Friday, January 16, 2009

The Unfortunate Demise of the Ossabaw

The Ossabaw Island hog

Someone has written about Caw Caw Creek, Emile DeFelice's farm quitting entirely with Ossabaws. Emile DeFelice and the Ossabaw Island Hogs got written about in "Pig Perfect", Peter Kaminsky's popular book.

Ossabaws are a feral breed of hogs. They are small, difficult to manage and, for feral pigs, very lardy. All those traits work against any commercial exploitation: "small" means slaughter will cost too much per pound of pork, "difficult to manage" implies expensive and irritating and "very lardy" means you've got unusually lardy carcasses (and, as with the Mangalitsa, better meat quality).

From talking to people, the feral qualities of the Ossabaws are what bother them the most. A woman who worked at a zoo where they had Ossabaws told me they routinely charged and bit her; she's got scars to prove it. Also, the Ossabaws preyed on birds than entered their area, which meant the staff had to clean up "crime scenes" so that visiting children wouldn't get alarmed by the pigs' predatory behavior.

I had some of Emile's hams made from Ossabaw Island Hogs a few years ago. At that time, they were the best I'd had in America. When I later visited Europe and ate Mangalitsa products (from Mangalitsa raised in pens, not masted like his), I was surprised that the Mangalitsa products tasted so much better than Emile's, because I'd thought his was so great that it couldn't possibly be bested. That experience led to me studying the issue and getting a more scientific understanding of the topic.


Mangalitsa Pigs

Some have compared the Mangalitsa to the Ossabaw. There certainly are some similarities - but fundamentally, the Ossabaw hogs were subjected to 400 years of natural selection for living on one Georgian island, while the Mangalitsa was produced by Hungarian breeders who needed a large, hardy, easily-fattened.

The Ossabaw's qualities (tough, ready to bite) are like those of some of the breeds used to create the Mangalitsa. As livestock raising changed from nomadic herding of semi-wild pigs to confining hogs on farms (the "megafarms" of the 1800s), the Mangalitsa's progenitors disappeared. The Mangalitsa, better-suited for the "factory farms" of its day, displaced them entirely.

So far, the Ossabaw seems to fill a niche in medical research, so it may not disappear immediately. But if it ever happens that researchers finish with them, that might be it for the Ossabaw population. Besides the Ossabaw, there are other breeds, some of historical and commercial importance, that could quickly disappear from the USA if labs stopped researching them.

I was a bit surprised when I found out how organizations like the ALBC decide which breeds are worth conserving. It isn't based on the genetic merit of the breeds, but rather on things like having a traditional relationship to the USA. Hence, recent foreign imports like Wagyu cattle and Mangalitsa pigs don't merit conservation, despite them having unique genetic merit and relatively small worldwide populations.

39 comments:

rps said...

That's a shame. Hopefully somebody will at least save enough of them that you could do something like this:
http://www.pinktentacle.com/2009/01/yasufuku-20-prize-bull-cloned-13-yrs-after-death/

Heath said...

rps -- That's pretty amazing. You can bet there's quite a bit of frozen Ossabaw tissue in storage at research labs, because they've been experimenting on them.

However, even if you could resurrect the Ossabaws at some point in the future from frozen tissue, it isn't clear that anyone would want to. I don't think that the Ossabaws are on the Pareto frontier.

That is, if you want a lard-type breed, go for a Mangalitsa and you get size, good temper and disease resistance. If you want a small, docile, disease-resistant lard-type breed, get a Ninxiang.

It is hard to see what the Ossabaw is optimal for, other than populating Ossabaw Island with hardy and eager foraging pigs. But that's to be expected: you've got 400 years of natural selection.

All that stands in great contrast to the bull they "resurrected"; obviously humans consider him damn near perfect.

dancon said...

Yeah Heath I agree with you about the Ossabaws. They are aggressive. A friend of mine in MN., Tom Gray, had quite a herd and would sell or trade to zoos. I took care of them but another problem was they never got really large. He also had Tamworth and that is what I went with myself. It is an older breed and is very flavorful, though a meat type. I also agree with you as far as ALBC who at a whim will choose which breed is endangered. For instance, I had Am. Lineback Gloucester cattle from the MN Oliver Kelley heritage farm. Yet ALBC say it was merely a color marking and not a breed like the Randall Lineback. Yet, they saved the recent coloration of the Sweetgrass Turkey in order not to lose this recent breed! Oh well! They've got a great gig going for themselves.
I would have loved to continue saving the Gloucester but gotta make a living so am switching to Wagyu. Would love to get a Wooly as my Tamworth boar is rather old and only have a crossbred sow. My home butchering and smoking does wonders with them though. Will there be any breeding stock being sold in the future? All the best. DM

dancon said...

