Sunday, May 31, 2009

Men's Health and Mangalitsa

There's an multi-page article in Men's Health about pigs.

In the printed version, there's an additional article about pig breeds. It mentions a few, including the Mangalitsa, describing it as once in danger of extinction, but now one of the most sought after breeds in the world.

There's another article in the same edition where it lists "13 Places to Eat Before you Die", by Anthony Bourdain. Location #3 is The French Laundry, Wooly Pigs's first customer, and the Western Hemsiphere's single largest consumer of Mangalitsa pork in 2008 - thanks to Wooly Pigs and Red Mountain Farm.

Mangalitsa Charcuterie Plate

Someone ate a Mangalitsa charcuterie plate in Hungary, taking photos of the whole thing.

Animal Welfare Book

Iberico piglets, with docked tails.

Pigs from confinement operations, like these Iberico, normally have their tails docked. It bothers some people that this is the case.

Animal production involves making choices. Animal scientists argue that the tail-docking is better than the alternative - an outbreak of pig cannibalism:
Docking tails soon after birth substantially reduces the incidence of tail biting. Pigs may cannibalize whether they are housed inside or on dirt lots and the practice occurs with widely different stocking densities. An outbreak of tail biting is expected to be very painful for the pigs with bitten tails. The small amount of discomfort caused by docking is much less overall than what would be experienced by pigs during an outbreak of tail biting.
Here's another study that found that welfare was likely to be improved by docking tails - whether the pigs were raised indoors or out - because pigs with tails had suppressed immune systems (likely from fighting off infections caused by biting).

I went back and looked at the pictures of the Mangalitsa farms in Hungary. It looks like they don't dock the tails at Emőd, but do dock them at Nyíribrony. That makes sense, given that they have different systems - one less intensive.

I found an interesting book (via Google Books) about animal welfare and pig production. Most people don't know about the tradeoffs involved in pig production. E.g. it is easy to write a book about how awful tail-docking or intensive housing is, if you don't discuss the alternatives and their consequences.

Animal welfare isn't easy to define. Some think animal welfare means allowing pigs to do what comes naturally (e.g. root up everything they want to root up, or eat what they want to eat). Others point out that allowing animals to do what comes naturally doesn't necessarily increase welfare - because the increase of natural behaviors like bullying, fighting and fending off predators aren't associated with high welfare.

Ernő's Bernardsville Pigs

Ernő, the vet for Mosefund has his own Mangalitsa pigs. He sent me some photos.

The pig in the top is doing what pigs like to do - standing in the trough with the feed or water.

They've really grown since he first got them.

New Jersey sure very pretty and green. The photos remind me of Mosefund Farm.

My understanding is that Ernő will kill, process and eat the pigs himself. He's got the ultimate in custom meat (and fat).

Friday, May 29, 2009

Another Special Dinner at Monsoon

Last night I had to go up to Monsoon to take them a bunch of Mangalitsa-sired pork. It turned out that Monsoon was low, and they are having a special dinner tonight, for a special customer who loves Mangalitsa. Hopefully he likes Mangalitsa-sired pork too - because that's all we've got for him.

While I was there, I got to meet a corporate chef who sells special ovens to some people who've bought from me, including Thomas Keller's restaurants, Trump Sonesta and so on. Here's an article about the oven. This makes it sound neat:
By cooking with moist heat at extremely low temperatures, the CVap can cook delicate fishes, beef tenderloins, and even custards in short periods without losing any moisture whatsoever — the hallmark of sous-vide cooking, but without all the hassle of bags and warm-water baths. “It’s so good,” Vongerichten tells us. “Like sous-vide, but without all the troubles. It’s so much better than the bag.”
He liked the Mangalitsa-sired chop that Chef Johnny served him, and noticed the special fat and flavor.

Sad Article on Former Pig Farmers

There's an article here about how Egyptian pig farmers have been ruined by government decree. I've mentioned them and their unique pigs before.

