Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Matt Wright on Our Notorious C.U.T., Pig Breeds

Photo apparently by Matt Wright

I got a new customer for our pork belly recently, a guy named Matt Wright.

From the beginning it was a bit different: he called from the 425 area code (we don't normally get calls from there) to talk about our pork, in advance of the Saturday market. That Saturday, he didn't flake out -- he actually showed up, asking for Mangalitsa belly.

After a little discussion, he went for our Mangalitsa spareribs, aka the Notorious C.U.T.

People who like pork belly love this cut, which includes some rib and finger meat in addition to a lot of belly. I tried to steer Matt into Mangalitsa jowls - because jowls are tastier. In the end, he went with the belly and was very satisfied:
"The result was simply un-sodding-believable. The meat was ridiculously tender, the fat was completely divine. I have honestly never tasted pork this good. Talk about a revelation."
Indeed, my own experience eating purebred Mangalitsa was a similar revelation. It wasn't near as fancy - liver dumpling soup and some scraps on soggy rice - but the meat scraps were enough to convince me that there was something incredible about Mangalitsa. A few mouthfuls and I was hooked.

Pig Breed Geekery

One interesting thing about pig breeds is that they have come into existence (and in and out of fashion) to meet various economic needs. When pigs were used to produce lard, the ability of a pig to fatten up - which is limited by physical constraints like having a good back - were crucial.[1]

Also interesting: breeds have changed over time to meet the needs of the market, while their names stay the same. The Berkshire of past was a lard-type pig. Now it is anemic in comparison. Dogs are similar: today's Irish Wolfhound is not the Irish Wolfhound that terrified the Romans - but its thought of as the same breed.

A casual consumer might think that a pig is just a pig - but obviously, if the money is in the bacon, you'll get hogs bred for producing optimal bellies. As this quote about bacon-type breeds explains:
The bacon hog must be long in order that the side of bacon for which the animal is chiefly raised may be large especially in length but if the animal is wide it indicates that the side of bacon is too thick and fat...Aside from this general difference in form the bacon hog has lighter hams and shoulders than the lard hog and the animal usually stands higher from the ground owing to its having longer legs Public School Methods
The bacon-type pig is conceived of as a life-support system for the belly. The back leg and shoulder are very small. There's relatively more belly on that pig:

Text not available
The Fundamentals of Live Stock Judging and Selection By Robert Seth Curtis

When it comes to producing a great-tasting (as opposed to just a big) pork belly, a Mangalitsa does it economically.

Getting a great-tasting pork belly from a meat-type hog like a Berkshire is inefficient and expensive.

If one just takes a young Berkshire hog, fed normal food, the belly isn't special. You have to fatten it to a great age and weight to get that great pork belly. In the process, you have to feed it a lot of food, in addition to fixing the farm equipment that massive pig destroys. Big pigs are also dangerous - as our herdsman will tell you, "Its no fun to be ran over by a 500+ lb pig in the pig shit mud!"

In contrast, a 7-month Mangalitsa is about 1/3 the weight of the year-old Berkshire. There's not much food in it, it doesn't break much equipment or hurt people - and due to its special lipogenesis, it produces fat with better mouthfeel when fed the same feed. The Iberian breeds are similar - feed them the same feed as meat-type breeds and they'll still produce better fat.[2]

[1] "The Lard Type ... The lard hog is of only medium length otherwise the weight resulting from the great amount of fat which it takes on tends to cause a weakness of the back which should be straight or slightly arched instead..." Public School Methods

[2] Please see "Body fat content, composition and distribution in Landrace and Iberian finishing pigs given ad libitum maize- and acorn-sorghummaize-based diets"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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