Yeah Heath I agree with you about the Ossabaws. They are aggressive. A friend of mine in MN., Tom Gray, had quite a herd and would sell or trade to zoos. I took care of them but another problem was they never got really large. He also had Tamworth and that is what I went with myself. It is an older breed and is very flavorful, though a meat type. I also agree with you as far as ALBC who at a whim will choose which breed is endangered. For instance, I had Am. Lineback Gloucester cattle from the MN Oliver Kelley heritage farm. Yet ALBC say it was merely a color marking and not a breed like the Randall Lineback. Yet, they saved the recent coloration of the Sweetgrass Turkey in order not to lose this recent breed! Oh well! They've got a great gig going for themselves.
I would have loved to continue saving the Gloucester but gotta make a living so am switching to Wagyu. Would love to get a Wooly as my Tamworth boar is rather old and only have a crossbred sow. My home butchering and smoking does wonders with them though. Will there be any breeding stock being sold in the future? All the best. DM

Jacqueline Church said...

I think the Ossabaws have a couple of genetic traits that are unique like their Type 11 Diabetes resistance and also their ability to adapt to brackish water and back. Really a shame that recent disease has forced a quarantine. They'd been allowing hunting on the island and I wonder if those hogs didn't get the diseases from the dogs..?

Eliza MacLean has been raising these I think...wonder if she's had the same problems.

Also, I hear that there's some Mangalitsa here in New England - I am on the trail now!

Heath said...

dancon - I would guess Mangalitsa breeding stock will be available at some point.

I wish you luck with the Wagyu cattle. If you do purebred Wagyu, you might be able to get a premium to make it worth doing.

Greg said...

I have three ossabaw island pigs that are in no way shape or form aggressive.My 225lb 1.5 year old boar is a big baby He loves his belly scratched.They are a great swine for the small farm or homestead,greatforager ,healthy ,
they don't root as much as domestic swine breeds.
In the future I hope to sell breeding pairs that have a good temperment to people interested in this species.
Its to bad that some other livestock species are not listed by the albc but As individuals you can preserve species.The mulefoot pig was preserved by a single individual(mr holliday).So don't think it takes a organization to save a breed.

Heath said...

Greg - That's great that your boar is more tame.

If you look at the Mulefoot or other herds kept on a single farm, you'll see that they typically get quite inbred, because keeping multiple boars is too expensive for a farm. E.g. I hear there are only two Mulefoot lines.

And I hear they lost all their pedigree records for the Mulefoot herd. That doesn't have to be a catastrophe, but it does argue for distributing genetics across multiple farms.

Anonymous said...

We never had a problem with our Ossabaw Boars at Woodlands Pork. We use them to introduce desirable characteristics to our more vigorous and larger hybrids. It is a long way from feral IMHO. We took pictures to Spain and Sr Gazquez-Ortiz, a professor at University of Extremadura said it looked just like an Iberico as was common in Spain in the 16th century. It is nothing like the two wild pigs (West Virginia Holler Longnose - orphaned by a hunter and brought to us) we are raising - they are much jumpier. I think there is great variety in the breed, and certainly they are tricky to handle, but if they are well and regularly handled they will be quick to respond. They are very lively, which makes them ideal for a mountain habitat such as our forests.This can lead to problems at corral time - they are smart, and want to do the opposite of what you want them to do - but as long as they are well handled they never give any real problems. They make great hams, the proof is in the eating.....

Heath said...

Anonymous - This stuff about the Ossabaws originating from the Canary Islands (not Spain) might interest you: http://www.albc-usa.org/cpl/Ossabaw.html

When I talked to Nic Heckett of Woodlands pork, it sounded like the Ossabaws tended to jump the corrals.

Obviously if a guy can pick between two groups of animals that otherwise the same, except that one group is either expensive (or difficult and dangerous to control), while the other is docile, he'll choose the former. That tells me the Ossabaw probably won't last long as a breed.

Another question - what do you think of people like Ozersky saying the Ossabaw is an "Iberico" pig? You can see that in this video:

http://vimeo.com/6683471

Nic Heckett said...

