuce leaves. The sauce is such a great compliment to the dish.
Thank you Nina for letting us come into your kitchen and thank you for the outstanding recipes!
The Best Ever Pork Lettuce Wraps!
- 2 lb. lean ground pork
- 1 1/2 cups diced onion
- 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. coarse ground pepper
- 2 large garlic cloves minced
- 2 tsp. grated fresh ginger root
- 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce I use light
- 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. sesame oil
- 2 Tbsp. peanut butter
- 2 Tbsp. water
- 1 tsp. Sriracha
- 1/2 cup chopped green onion tops
- 1 8-oz can sliced water chestnuts, drained and chopped
Asian Drizzling Sauce:
- 1/3 cup low sodium soy sauce
- 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar I used garlic flavor
- 1/4 cup honey or other liquid sweetener
- 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp. Sriracha
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 24 - 32 large Bibb lettuce leaves rinsed and dried
- 2 cups shredded carrots
- 2 cups bean sprouts
- 1 cup chopped cilantro
- In a large non-stick skillet, cook pork, onion, salt and pepper on medium high heat until the pork is no longer pink, stirring often to break up the pork.
- Add garlic and ginger - cook for 1 minute. Add soy sauce, vinegar, oil, peanut butter, water and Sriracha. Stir to combine.
- Add green onion and water chestnuts into the skillet then cook for 1 to 2 minutes until the onions are soft and the water chestnuts are heated through.
- In a small bowl, combine drizzling sauce ingredients together. Whisk until smooth.
- To serve: Spoon warm pork mixture into lettuce leaf. Top with carrots, bean sprouts and cilantro. Drizzle with sauce, wrap/roll, eat and enjoy!
I’m incredibly grateful for such an amazing opportunity to visit Brenneman’s Farm. I left with such a good feeling about how they raise healthy pigs for us. I won’t take my food for granted anymore. Every time I cook up a pork chop, I will remember the love and tender care that went into that pig. Thank you Brenneman family for opening your doors to me!
This post was sponsored by the National Pork Board – thank you for giving me the opportunity to see the inside workings of a pig farm! As always, all opinions expressed are 100% my own. 🙂
These wraps look and sound delicious. Thanks Jen.
Andi @ The Weary Chef says
LOVE all the photos, Jen! What a cool trip! I’m loving these lettuce wraps too. I’ve got a freezer full of pork and want to try your recipe with some of it! xoxo
I wish I could have gone on this trip. Sounds like a blast! Glad to hear how well they treat the pigs and the lettuce wraps were absolutely delicious!
Thanks Andi!! I love ya!
Adell - Baked in AZ says
What a cool trip. These look so good! Pinned!
Thanks Adell!!! You’re the BEST!
Lynne @ 365 Days of Baking and More says
What a fantastic recap of a wonderful trip! It was so much fun learning about the farm and the pigs, but nothing will beat all the laughs that we had. I look forward to many more with you, Jen!
Lynne – you pretty much are the coolest person EVER!!! We had so much fun! I can’t wait to hang out with you more! xoxoxo!
Um these really are the best lettuce wraps ever! My husband even said they’re a keeper. Ours were quite messy because I only had butter lettuce which is a bit smaller and doesn’t make such a perfect little cup. Will buy bibb lettuce next time I make these.
YAY!! I’m so happy you liked them! 🙂
There are many lettuce wrap recipes online and I have tried several. These are by far the best. I can’t get enough of them and my husband really loves them too! I lost the recipe and was so sad because It was not easy to find again. I think you could substitute the pork for ground turkey or chicken.
I’m so happy you liked them! Thank you for such a nice comment!