One thing that's neat is that some of these guys were supporting families with 9 kids with just 50 pigs. It isn't clear if that was 50 sows or 50 head total. In modern countries, 200-600 sows might support a guy who just produced feeder pigs, showing how much things have changed.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Keep on Eatin' Piggy

Mosefund has the cutest pig pictures on their Facebook page.

The photos show the pigs eating, which is what they have to do in order to grow so humans can eat them.

These next ones look very busy with their apple treats. The jowls on them look ridiculous. Those are some fat pigs. They've got close to a ton of feed in each of them:

Soft Bellies are Back

There's an article in Missouri Farmer about how soft pork is becoming a critical problem again. Finishing pigs on spent grains causes trouble with the fat. It is a known problem - e.g. here's a Purdue paper on it.

Right now, there's a lot of distillers grains, due to ethanol production. As a result of people fattening their pigs on the stuff, there are a lot of soft bellies. As Missouri Farmer says:
With soft bellies, a processor spends energy to chill that belly before running it through large, high-speed, slicing equipment. Plus, there is a potential decrease in pork yield of pork with soft fat.
There's other impacts: the fat doesn't look or taste as good, and it doesn't keep as long. That's why you feed pigs differently if you want to make cured products like bacon.

I don't think their proposed solution is optimal for taste:
By feeding CLA at .6 of a percent for 30 days, producers can gain 5 to 7 points on iodine value...“We know that feeding CLA increased the degree of saturation, so we end up with firmer fat,” he stressed...Wiegand said the change in firmness comes at the expense of mono-saturated fats. So, the poly- saturated fats — those deemed heart healthy — are not lost in the pork fat profile.
The problem with the PUFA is that it is the stuff that goes rancid and make stuff taste "off". In contrast, the high levels of monounsaturated fat explain why people love Mangalitsa fat so much.

Of course, it is OK to feed the pigs pretty much anything, so long as you carefully control what they eat at the end of their lives to produce the best fat. The problem with commercial hogs is that they are feeding that stuff to them to the very end.

Given the focus of Wooly Pigs, I'm happy to see any attention given to the fat quality issue. The more people look at fat quality, the more they understand that Wooly Pigs sells a unique product that some people really love.

Traditionally, America hasn't had very good fat quality - we produce for price-sensitive consumers. We don't have, as in Italy, a standard for pork that gets cured and made into products.

Mangalitsa Dinner at Monsoon

I just got home from eating a six-course Mangalitsa dinner at Monsoon. Mark Fuller and Johnny Zhu did a great job. It was the best meal I've had all year.

The chefs went all out exploiting the Mangalitsa fat - whipped lard, braised belly, shoulder confit, leg stuffed wtih a forcemeat, succotash cooked in lard and a deconstructed tart made with lard. They must have used yet more Mangalitsa fat in the course of making the meal - but I didn't spot it.

It was great to see the guests appreciate the Mangalitsa. It was neat to see chefs make things (like the Vietnamese-style pork belly) that my Austrian friends would recognize as Mangalitsa yet non-European.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Atlantic on Iberico

America's Mangalitsa Producers

The Atlantic just published an article on Iberico production, written by James McWilliams, whose work I've posted about before ("Mangalitsa Culture in America" and "Free-Range Trichinosis"). I'm really tickled to get quoted in "The Atlantic", a magazine I've read for many years.

I'm quoted:
"Speaking for niche producers of pork, Heath Putnam said, "It isn't sustainable, it isn't very natural, but it tastes great."
I was referring to lard-type hog producers (and specifically the ones in Spain), not all niche pork producers - because lard-type producers are the ones who prioritize eating quality the most.

Importing acorns from Turkey to Spain is obviously "unsustainable" - but if that's what you need to do to produce the best pork, you do it.

Just as Wooly Pigs had to import the Mangalitsa to America, we've had to import a number of things to America - ways of feeding pigs, European pig processing instructors, ways of butchering pigs - because that's what it takes to enjoy the best. People who buy live pigs from Wooly Pigs (from coast to coast) understand that our pigs are worth the trouble of acquiring. All of those choices prioritize eating quality over convenience or sustainability.