The Ossabaw is surely an Iberico, as are most of the feral pigs of the SE USA. Introduced from Spain they would naurally be so, even if feral. They are tricky to handle, I think they are intelligent and have a sense that your interests and their interests may not always coincide! If you want a pig to forage in the woods as we do, that intelligence will translate into taste. If you want a pig that will sit around and get fat, the Ossabaw is not your pig.

Nic Heckett said...

Heath, not meaning to post as anonymous - I am logging in as myself - Nic

Heath said...

Nic,

Do you have evidence that the Ossabaw came from Spain? It looks like they might have come from the Canary Islands - at least, that's what the DNA says:

http://www.albc-usa.org/cpl/Ossabaw.html

I think people who market Ossabaws as "iberico", the way Ozersky does in that video, are misleading people.

To the extent that "Iberico" means pork from pigs raised in Spain (e.g. Lampino, retinto, torbiscal, etc.), selling pork from feral American pigs (whether their ancestors came from the Canary Islands or the Iberian peninsula) is misleading.

Nic Heckett said...

Heath - no evidence besides the history of the island according to Peter Kaminsky, and that S. Gazquez-Ortiz, the Spanish food historian at University of Extremadura and Spanish Ham expert said that Otis, our patriarch appeared to be an archaic Iberico. Of course any pig on the Canaries in the 17th century or earlier would be pure Iberico. In fact, I assume the term Iberico to refer to any Mediterranean 'Black' Pig, including most Sicilian and Balearic breeds,and the Tuscan Cinta Sinese, as well as the Iberico 'proper'. Even the Heirloom Duroc is considered an Iberico variant. Almost all the wild and feral pigs in the USA are of Iberico stock to one degree or another. In any case they remain popular in my neck of the woods, and we intend to keep using them - we are bringing on 2 new boars right now. For an operation focusing on foraging in large open woodland lots, they can't be beat, fence hopping or not. Bottom line is - they are smarter - and they have an innate sense that their interests and yours may not always align. In a mixed group they will be the last on the trailer no matter how tasty the lure may be. One way or another they will not be disappearing any time soon.

Heath said...

Nic -

I don't understand.

Are you saying that even if the Ossabaws trace their lineage to the Canaries, they are Iberian too? The Iberian peninsula is quite far (and necessarily detached) from the Iberian Peninsula. Maybe the Canary Island pigs of the time were/are substantially different from the Iberian ones.

In any case, you didn't address a more substantive point that I made:

"I think people who market Ossabaws as 'iberico', the way Ozersky does in that video, are misleading people.

"To the extent that 'Iberico' means pork from pigs raised in Spain (e.g. Lampino, retinto, torbiscal, etc.), selling pork from feral American pigs (whether their ancestors came from the Canary Islands or the Iberian peninsula) is misleading."

Do you have any response to that?

Nic Heckett said...

The people of the Canaries and all the farm animals there came from the Iberian Peninsula. The Canaries are a part of Spain, and have been for many centuries. It seems unlikely that there were many pigs there as before the Castillians the Arabs were there. So it would be safe to assume that all the pigs there were Iberico, to the extent that Medieval Iberico can be said to be a distinct breed. The modern Iberico bears little resemblance to the pigs that were kept throughout Spain and the rest of Europe, and certainly does not resemble the Ossabaw, so they are not the same breed, but come from a common, older Iberican ancestor. So you can quibble about semantics, the difference between modern and anceient breeds, Iberian versus Ibercico or Spainsh, but the Ossabaw is a pure blooded feral pig with only Iberian ancestry, so, in my humble, it is fair to call it an Iberian pig, albeit feral. And for a project which depends on the pigs foraging and exploring a large forest (I actually got lost in the woodlot this Fall, it is that big!) they are a great asset. Too small to be used in the pure state, but a very useful genetic in any case.

Heath said...

Nic: The people of the Canaries and all the farm animals there came from the Iberian Peninsula.

Me: How do you know that? Maybe some came from somewhere else. If pigs could go from Spain to the Canaries, why couldn't they, by the same mechanism, go from Gaul to the Canaries?

Nic: It seems unlikely that there were many pigs there as before the Castillians the Arabs were there.

Me: How can you know that? Given that you don't know that, even if pigs were introduced from the Iberian peninsula to the Canaries, how can you know what genes predominate in the Ossabaw?

