Pork is such a sweet meat. They have a saying in France; "Tout est bon dans le cochon" - everything on a pig is good.
The quality of the meat that comes out at the end is solely down to how the pig is treated. The ultimate expression of cured pork - jamon iberico - comes from the pata negra ("black foot") pigs that run free around the hills of Jabugo in Spain, the centre of jamon production. You can only make the best ham with legs from the pata negra pigs, who are allowed to gorge themselves on acorns that fall naturally from the trees where they spend their lives. These are huge, bristly wild pigs. I've seen them up close, and they are terrifying beasts.
There's something of an irony in this ham's final destination. Despite being acknowledged (well, by omnivores at least) as one of the peaks of gastronomy, most of this ham will end up being hung from the ceiling in a warm, sometimes smoky, bar, and then being taken down, sliced wafer thin, and served on an ordinary white china saucer, to someone who eats it standing up at a bar, with a glass of ordinary beer - Cruzcampo or Estrella Damm, or maybe a glass of fino sherry. It's the ultimate in democratic gastronomy - a gourmet snack for just a few euros. It's impossible not to be impressed by the quality of the meat, and what the curing process has done to it.
You can raise pigs cheaply too. You can rear them in a pen, feed them industrial pelletised garbage, and raise them to be fat and flabby lumps of protein. The meat that comes out at the end of this process is just that - fat, flabby protein, mainly flavourless. As meat, it's filling, but not satisfying, and it doesn't matter how you cook it - barbecue, sous-vide, whatever - it never tastes great. Sure, you can slather it with condiments and seasoning, and it will taste OK, but you're actually enjoying the condiments rather than the meat.
The point is, you can't polish a turd. You can roll it in glitter, but it will still just be a turd underneath. Equally, the way you dispense a beer can make a difference to how it is perceived, but it doesn't change the beer itself. Sure, the gentle zizz of carbonic bite that a kegged beer acquires from dissolved carbon dioxide can make it more lively, more refreshing, and if that appeals to the drinker, then fine. But for the majority of the time, the mode of dispense - cask, bottle, keg, can, sachet, aerosol, pipette - is the medium, not the message.
There are a few caveats. Sometimes the message dictates the medium. Big American IPAs needs to be served cold and carbonated - almost every beer of this style that I've tried on cask has been a cold glass of marmalade soup. And a tiny number of brewers in the UK use their kegged craft beers as a political tool, a way of attempting to overthrow what they perceive as the old order. They are trying to make the medium into the message. That's their prerogative, but for me, it distracts from the message rather than adding to it.
Cask beer is the UK's gift to the beer world, and when done well, it produces something unmatched in terms quality and sensual pleasure - again, it is the liquid equivalent of that little white plate of jamon, a gastronomic delight that anyone can buy for a few quid. But if you focus on the medium rather than the message, then you miss the point. The point is that the focus on cask as a mode of dispense in the UK (the medium) has distracted people from the quality of the beer (the message).
I contend that the proliferation of bland or poorly-made cask beers in the UK today is exactly what CAMRA saw in the 1970s, albeit then the beers were in keg form. People everywhere - not just CAMRA and their members - have become blinded by the medium. If a beer tastes good from a keg, it will probably taste good from a cask or a bottle. If you're drinking a poor beer from a cask (cellaring aside), it will be just as bad from a keg, can or bottle.
Referring to the caveats outlined above, sometimes the message and the medium are, of necessity, tied closely together. But here, moving into the second decade of the 21st century, when there has never been a better time to be interested in quality beer, surely we're not going to lose sight of the message, are we?