Mangalitsa belly - a delicacy.

There are some niche pork producers who focus on being sustainable and/or natural - but those who produce lard-type pigs, in either Spain, Hungary or the USA, don't typically do that - because if you do, you increase the cost of your terribly inefficient, but incredibly tasty pigs even more.

Hence, the main focus of lard-type producers is on things like quality, controlling costs and animal welfare (minimizing morbidity and mortality). The focus isn't on raising pigs sustainably, organically, avoiding antibiotics or avoiding the use of other animal husbandry innovations.

John Scharffenberger, Pig Enthusiast

There's an article in "INC" magazine about John Scharffenberger raising some pigs, attempting to create nice hams.

Rather than deciding to study how the Spanish go about doing what they do and then emulate them, he decided to do some experiments with feral and feral hybrids.

Here are quotes from the article, with my comments:
When the Magruders arrived, Scharffenberger took out of his refrigerator the three hams that we would be comparing. One was a supermarket-bought Spanish serrano, purchased as a stand-in for its more august cousin, because ibérico is just beginning, on a very limited basis, to be available in this country. (Classic ibérico is made from a variety of pig that dates back to Roman times and has grazed in pastures on acorns. Serrano is cured in a similar fashion to ibérico, but with meat from a less distinguished breed of pig that has been fed a conventional diet of grain.)
Actually, most Ibérico is a 75% iberico, 25% Duroc cross. Much of it is raised intensively (aka "industrially"). The ones that eat acorns typically eat them for about 3 months of their long lives, having spent most of their lives growing up indoors. Serrano products can be made from pigs of any breed, including the Mangalitsa, a breed that is tastier than most Ibérico breeds.
Magruder had trapped wild pigs in the area and then bred them, selecting for long snouts, long legs, and high bodies. That is the look of the classic black Iberian pig, and, indeed, Scharffenberger argues that the forebears of these wild pigs were brought to California by the early Spanish settlers. After breeding two wild sows that conformed to the desired Iberian profile, he had fed acorns to their offspring for four months before the slaughter.
The modern Iberian Black looks quite different than a wild boar. They don't have long legs or high bodies. Here's photos of two different modern Iberian Black varieties. First, the best tasting, and second, the most common:

None of those look like the pigs Scharffenberger is fond of. I'm thinking he's after the half feral breeds that proceeded the Mangalitsa and Iberian Black:
Those are really old-school. They'd be hard to raise in any modern setting, explaining why pork producers phased them out in the 1800s.

INC Magazine: We tried some of the small remaining sample of his second batch, from pigs that had eaten a diet of roughly half acorns and the rest grain, fruit, and whey. "It tastes a little cheesy," Scharffenberger said. But we all liked it. Then we turned to his third batch, the most recent. Although it had not had time to age enough and the texture was a little tough, the flavor was rich and earthy, in the manner of a true ibérico. Both trial hams were far tastier than the supermarket serrano.

This doesn't surprise me. I've had Iberico in Europe, wild boar prosciutto (Italy) and imported Iberico. - and I preferred them in that respective order. As I preferred wild boar prosciutto from Italy to imported Iberico, I can easily imagine acorn-fed wild boar prosciutto beating imported serrano.
This was his second year as a part-time pig farmer. He was raising about 100 pigs, trying out crosses between the wild ones he had captured and two heirloom varieties ...
I hope they quarantined and tested their feral pigs for diseases. Feral swine often carry reportable diseases, which are economically ruinous to anyone unlucky enough to have animals with them.

INC: But the critical challenge was the time needed to raise the slower-growing wild pigs. That was the main reason Magruder was hybridizing them with domestic breeds...Because it was impossible to compete on price with factory farms, he and Scharffenberger needed to emphasize the superior flavor, romantic origins, and old-fashioned livestock-raising techniques of their product.
Mangalitsa and Iberico are successfully produced on "factory farms". They are cheaper (per pound of pork) and taste better than pigs like Scharffenberger's - explaining why the Hungarians and Spanish bred them into existence, from the half-wild pigs that Scharffenberger favors.