Nic: The modern Iberico bears little resemblance to the pigs that were kept throughout Spain and the rest of Europe, and certainly does not resemble the Ossabaw, so they are not the same breed, but come from a common, older Iberican ancestor. So you can quibble about semantics, the difference between modern and anceient breeds, Iberian versus Ibercico or Spainsh, but the Ossabaw is a pure blooded feral pig with only Iberian ancestry, so, in my humble, it is fair to call it an Iberian pig, albeit feral.

Me: I think you are quibbling. By your logic, couldn't you call people of English descent, living in America for 400 years, English? It would seem you could even call monkeys "humans", because humans and monkeys have a common ancestor.

In the USA, we have the concept of "false advertising" - namely:

"To establish a cause of action for false advertising under the Lanham Act, the plaintiff must show that the challenged statement is literally false or, even though the statement is not literally false, that it is likely to deceive or confuse customers."

My understanding is that if one were to sell Ossabaw Island breed pigs or pork as "Iberico", you'd potentially be guilty of false advertising - because when consumers hear the word "Iberico", they necessarily imagine you are talking about modern Iberian breed pigs (or crosses).

I'd expect that if someone did market Ossbaw Island pigs or pork as Iberico, these guys might bring suit - because they are the ones who will suffer as a result of the false advertising.

Nic Heckett said...

The Canary Islands are part of Spain. The people who live there are Spanish. The pigs there in the 16 century would surely be Spanish. They might have been a sub-breed, but they would be pre-Iberico (as would most of the pigs in continental Europe at that time. Most of our 'Heirloom' breeds were developed in the 17th and 18th centuries. The older pigs, such as the Ossabaw's ancestors, were probably pretty close to the feral genetics anyway. I would certainly call an American of English descent an Anglo- or Euro American, just as an American of African descent is an Afro-American. The issue here is the difference between the white (that you call a 'meat' pig), and the black, that you call a 'lard' pig. Given that the Ossabaw has black hooves, the mark of a black pig, the 'pata negra' that the Spanish identify their pigs with, I think that it is fair to call it an Iberian pig, or a Mediterranean Black pig, if you will. Is it a modern Spanish Iberico that you might see in Extremadura today, no. But it looks just like the pigs you would have seen there in the 16 century. You call it an unimproved Iberian pig, if you will. I have never seen them be aggressive, and we do not use Ossabaw sows - you have had problems with the Mangas too, I recall - someone got bit I remember you saying? The biggest hassle is that they are very very bright, and have a feral sense that your interests and theirs may not always coincide. In a mixed group they will be the last on the trailer. But what you are missing here, Heath, is that they are perfectly suited for our project, and not yours. I would not want the Manga on our hillsides. I don't know how they would do. But the Ossabaw have been great for us, and for Eliza at Cane Creek in NC. If I only wanted to produce barley fed lard, no doubt, your pigs are the best in the world. But that is not what we are about - we are about capturing the terroir of Appalachia in our meat - creating a complex and memorable ham of great character - and for this in my experience, there is no substitute to heavy wooded lots. I learned this in Tuscany, and I learned the importance of having a good forager to make the most of this.The Cinta Sinese is great for this.

We do not advertise our pigs as Iberico. I agree with you that that would cause confusion in the marketplace.We only use hybrids anyway. I think it is better to call them an ancient Iberian pig that was allowed to go feral in the New World.

Heath said...

Nic: The Canary Islands are part of Spain. The people who live there are Spanish. The pigs there in the 16 century would surely be Spanish...

Me: I don't see how you can possibly be certain of that. The Canaries are just about as close to Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Western Sahara and Morocco as they are to Spain - and those countries have wild pigs.

Nic: Most of our 'Heirloom' breeds were developed in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Me: I think only the names of the breeds were created. Any breed that has lasted a long time has changed fundamentally or gone extinct.

Nic: I would certainly call an American of English descent an Anglo- or Euro American..

Me: Sure. The point is, you don't call them "English." Hence, I don't think it is reasonable, like Ozersky, to call Ossabaw pigs "Iberico".

Nic: The issue here is the difference between the white (that you call a 'meat' pig), and the black, that you call a 'lard' pig.

Me: You don't mean me, Heath Putnam, do you?

Nic: Given that the Ossabaw has black hooves, the mark of a black pig, the 'pata negra' that the Spanish identify their pigs with, I think that it is fair to call it an Iberian pig, or a Mediterranean Black pig, if you will.

