Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Huskers, Heritage Pork and Ann Arbor

September 18, 2018

The column below was written for Volume 2 Issue 12 of Hail Varsity. It came out right before Nebraska's trip to face Michigan in 2013. With the Huskers making their first trip to Ann Arbor since then, I knew I wanted to republish it this week because I also knew one part of it was still relevant for Husker fans making the trip.

I'm not sure if the pork chops mentioned are still on the menu at either of the restaurant locations, but they are in the catalog and the larger point is this: It's a place that cares a lot about food. Everything I've ever had there has been great.

The back part of it isn't quite as relevant, though maybe more so than I would've expected. In 2013 Nebraska was 6-2 going into the Michigan game, but there was some big-picture concern (as mentioned below) over a loss to Minnesota two weeks prior and a close win over Northwestern in Lincoln.

The 2018 Huskers don't have those same long-range, big-picture concerns, though they are 0-2. I doubt that has dampened any enthusiasm for Nebraska fans making the trip, but if it has maybe this can help as a gentle nudge –– there's some world-class food in Ann Arbor.

And if you're hungry for more football-and-food stories –– sorry, should've quit while I was ahead –– be sure to check out the new issue, our first-ever food issue. On to the column.

Let’s talk about food.

Specifically, let’s talk about pork from the Red Wattle pig. Unless you’re 100-years-old, raise Red Wattles or know someone who does, odds are good that you, like me, have never tasted this heritage brand of pork. That’s because until two ranchers found a pair of herds wandering around in the east Texas woods 40 years ago, nobody was sure that the Red Wattle still existed. As late as 1999, the Livestock Conservancy knew of just six breeders possessing a total of 42 breeding animals.

Lucky for you and me, the breed is coming back into fashion. There are enough Red Wattles to eat now –– the meat is supposed to be both leaner and more flavorful than the pork you’re used to –– but it’s still not easy to find it on a menu, even harder to get some to try at home.

But I know a place that has some. If you’re a Nebraska fan headed to Ann Arbor this weekend, good news –– you’re headed right for Big Red Wattle country.

The place is Zingerman’s, one of the best food markets in the world, which also has a Deli and Roadhouse for immediate dining. It’s kind of a big deal.

Started as your traditional deli in 1982, Zingerman’s sold some excellent sandwiches, but it soon became better known as the source in America for the world’s finest meats, cheeses, and olive oils. Ari Weinzweig, one of Zingerman’s original owners, was preternaturally good at traveling the world and finding this stuff –– tough gig, I know –– but he was even better at coming back and telling people why they should care about things like cave-aged cheese and salt that came from the sea.

Launched in 1993, Zingerman’s mail order catalog was a foodie bible before the term foodie ever existed. It was way ahead of the curve. Now you can buy Lay’s potato chips flavored with sea salt. The world has caught up with Zingerman’s, but that doesn’t make a trip any less worthwhile. As you may have guessed, I highly recommend it.

So what’s this all have to do with football? Nothing really, but it has a lot to do with going on the road to watch the Huskers, something Nebraska fans are preternaturally good at. Say what you will about the move to the Big Ten at this point –– there are definitely pros and cons to be debated –– but it did afford Husker fans a rare opportunity to experience a new set of football and college cultures.

And there are Zingerman’s in every college town. It’s important to find these places. Not to say you checked it off the list of “Things to Do While in Ann Arbor,” but because it is perhaps the best reminder of why you spent hard earned money to follow the Nebraska football team in the first place.

The Husker football program is in some choppy water at the moment. There are questions swirling. Big questions like “Is this program better than it was five years ago?” or “Is this program still worse than it was 10 years ago?” I’m not suggesting you simply eat those questions and chase it with some rare pork, although that would probably make you forget for at least a few hours.

Rather, I’m saying remember that watching football and experiencing new things is fun. Ann Arbor is a beautiful place in the fall and you can go see it while watching the Huskers. You can eat its food and visit its landmarks and get to know the place itself while supporting the team you love.

It’s a pretty good package deal. Certainly cheaper, by the pound, than the $80 for four Red Wattle pork chops deal, which you can order via the Zingerman’s website if after all this you’re not going and simply hungry. 

But you should go. If not now to Ann Arbor, than somewhere else for some other game. The going alone is worth it.

Don’t forget that.

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