INC: "My plan, just like the early days of the chocolate business, is to approve a production model," he said. "And then to see what would happen with a very limited commercialization...The acorns, the historic Spanish breed, the traditional curing: He knew that a good story would get customers (and people like me) interested. But if he wanted to keep them coming back, he would have to concoct a product that was reliable, affordable, and -- most important of all -- delicious.

Spanish producers have already constructed a production system that producers 2 million head of super-premium lard-type hogs a year. Scharffenberger seems to want to produce products like them, but he's using very different methods. The European lard-type sector is a mature industry with economies of scale that produces excellent food efficiently. I expect that if Scharffenberger continues working with pigs, he'll move closer and closer to that proven system.

LaTienda Marketing "Jamon Mangalica" is marketing something they call "Jamon Mangalica".

EU regulations allow processors to market as "Mangalica" pigs that have a minimum of 50% Mangalitsa genetics. That means you'd typically find "Mangalica" pork that was 50% or 75% Mangalitsa, because purebreds are a lot more expensive to produce (and they have less lean meat).

Breed is the most important factor determining meat quality. If I bought a Jamon Mangalica from LaTienda, I'd be hoping to get at least a 75% Mangalitsa product. The 50% stuff tastes very good - but I know from my own experience (and that of my customers) that the purebreds can taste better.

Finally, the Hungarians typically feed their pigs a diet with more PUFA than American Mangalitsa producers, which results in softer pork. So although I've not eaten the Spanish/Hungarian products, I'm skeptical that it would be as good as the Mangalitsa products I've eaten in Austria and America.

The Spanish producers explained to me that the Manglaitsa hybrids produce the optimal raw material for hams. My Austrian friends (who ony do purebreds) would say these guys are cutting corners on breed and feed; the hybrids just don't taste as good. The Spanish are right, in the sense that hybrids offer the right price/performance ratio. If you ignore cost and percentage of fat, I think the Austrians are right.

The La Tienda website has information about Mangalitsa and Iberico that seems wrong. That's to be expected: LaTienda's job is to sell the stuff that comes in from Spain. They don't breed, fatten and process pigs. I don't think they even know what Iberico piglets look like (see below).

I don't have any problems with how Olmos es Toth raises their pigs (I think they've done great things) - but I do have issues with how LaTienda describes what they do.

For example, they write:
Because of industrialization, and the ravages of war, this big hearty pig could only be found on a few farms in the remote steppes of Hungary.
That doesn't fit with the statements of the producer, nor the pictures of their main farms, Emőd and Nyíribrony. They raise their pigs "industrially", and it works, just as it worked in the old days (when the Mangalista was Hungary's first industrial pig). It is humane and efficient (aka "industrial"), all at the same time, and has been that way for more than 150 years.

Their other statements about how the pigs live could easily confuse most of their customers, who probably know little about pig production.
To this day the Mangalica sows freely roam vast rolling meadows.
When I looked at the photos of their farms, it looked like it was a big dirt lot (in the case of Emőd) or something similar at Nyíribrony. According to information from the producer:

Farrowing in Emőd-Istvánmajor is performed in traditional farrowing pens, while Nyíribrony utilizes a modern automated facility.

Piglet breeding is attended with modern, intensive, industrial technologies in both plants.

They aren't using gestation crates, like Spain's iberico producers, but other than that, they are doing pretty much all they can to reduce unnecessary mortality and morbidity. I think that's a good thing - more Mangalita is better. I'd sleep easier if they ran some of the nucleus herd entirely indoors to keep them safe from awful diseases. The fact that I mention gestation crates doesn't mean I'm against them - the topic is a very complex one.