Me: Phenotypic similarities don't prove they are derived from the same thing.

Nic: But it looks just like the pigs you would have seen there in the 16 century.

Me: Pig breeders care about genotype, not phenotype. If we bred hairless Mangalitsa pigs, and started calling them "Iberico Lampino", most pig breeders - except the ones that were profiting from the fraud - would say that it was false advertising.

Nic: You call it an unimproved Iberian pig, if you will.

Me: You still haven't proved they come from Iberia. They just might be feral African pigs.

Nic: But what you are missing here, Heath, is that they are perfectly suited for our project, and not yours.

Me: My only concern here is the terms people use to talk about Ossabaw Island pigs and pork, not practical uses of the pigs. I figure you'd be able to render an opinion on Ozersky's statements, which I consider inaccurate and misleading.

Nic: We do not advertise our pigs as Iberico. I agree with you that that would cause confusion in the marketplace.

Me: I'm happy to hear that.


In any case, I don't see that it matters where they came from. After 400 years of natural selection, what you've got now has minimal relation to whatever was dropped off so long ago.

The fact that people insist on making the Ossabaw-Spain-Iberian-Iberico connection doesn't make sense to me.

Nic Heckett said...

Well, Heath, I can't imagine that there would be wild pigs on the Canaries - if they were not brought by settlers, how did they arrive? Settlers don't bring wild pigs that are untamed and dangerous on confined boats. I don't think the Conquistadores would have brought wild pigs with them on a long journey, they would have brought the domestic Spanish pig, an early Iberico, suited to looking after itself as it largely did in Spain and across Europe at that time. Why would the Spanish go to Africa, catch wild pigs, and bring them back to the Canaries? The fact is well established that the Spanish brought the pig to the New World, along with the horse and many other animals. Almost all of the wild pigs in America are largely descended from the early Spanish pig. They do not look like domestic pigs, but they do look like 16th century Mediterranean pigs. Where else would the genetics come from?
The point is largely moot, however. The Ossabaw and the Spanish/Feral genetic has a role to play in the American fine pork production - full stop.

Heath said...

Nic: Well, Heath, I can't imagine that there would be wild pigs on the Canaries - if they were not brought by settlers, how did they arrive? Settlers don't bring wild pigs that are untamed and dangerous on confined boats. I don't think the Conquistadores would have brought wild pigs with them on a long journey, they would have brought the domestic Spanish pig, an early Iberico, suited to looking after itself as it largely did in Spain and across Europe at that time. Why would the Spanish go to Africa, catch wild pigs, and bring them back to the Canaries?

Me: I can easily imagine that people - Spanish or otherwise - brought pigs from Africa. Even if the pigs are nasty and vicious, young ones can be manhandled and transported.

Obviously, if pigs could go from Spain to the Canaries - a great distance, they could have gone from somewhere close with pigs - like Africa. Or from either farther away, like France.

We just don't know enough about the history of pigs on the Canary Islands to know that all of them were derived from pigs from Iberia.

Nic: The fact is well established that the Spanish brought the pig to the New World, along with the horse and many other animals. Almost all of the wild pigs in America are largely descended from the early Spanish pig. They do not look like domestic pigs, but they do look like 16th century Mediterranean pigs. Where else would the genetics come from?

Me: The pigs could have come from anywhere with European Wild Boar populations. Africa, non-Iberian Europe. I'd guess Africa - it is a lot easier for pigs to make a short trip and survive than a long trip from Spain. Imagine: some guy gathers up some orphaned pigs, raises them for a few weeks, then sells them to Spanish merchants, who then take them to the Canary islands. Obviously it is easier for pigs to survive a short boat trip than a long one.

That could explain why the genetic information suggests the Ossabaw pigs came from the Canaries: the Spanish probably stopped there and got pigs. If they'd tried to take pigs all the way from Spain, they might have died during the trip.

Nic: The point is largely moot, however. The Ossabaw and the Spanish/Feral genetic has a role to play in the American fine pork production - full stop.

Me: What role the pigs may play in pork production, whether today or in the future, is an entirely separate issue from where the pigs came from (Canary Island, supposedly) and how misleading or dishonest it is to describe them as "iberico".

Nic Heckett said...

Heath, if you wish to believe the Ossabaw to be African, I cannot convince you otherwise. However, I assure you that pigs have never had difficulty surviving the longest sea voyages, even in an open Polynesian canoe, on much, much longer voyages

Heath said...

