Jason Stephenson’s great ambitions for his Boston Bay Smallgoods brand shows that something special is growing on Eyre Peninsula, with the power to influence Adelaide’s dining scene and beyond.
When Jason Stephenson sees an opportunity, he jumps on it. The Port Lincoln builder turned heritage pig farmer and energetic pork promoter has gone from simply rearing and selling superior quality pigs, to now running a pork-focused bistro on the Port Lincoln foreshore, all due to an unexpected business closure.
Fumo 28 – a name that borrows from the Italian term for smoke, coupled with its foreshore address number – opened in late July, after Stephenson hurriedly took over the lease of a defunct cafe among Port Lincoln’s developing foreshore strip of eateries and businesses. Stephenson is working with local chef Kerry Lawson to present a stylish mod eatery focused on meats cooked over charcoal. Yes, there will be local seafood, and beef and lamb, but the star of the show will be his Boston Bay Smallgoods pork.
In this trendy 25-seat dining room overlooking a courtyard kitchen, diners can observe the flames and grilling action from close range. Stephenson is delighted that such a funky setting brings a hint of city laneway style – where the coolest bistros are championing Boston Bay Smallgoods on their menus – back to Port Lincoln, for his local community
“When people tell me that I’ve bitten off too much, I just start chewing a helluva lot faster,” says Stephenson, his face breaking into one of his trademark broad grins. “I have such great belief in what we are doing and the quality of the product that we are providing that I’m going to say yes to every opportunity.”
It has been a speedy ride for Stephenson since he began running pigs on his family’s home property just north of Port Lincoln in 2014. Swift success meant Stephenson quickly outgrew his initial vision, needing to run more pigs to satisfy escalating orders, but testing his neighbours’ tolerance in the process. Court action made him realise that his ambition stretched significantly beyond what that property could cope with, so he looked for a bigger solution, in a different district.
He took the decisive step of purchasing a run-down 1000-hectare cropping property near Arno Bay in 2016, and quickly set about rejuvenating the land. Its succession of tree-lined ridges and sandy basins proved ideal for free-range pigs, and has allowed him to expand from raising 200 pigs to more than 1000 heritage Berkshire and some Tamworth pigs, running free on natural scrubland.
This is good for the muscle development of pigs to produce firmer, tastier meat, and Stephenson takes this further by retaining his pigs for longer – about 12 months for large pigs, resulting in about 80kg of dressed weight, which is about twice the age of pigs reared in sheds. The amount of exercise that older pigs get from running about Stephenson’s property gives their meat a tighter grain, a harder, creamier coloured fat, and darker meat that has a richer, more intense flavor.
Stephenson approaches pork farming differently to most, largely because he doesn’t come from a traditional farming background, but is instead a successful builder who runs a busy construction business. This hobby, which has grown into an all-consuming passion, is now viewed by Stephenson as a progressive business venture. He realises that his commercial opportunity lay in specialisation rather than just volume.
He’s been canny about getting his product into the mouths of chefs – carving sweet hams at the Australian Pork Industry’s Porkstar marketing events for leading chefs around the nation, encouraging them to identify his brand on their menus.
It has worked, and his company’s reach is now significant. Boston Bay Smallgoods annually provides several hundred of the famed suckling pigs that Press Food + Wine presents on a board as half a roasted beast. Jim Casey from Little Acre Foods uses about 40kg a week for his rillettes. During Tasting Australia, Stephenson took his marketing directly to the people, donning a leather apron and cooking pork shoulders over 10 hours in Victoria Square at one of the Charred pop-up food stalls; he teamed with coffee-roasting supremo Mark Barun (of The Coffee Barun at Nailsworth) who also owns the massive Smokin’ Grillers mobile charcoal grill. Stephenson ran another stall at the recent Beer & BBQ Festival, and presented 1.2 tonnes of pork belly for the annual Restaurant & Catering Awards Dinner at the Adelaide Convention Centre.
Beyond promoting prime cuts of pork, Boston Bay Smallgoods has also developed a range of premium smallgoods – chorizo, sausages, Viennas, Polish sausage and kransky. He sees potential for these to be sold everywhere, and is negotiating with On the Run convenience stores and Drake’s Supermarkets to stock these goods.
Stephenson keeps looking forward, and has big ambitions for what his pork can become. He’s looking to Italy and Spain for inspiration, wanting to plant chestnut trees on his Arno Bay farm so that the pigs can feed on the nuts they drop, to influence the flavor of the pork. It’s still a long way off, but it doesn’t stop him from sketching his plans.
And what’s the best cut of pork, in the mind of this passionate producer? “I love the scotch fillet – its inter-muscular fat lends itself to any treatment,” Stephenson says. “This cut changes people’s perception of what pork can deliver in the kitchen. That fat content makes it look a bit like wagyu beef, leaving people to ask, ‘is this really pork?’ It’s special – only two pieces per beast, weighing about 4.5kg – but it’s worth hunting for. I like to roast it and render the fat, to use that again later – a gift that keeps on giving.”