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Woo Pig Brie is a pig’s milk cheese produced in Arkansas starting in 1969. It is a product licensed with the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), with the name “Woo Pig Brie” being a pun on the famous “hog call”—Woo Pig Sooie—associated with UA’s Razorbacks football team. Woo Pig Brie is probably the most successful dairy product in the nation licensed with a college football team. (Morehead State’s “Morehead Cheese” is not technically a cheese, despite the name.)
Woo Pig Brie had its genesis in one of the Razorbacks’ most memorable games, the 1969 contest with the number-one Texas Longhorns later dubbed “The Big Shootout.” The game was attended by such national figures as President Richard M. Nixon and Christian evangelist Billy Graham. UA president David Mullins had long worked to raise UA’s stature and to overcome the popular image of Arkansas as a backwoods state lacking urbanity. He imagined the forthcoming game as a means of spotlighting not only athletic prowess but also cultural achievement. Therefore, he asked the Food Science Department to develop a new edible product that would reflect local traditions while also exhibiting culinary refinement. Keeping in mind the Razorback mascot, the department faculty members quickly developed what they called Woo Pig Brie, a soft, French-style cheese made from the milk of pigs.
Of course, the cheese was not technically a brie, as that specifically denotes a cheese made from cow’s milk, but the texture was similar. Sow’s milk has long been recognized as being very nutritious—with sows producing a volume of milk comparable to that of cows—but such milk had never previously been commercially harvested due to the high number of teats on the average sow and the difficulty in restraining the sows during the milking process. Lacking time to develop efficient milking machinery specifically for pigs, department faculty resorted to drugging the sows and milking them quickly, before the drugs entered the animals’ milk. (The physiological effects that resulted from eating the early experimental batches, which were made before faculty realized the necessity of milking immediately after anesthetizing the animals, earned those batches the moniker of “Woo Pig Wheeeee!” around the office.)
The first public batch of Woo Pig Brie met with mixed reviews when served to the dignitaries visiting Fayetteville to attend “The Big Shootout.” President Nixon reportedly said that the strongly scented cheese was something that only a trained chef could appreciate, adding, “But I am not a cook.” Billy Graham, after tasting it, responded with a biblical quotation: “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean.” Other tasters, however, were much more positive in their reviews, and therefore Mullins requested that the university’s Food Science Department continue production of Woo Pig Brie, which was served at official functions for over two decades. During that time, university food science specialists continued to refine the production of Woo Pig Brie, going so far as to patent a milking machine attachment specifically designed to clamp firmly to a sow. As historian Michael Dougan has written, “Only at the University of Arkansas would faculty be getting research credit for developing teat cleats, but then UA had long been milking those Razorbacks for all they were worth—if not more.”
University production of Woo Pig Brie was shut down in 1997 when John A. White became chancellor of UA. White was determined to close unprofitable programs and projects, and although the faculty successfully resisted his call to shutter the University of Arkansas Press, the Food Science Department’s Woo Pig Brie production fell under the budgetary axe. However, the university soon licensed Coleman Dairy, headquartered in Little Rock (Pulaski County), to produce Woo Pig Brie. On April 1, 1999, Coleman Dairy’s first batch of Woo Pig Brie was made available to the public. Though it met with surprising critical acclaim from food reviewers across the country—one New York Times review quipped, “Arkansas No Longer Cowed by Fancy Cheese”—sales were poorer than expected, and Coleman ended production in 2004.
The rise of the local food movement, also known as the “slow food” movement, in Arkansas resulted in a renewed interest in pig-based dairy products, and several smaller dairies now offer a soft cheese made from sow’s milk. In 2010, Scott Heritage Farm of Scott (Pulaski and Lonoke counties) obtained the license to market its pig cheese under the Woo Pig Brie name. Woo Pig Brie can now be purchased at farmers’ markets in central Arkansas and at boutique grocers across the state.
For additional information:Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food & Life Sciences http://bumperscollege.uark.edu/ (accessed January 11, 2012).
Dougan, Michael. Soooie Generis: Unnatural Foodways of the Natural State. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2010.
Missy SwinburneArkansas Pork Producers Association
Last Updated 4/2/2012
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