Nic: Heath, if you wish to believe the Ossabaw to be African, I cannot convince you otherwise. However, I assure you that pigs have never had difficulty surviving the longest sea voyages, even in an open Polynesian canoe, on much, much longer voyages

Me: The Canary Islands are African, aren't they?

Just look at the map - there's European Wild boar, which the Ossabaw Island Hogs resemble, all over the African coast. They are just a short boat ride from the Canary Islands.

You haven't shown that Ossabaw Island Hogs are only derived from Iberian pigs. To the extent that they are derived from pigs of the Canary Islands, and you don't know where the pigs of the Canary Islands came from, you don't know the ancestors of the Ossabaw Island pigs.

The fact that pigs travel well is all the more reason to think that if the Ossabw Island breed's ancestors are from the Canary Islands, they may have non-negligible non-Iberian admixture.

I don't think we know, or will ever know with certainty, much about the predecessors of the Ossabaw Island pigs. It seems all we know now is that some Spanish explorers dropped some pigs off on Ossabaw Island, and that mtDNA suggests those pigs have origins in the Canary Islands.

Nic Heckett said...

Yes, Heath, it is possible that the inhabitants of the Canaries, rather than making the trip to see their families and countrymen, might have decided to venture to the Western Sahara, where there is practically no water, vegetation or population, to hunt for wild pigs (although I don't think they would find many in the desert), or perhaps they ventured to the Berber or Moorish towns further north, to trade with their sworn enemies the Moors, who they had just finished defeating in a very bloody war. Perhaps the North African population would have been happy to provide these Spaniard with permission to trap wild game to take back to the Canaries. Perhaps this happened - I don't know for sure. Doesn't seem likely though in fairness.

Heath said...

Nic - regardless of how the ancestors of the Ossabaw Island hogs came to be on the Canary Islands, you haven't shown them to be from the Iberian peninsula.

If you find "hard evidence" - e.g. DNA - that implies the Ossabaw Island pigs are closely related to the ancestors of the modern Iberian pigs, I'd certainly find that interesting.

I don't think the origin of today's Ossabaw Island hogs has any bearing on modern uses of them; if the pigs are useful, people will definitely use them, even if they aren't closely related to breeds like the famous Iberian ones.

Nic Heckett said...

I agree wholeheartedly Heath - the Iberico issue is completely moot - the fact that the Ossabaw - and in fact all American feral pigs, have good marbling and are excellent foragers means they are ideal for our project, not purebred of course. I have not found them aggressive at all, but very intelligent and agile - which means they can jump fences that other pigs can't. It means they don't do exactly what you want them to. They develop fantastic flavor because the muscle becomes so strong - penned pigs just can't develop the muscle tone that mountain pigs do. This is one of the most important aspects of the Woodlands Project. Of course this muscle tone would be a flaw in fresh meat - too chewy - but in cured, sliced meat this problem goes away, and the taste lingers, and lingers.

Heath said...

Nic - How is it that you are so certain that penned animals can't produce very flavorful meat? At what point in their lives do you think they need to be running up and down mountains, and why?

My understanding is that doing meat quality trials that eliminate confounding variables is very difficult and expensive. E.g. you'd need two groups of pigs with similar genes, and an environment that was the same, except one group receiving mountain exercise, and the other group not.

In my own experience, some pen-raised pigs have more flavor than any other pigs I've eaten. That makes me wonder how you came to your conclusions.

Nic Heckett said...

Flavor development from muscle use is a theory I have heard from several souces, mostly chefs. The most flavorful cut of meat is generally also the toughest, which is why a cut such as Osso Buco needs such a long cook time, but is so robust. The Tuscans swear that the flavor of the Cinta Senese is due to the mountainous terrain. Our project is more closely based on the Tuscan forest than the Spanish Monatanera. Unfortunately, I have no scientific survey to back this up. Frankly, I think this conversation should be settled over 2 2-year old hams, a bottle of great Washington State wine, a jug of Kentucky's finest, and 2 knives!

Justin said...

I can say one thing. I've had Woodland's ham aged 18 months and i would put it up against any American or European ham out there. Keep up the great work with the Ossabaw Nic!

Heath said...

Justin -

I'm glad you liked what Nic sold you.

However, to my knowledge, Nic doesn't raise purebred Ossabaws. From discussions I've had with him, it isn't clear that their market hogs even have a specific amount of Ossabaw admixture (e.g. 75% or higher).

