Friday, November 16, 2007
When talking about which lard-type pigs to raise for restaurants, people typically mention the Ossabaw Island Hog or the Mulefoot. I'll try to explain why I imported the Mangalitsa, instead of just acquiring domestic stock.
The Ossbaw Island Hogs are small and nasty. That means you've got a lot of work to raise a hog that produces a small carcass. The reason they are this way is that they are feral; for hundreds of generations, they've been exposed to natural selection, not selection by humans. That's why they are so small and difficult to handle. Also, if you are going to go that route, you could just trap some feral pigs and start raising them. Or raise Guinea Hogs - they are small but probably easier to manage.
The Mulefoot hogs look very promising, but they were all on one guy's farm at one point, and they lost the breeding records. The existing stock is probably very interrelated at this point. If and when you start seeing typical inbreeding problems, what are you going to do? I heard they've got two lines. If that's true, that means they can breed for two generations, and then the pigs will all be related to each other, increasing the chance of inbreeding problems. Also, just try getting some Mulefoot stock to get a reasonable operation going - you can't.
With Mangalitsa, there's the very well-run Austrian Mangalitsa Breeders' Association. They got me a bunch of unrelated stock and transferred a tremendous amount of information about how to raise the pigs properly to produce the best meat. They've got plenty of lines and they are on top of the breeding - inbreeding is not expected to be a problem.
The hams I at from Mangalitsa tasted better than any that I'd had from the USA - and they don't finish pigs on acorns in Austria. That convinced me that if I imported Mangalitsa, it would be possible to produce the highest quality meat in America -we'd just have to do what the Austrians do.
If anyone is interested in seeing how the Austrians raise pigs or make products, you just have to go to Vienna. The Wiesners can pick you up and show you their farm, their pigs and their products.
I know of one American chef who stayed with the Spitzbarts and made cured products with them. It was a real eye-opener for him to see their operation; he agreed that the stuff we do in America doesn't come close. When you actually see the pigs, the processing (e.g. in a farm kitchen) and eat the products it hits you that it isn't magical - you just need the right pigs and methods.
Christoph's farm is probably the best farm to see if you want to see what you can accomplish with almost nothing - his pens are built of scrap, he smokes his meat in his house's chimney and he stores his stuff in his cellar. He makes his stuff the way people did in the Middle Ages. His only innovation is to vacuum pack the meat once it is fully ripened, so that it stops drying out.
If you make it to Vienna, you should call ahead to Zum Weissen Rauchfangkehrer and try to get them to serve you a Mangalitsa dinner. Then you'll see what one can really do with a Mangalitsa.
Some might ask why I didn't import Iberico, if I was going to go through the trouble of importing pigs. Besides our climate (and most of America's) not being like Spain's, it didn't look like it was going to be easy.
Posted by Heath Putnam at 9:38 AM