So even if some of sows use to produce LaTienda's products are roaming some meadows (some of the time), people should keep in mind that their nucleus farms are optimizing the environment to make their sows as efficient as possible. Sows roaming meadows would be the first thing you'd change, if it reduced expenses, biosecurity risks, etc. - as they've done in Spain.

During their lifetime the pigs are given plenty of exercise, unlike ordinary commercial pigs of today.

There's two points there I disagree with:

1) A lot of "industrial" pigs have a bigger space for running around than the mangalitsa pigs raised at Emőd and Nyíribrony, who live in traditional stalls. It sounds comical, but a pig in a big barn can travel the length of that giant barn, should he desire. When you've got pigs in smaller stalls, they can only go so far before they have to turn around. Traditionally, the Mangalitsa farms kept the pigs in fairly small stalls, so they'd get fat - and they keep them this way today.

2) The hams Latienda is marketing aren't produced so differently from"industrial" pigs. They don't seem to use gestation crates (like so many iberico producers), and they don't fatten their finishers indoors - but other than that, it looks like a modern "industrial" farm. It is simultaneously a traditional Mangalitsa farm.
The nurseries are designed to allow great movement for the comfort of the sows and their nursing piglets. The newly born animals have separate feeders, watering troughs, and a heated resting room.
I'm very impressed with their system. It probably looks too sterile to most consumers, but you have to consider the alternative - a bunch of unnecessarily dead pigs.
The marbled fat is integrated into their muscles, which makes the meat taste especially moist and flavorful, in some ways similar to the Ibérico, but with a sweeter flavor and more supple texture.
Although the Mangalitsa has better-tasting genetics than the Iberico, if you feed them the way the Hungarians do, they probably won't reach their full potential. In America, Mangalitsa producers are generally feeding their pigs special low-PUFA diets, designed to produce extremely high quality fat.
Limited supplies of whole bone-in Mangalica dry cured hams are now available exclusively from La Tienda in the United States.
LaTienda isn't the only source of Mangalitsa products in the USA (although they are the only importer).
LaTienda: Mangalica sows raised small litters and their piglets had the same chipmunk-like stripes of black and brown fur that are typical of the Cerdo Ibérico and wild boars.
I've never seen Iberico piglets with stripes. The ones I've seen look like these:

Iberico piglets
Mangalitsas look different:Remarks like those make me wonder how much the LaTienda staff know about the pigs that pay the bills.
LaTienda: While there are pockets in Europe where traditional pigs survived, Spain particularly cherished this tradition by preserving the venerable Cerdo Iberico. They still roam the ancient forests and meadows of western and southern Spain, especially dining on acorns.
It looks like the Iberico mostly roam around their clean, modern barns:

I've written about Iberico production before. You'd think from how LaTienda describes it that the hogs are outdoors a lot more than they are. That's just not the case. Generally, the bellota pigs are outdoors about 3 months - the minimum required to get certified. It is a great tasting product, and raising them indoors/outdoors keeps it economical. I know Austrians who raise Mangalitsas similarly for the same reasons.
In modern times, the production of food and particularly meat has become industrialized to the point that the individual animal is often thought of as nothing but an inanimate source of protein, rather than a living creature.
I'm pretty sure the Spanish and Hungarians view the Mangalitsa and Iberico as sources of very high quality raw material. That's how lard-type pig farmers view their pigs, and how Wagyu beef producers view their cows. You can't produce 2 million head of lard-type hogs (the way Spain does) and have each of them be individuals.
The perceptive Spaniard and his associates have raised the animals the healthy and humane way, and through are introducing to America a new ham from a venerable breed. It is guaranteed to cause quite a stir among connoisseurs of Spanish ham.
To the extent that their animals aren't purebred, I can't see how they are introducing Americans to the "venerable breed". They are introducing Americans to a unique, high quality food - but not the breed. I sell Mangalitsa hybrids too - but I try to be very clear with people about what I'm selling, because the pigs with different genetics taste so differently.