So if you ate something from him and liked it, you might be incorrect in attributing the fact that you liked it to its "Ossabawness".

I don't mean to be a party pooper. The reason I mention this is that as someone running a company that has a breeding program (as Nic's does), I'm aware that not all the hogs that go to market are remotely similar to each other.

Heath said...

Nic - I don't think most chefs are in a position to explain pork quality.

Besides meat scientists, custom butchers and people who raise, kill and prepare their own hogs are in a much better position to determine the causes of variation in meat and fat quality - because they see how the hogs are produced, what the carcasses look like immediately postmortem, etc.

Anonymous said...

I don't suppose this Ossabaw bashing has anything to do with the relative standing of Mangalica of Iberico hams in Spain and what this might imply about consumer preferences regarding Ossabaw and Mangalitsa hams raised and cured in the US.

Heath said...

Anonymous - what "bashing"? If you think I've made gratuitous criticisms, what are they? Be specific.

I don't think I've written anything that is excessive or unreasonable.

As for Mangalitsa versus Iberico - I've written at length about that. Compared to the Iberian breeds, Mangalitsa is generally superior organoleptically, but not economically. Mangalitsa pigs are also smaller and fatter, which makes them undesirable for many typical uses.

Greg said...

Not just in this site but in others negativity torwards the Ossabaws seems the norm,most of this comes from people who never had raised Ossabaws but know somebody that did or heard this or that from somebody.I raise Ossabaws and have never been charged,never had one jump a 32 inch fence I have(just one side is 32 rest is 47).The story about the Ossabaws preying on birds in the zoo seems odd.I have a lone chicken that eats with the Ossabaws they don't bother her.Also some starlings come everday and pick bugs from under the pigs snouts as they root.Some of the agression torwards people issues I suspect have more to do with how the pigs are treated and not the breeds nature.

Heath said...

Greg -- its great that you have pigs you are happy with.

The point of this post is that enough people are unhappy with the Ossabaw pigs that they've raised that they don't want to raise them anymore, which will result in the pigs going extinct.

Obviously, if Ossabaw Island Hogs were optimal for some purpose, people would keep raising them. They aren't useful enough, so they, along with other suboptimal breeds, will likely vanish.

greg said...

A lot of colonial museums raise them,they are used in diabetes research,there are several successful farms that raise them for meat,I think they have enough going for them that they will survive.Even with your mangalitsa
breed there will be many people who find them not useful for there needs.The mangalitsa may never surpass the Ossabaw in numbers in this country time will tell.Lets hope that in the future that both the mangalitsa and the Ossabaw are still around for someone to enjoy

Heath said...

Greg --

"A lot of colonial museums raise them,they are used in diabetes research,there are several successful farms that raise them for meat,I think they have enough going for them that they will survive."

For various reasons, I doubt this. E.g. the Meishan is gone, and there doesn't seem to be an effective breeding effort to conserve the genetics.

"... The mangalitsa may never surpass the Ossabaw in numbers in this country time will tell."

I think the Mangalitsa already has surpassed the Ossabaw. There's approximately 150 females in production, and around 1500 fat hogs on feed.

"Lets hope that in the future that both the mangalitsa and the Ossabaw are still around for someone to enjoy"

I'm much more worried about the loss of the Meishan than I am the loss of the Ossabaw Island Hogs. But indeed, I'd like to see them all thrive.

Steve said...

I love your marketing ploy of bashing other heritage breeds to make your pork seem better. Is Mangalista really that good, or only good because the breeders market everyone into thinking it is by slamming on other farmers' products?

Heath said...

Steve -- Did I write something untrue? Doesn't "bashing" mean I wrote something false?

If I wrote something false, please explain to me what it is.

Otherwise, my sense is that I just wrote something that you don't like, and so you accuse me of "bashing" other breeds.

To answer your question, Mangalitsa does taste better than pretty much everything else. At least, tasting panels show that: http://woolypigs.blogspot.com/2009/01/mangalitsa-compared-to-other-breeds.html

And when people look at marbling, it is the best:

http://woolypigs.blogspot.com/2010/05/genetics-of-pig-fatness.html

And you hear chefs, who buy different kinds of pigs, say it is the best they've used: http://woolypigs.blogspot.com/2010/05/der-tagesspiel-on-pig-breeds-mangalitsa.html