His pigs are foraging and eating supplemental barley, as our pigs do. The difference is the quality of the forage - his oaks produce ideal pig fodder. Due to the breed, feed and how he's raising his pigs, Kylan's will be most like the iberico produced in Spain, which are used to make jamon iberico.
I've read a lot of hype and disinformation about Jamon Iberico. With the importation of iberico hams, journalists and others have been repeating falsehoods about the pigs (e.g. all iberico are finished on acorns). I wish more people understood what we (and Kylan Hoover) are doing and why, and that there are a lot of different ways to raise pigs, which produce better or worse results.
Here is some informative material that gets into the details of the fattening process - and it hints at why what Kylan Hoover is doing is so extraordinary and outstanding:
I started at the source, with the pigs, and I visited them during the montanera, the six-month period when they roam the woods, gorging on acorns. By the time they commence this final feast, the pigs are about two years old. At Joselito and the other best brands (notably, Sánchez Romero Carvajal of Jabugo), the breed of pig is pure ibérico; however, less-traditional companies have begun interbreeding the old race with modern varieties that fatten up faster and produce more piglets. Government regulations allow manufacturers to call any pig an ibérico if its parentage is at least three fourths from the ibérico breed...
There are indeed lesser forms of jamón ibérico, made from pigs that haven't consumed so many acorns. The highest category—jamón ibérico de bellota, "bellota" being Spanish for acorn—comes from animals that have put on at least one third of their weight by eating nothing but foraged acorns and grass (and the occasional snake) during the montanera. Ibérico pigs with a diet less heavy in acorns are classified as recebo; if they have eaten solely cereals, pienso. In an average year, there will be 4.5 million ibérico hams, but only one tenth of them are bellota. Even among the bellota hams, Joselito separates the largest and best shaped, distinguishing them as Reserva hams. Because the acorn crop varies each year depending on rainfall, ibérico ham is as vintage-dependent as wine. "The worst acorn crop of my life was in 2000," José Gómez says. "Forty percent of Joselito hams were put out under the second label, C. Jota."
The acorn-rich diet transforms the fat of jamón ibérico de bellota. Studies from the University of Extremadura indicate that more than half the ham's fat content is monounsaturated (the type that is in olive oil) rather than the artery-clogging saturated kind usually found in animals. Significantly, at room temperature the ham's fat virtually melts, like a vegetable oil. "When the pig is slaughtered, an analysis of the fat is done," Real Ibérico's Ullibarri explains. "You can see the correlation between the amount of acorns eaten and the percentage of oleic acid—which melts at room temperature—in the fat of the animal."
Based on meat science, those 15-month pigs will be the best available in America in 2008. Although older would be better, there can't be any better stuff available in 2008, because nobody has older Mangalisa (or Iberico) pigs to slaughter.
If Kylan keeps some of his oldest pigs and kills them in Fall 2009, after fattening them on next year's acorns, they'll be like the Joselito pigs described in the article -- more than 2 years-old. Based on meat science, those pigs will be just as good as the best of Spain - because Mangalitsa and Iberico pork taste the same (the former sometimes being passed off as the latter), and for fattening pigs, the Diablo Range might as well be Extremadura.
It doesn't matter that Kylan Hoover doesn't come from an old-world family that's fattened hogs for generations: if he just follows the system, he will get the results.
As much as we are committed to raising the best pigs we can, it boggles my mind that Kylan Hoover is doing this, because he's going to have so much invested in his pigs by the time they finally go to slaughter.
Kylan Hoover has already sold several of his 15-month pigs - two of them to The French Laundry. Come November/December, people in the Bay Area will be eating absolutely fantastic Mangalitsa pork, processed and served by The French Laundry. Starting in November/December (depending on when they kill them), we'll see Bay Area foodies raving about Mangalitsa.
We feel we've done a good job exposing people to Mangalitsa with our marketing of the pork in the Seattle area - but it is folks like Kylan Hoover, The Herbfarm's Keith Luce and Devin Knell and The French Laundry's staff who are going to really help carry things forward.