Even if their pigs aren't fed as well as Mangalitsa produced in America, it probably is an excellent product that will cause quite a stir. Because even Manglaitsa hybrids, fed less than optimal food, taste great. I'm confident what LaTienda is selling will taste better than any non-Mangalitsa products produced in America.

Monday, May 25, 2009


Mangalitsa Speck

I haven't produced any cured products for months. For various reasons, I switched to a plant that just does slaughter, cutting and wrapping - no cured products.

On the pork side, I switched from mostly selling Berkshire hogs (and some Mangalitsa) to selling mostly Mangalitsa-sired pork and some Mangalitsa. With the shift to substantially lardier hogs, I figured that the processor I used for the bacon probably wasn't going to work anyway. The new hogs have so much fat on them that it is important to use a specialty processor that can make the most of them. Also, with Mangalitsa bacon, it is important that it be ready to eat - because when you cook it, it renders a lot of fat. Hence,the plan now is to turn the pigs into Speck, a traditional, ready-to-eat bacon.

Mangalitsa bacon - by Barnaby Dorfman.

Although Mangalitsa bacon is wonderful, the fact that it is wet means that it isn't ready-to-eat. You have to cook, something that a lot of people don't make the time to do.

Just as with the fresh pork, I didn't want Wooly Pigs to make any cured products from Mangalitsa pigs unless I felt the product was correct. Using standard (but still high-quality) American processing on my Berkshire hogs made sense, but I didn't want to do that with the Mangalitsa pigs.

EDIT: see how I finally got some acceptable processing here. It took a long time to solve the problem, but I solved it.

Canadian Pork and Fat Quality

Canadian Hog Barn

I've noticed that Canadian pork (in the form of salami) that I've bought at the supermarket tastes better than stuff from American pigs. The Canadian supermarket stuff generally comes from intensive hog farms - there's no other way for them to raise them economically or humanely, given the terrible Canadian weather.

I always figured their pork was better because of the feed - given that they raise lean pigs indoors. The big difference is that Canadians generally don't feed their hogs corn. They feed them things like wheat and barley. Because their diets are generally more PUFA-restricted, they get better fat and flavor automatically. I was interested to see this research showing that some American consumers (Asians) recognize the general superior quality of Canadian pork.

For instance, these guys have salami with good hard fat. Their salami doesn't have enough flavor (to my taste), but at least it doesn't have the fat quality problems that come from feeding pigs too much PUFA.

When I was younger, I remember wondering why it was that the bread, milk, cheese, beer, meat, chocolate, eggs, marzipan and so on were all so much better in Munich than in the Bay Area. Many Americans who travel in Europe likewise notice that the food tastes better. E.g. whether in Germany or a poor country like Slovakia, the cheese generally tastes better than in America (and is a better value). Even if some don't like to admit it, if you insist on buying food locally, you'll necessarily shut out some higher quality alternatives - because the best isn't always the closest.

Live Mangalitsa flow from the Midwest to the Coasts

That's why people buy and transport our live pigs great distances; there are no higher quality pig genetics in America. Pigs recently moved from the Midwest to New Jersey, and then to Massachusetts. That only makes economic sense because Mangalitsa pigs are fantastic.

Unfortunately, many Americans probably leap to illogical reasons for the overall quality differences between European and American food. For example, Spanish hams don't generally taste better than American versions because their producers are more "artisanal" than ours; their stuff tastes better because they optimize their systems for quality and efficiency, not cheapness.

Hence, it is important to remember that Canadian pork generally tastes better not because they are more polite and have more socialism. It just comes down to the meat science and chemistry. For example, in Spain, they move the acorns (from Turkey) to the pigs - because that's what it takes to produce high-quality pork. That's not "local", "natural" or "sustainable" - but it does produce great food at a price people can afford. Similarly, Wooly Pigs will produce excellent pork in Iowa. It will require extra effort and expense - but when you do things with economies of scale, it can work.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Mangalitsa Pigs on San Juan Islands

I recently delivered some piglets to Orcas Island and Lummi Island. These islands are in the far northwest corner of the USA.The islands have a long history. For example, Orcas Island is named after the Viceroy of Mexico who sent an exploration expedition to the Pacific Northwest in 1791.

