DES MOINES, IOWA — Darden Restaurants Inc. is opening the door to new pork possibilities for their Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and other chain-restaurant brands, according to the National Pork Board.

“Recently we were asked to be the first to present an educational lunch-and-learn to Darden’s research and development chefs,” said Stephen Gerike, national foodservice marketing manager for the Pork Checkoff. “Not only does this keep pork top-of-mind, but it speaks highly to the Pork Checkoff’s strong relationship with Darden.”

Operating more than 1,700 restaurants in the U.S. and generating more than $7 billion in sales in 2009, Darden opened its Orlando, Fla. headquarters in October of 2009. The new building offers many opportunities to develop new pork items for Darden’s restaurant menus.

“Previously, Darden brands were housed in 12 different locations in the Orlando area, so the executives and chefs rarely had the chance to network with each other,” Mr. Gerike said. “Now they are planning to meet six times a year as a group to explore culinary topics, including pork.”

Mr. Gerike offered a pork production primer, a brief overview of meat science and tips for recognizing positive pork quality, during the recent lunch-and-learn. He also fabricated some opportunity cuts and described a number of value cuts, including the collar butt, pork breast or brisket griller, cushion, cap steak and leg tender.

Many Darden brands are currently working on some type of pork menu items for future testing, including Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, Mr. Gerike said.

“The Darden brands appreciate pork due to its versatility and profitability,” he added. The Longhorn Steakhouse chain has already enjoyed success with its 6-ounce, bacon-crusted sirloin steak, he continued.

“The Darden brands are now asking us for help with ideas for marketing and menuing pork to make it more appealing to customers. We want to remain Darden’s go-to source for pork information,” he concluded.