John Steward of Maple Rock Farm (Orcas Island) has several Mangalitsa and Mangalitsa-sired pigs. He's raising some of them for the Inn at Ship Bay, where they'll serve their pigs after they grow and get fat.

John Steward and some pigs.

The pigs will have more freedom later, after he's sure they know him and where "home" is.

Mangalitsa and Mangalitsa-sired pigs.

He gave me some bread, eggs and vegetables from their farm, which I really appreciated.

Riley Starks by the temporary pigpen.

I also delivered pigs to Nettles Farm on Lummi Island. Nettles Farm is owned by Riley Starks and Judy Olsen, who also own and run Willows Inn.

Their Inn was featured recently as an agritourism destination in "Seattle" magazine:

Slow Down at Willows Inn
The center of the action on tiny Lummi, Willows Inn provides 10 handsomely appointed guestrooms, a private west-facing beach—and a dining room that serves some of the best food this side of Paris. Proprietors and spouses Riley Starks and Judy Olsen breathed new life into the 1910 historic inn when they took it over in 2001. A former commercial fisherman and a “slow food” devotee, Starks takes every chance he gets to responsibly claim culinary treasures from the nearby sea—Dungeness crabs, spot prawns, reefnet-caught salmon—which Olsen then whips up into sumptuous gourmet meals, which include produce from the couple’s organic Nettles Farm just up the hill. The Taproot Pub and Espresso offers lighter fare in a casual, grotto-style atmosphere.

Tend to Your Inner Farmer
The unassuming Nettles Farm—owned by Willows proprietors Starks and Olsen—is making a name for itself as an agri-tourism leader. Becky Seward, who tends to the farm’s colorful rows of produce, overflowing hothouses and boisterous livestock (some 100 egg-laying chickens, and American pink and Hungarian Mangalitsa pigs)...
He's well-known for his reefnet salmon, which has its own category in the USA's Ark of Taste.

Riley is already serving products made from the pig he raised last year. He fed me dinner after we got the pigs settled. One of the courses used some of his Mangalitsa bacon, which was incredible. The whole meal was excellent. The sorrel soup was great.

Now Riley has a Mangalitsa and a Mangalitsa-sired pig. It will take them a long time to grow. He'll have to take care of them through the winter, which is a chore.

Like John, he put his pigs in an enclosed area. After they get used to it and think of it as home, he'll let them out to run around. He said his previous pigs really liked to scratch themselves on the boulders in their pen.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mangalitsa Dinner at Monsoon (Seattle) -- NOT Monsoon East

There's a dinner at Monsoon (Capitol Hill) next Wednesday, May 27.

Nancy Leson writes about it here.

I previously reported this dinner with the wrong location, saying it was at Monsoon East. If you want to go to the Mangalitsa dinner, you need to go to the Capitol Hill location:

615 19th Ave E
Seattle, WA 98112

Call Monsoon at 206-325-2111 for details or to reserve.

Provenance Farm - Minnesota

Provenance Farm in Taylor Falls, Minnesota (run by Cristina Cruz-Jones and Stephen Jones) sent me some photos of their pigs. If you want to order some pork, their number is 651-583-2252.

Their pigs sure look very cute!

Dusted Valley's Pigs

Dusted Valley's pigs have gotten a bit bigger. The light there in Walla Walla looks otherworldly.

They've got lots of weeds to play in and eat.

Andrae Bopp, winemaker and chef at Dusted Valley, takes care of the pigs.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Swine Flu Not From Smithfield

When swine flu first appeared, some people attempted to blame Smithfield, a huge and modern pork producer for creating the disease. Here's a video showing a modern finishing barn*. Presumably, Smithfield raises their pigs in this sort of a barn.

Tests now show that there's no H1N1 virus at Smithfield's farm in Mexico.

In general, diseases like the current one are more likely to come from small farms where people, pigs, birds, rodents and dogs live in close contact. Smithfield's farms are as far from that as technologically possible. Here's an example of what you do when you are serious about avoiding disease - run all the air your animals breathe through a virus-proof filter.

* The video is interesting. Among other things, the farmer explains why keeping pigs in large groups helps, because it prevents the formation of a pecking order and the resulting poor doers and dead pigs.

Boar Cart

This is a CONTACT-O-MAX™ boar cart, used to move a boar in front of a sow (in a crate), for heat checking. In a modern farm, the sows are in crates. To see if they need to get AI, you move a boar in front of them, like in this Spanish farm where they raise Iberico sows in crates:

They aren't using a boar cart, so things will take more or less time, depending on the cooperation of the boar. With a boar cart, they'd start the boar at the wall and move him across the row of sows. They'd heat-check the sows and mark down the ones needing AI. Then they'd come back and AI them.

The boar cart really shows how automated meat production has become. I suspect on day we'll do away with the animals altogether and just have machines produce meat for us.

Mangalitsa in Japan

As reported on a Japanese website, Mangalitsa pork was introduced in May's "Gourmet Journal". The Japanese article is here (PDF).

It is really something to see the Mangalitsa products in Japan.


I was looking online and saw the photo of this nice lunch at The Herbfarm, featuring some Mangalitsa fermented sausage. That's a nice looking lunch.

The pigs in their pre-sausage state.

The fermented sausage probably tasted very special - it would have a meaty flavor, as opposed to the bland or rancid flavor of most American cured pork products. The Herbfarm did a good job fattening those pigs. Their fat wouldn't be rancid.

Pig Cull in Egypt

Now there's YouTube videos of Egypt's pig cull.

It is really something to see squealing live pigs poured out of a bucket and dumped into a truck full of yet more squealing pigs. Here 's one video. Here's another.

I'm reminded of Youatt's book (1847):

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The Pig A Treatise on the Breeds, Management, Feeding, and Medical Treatment, of Swine

The incredible destruction of this pig cull is astounding.

Although the pigs are safe to eat, they are killing them too quickly for people to eat them, resulting in tremendous waste of pork.

There's a caste of people who survive by feeding their pigs garbage. Destroying the pigs means those people now have to do something else to earn a living - which may or may not be possible.

The pigs are part of Cairo's waste processing system. Destroying the pigs means more food for rodents and other vermin - so one can expect the pig cull to lead to more disease problems down the road.

Finally, they are killing off their local breed of pig. They've got a small, disease-resistant, parasite-resistant pig that does well in some of the worst conditions possible. These have to be some of the easiest keepers around. Should they need to repopulate, they won't easily find such pigs. The problem will be like that of repopulating Haiti's pigs.

I really feel for the fate of the pigs. All they want is to be left alone to sift through the garbage a few hours a day, breed and when necessary, rear their young. The pigs are so tough, they don't need the people. They just want to do their own thing. That's very different from the "poor doing" pigs that most farmers raise - they need high-quality feed and housing to keep them going.

I'm again reminded of Youatt:

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The Pig A Treatise on the Breeds, Management, Feeding, and Medical Treatment, of Swine...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Mangalitsa this weekend

I killed some Mangalitsa pigs recently. I will have some Mangalitsa pork at the market starting this weekend (May 23rd).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Old Pig Book

Google Books has a book from 1847 on pigs. Pigs were run very differently back then.

In some areas, pigherds picked the pigs up from their homes in the morning, took them out to eat and brought them home to sleep until the next day.

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The Pig A Treatise on the Breeds, Management, Feeding, and Medical Treatment, of Swine...

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The Pig A Treatise on the Breeds, Management, Feeding, and Medical Treatment, of Swine ...

That all sounds easy until you try to do it. This book has a lot more information than other books I've seen on how to do pigs the old-fashioned way.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Pork Fried Rice

Johnny Zhu of Monsoon is selling a Wooly Pigs oriented dish: pork fried rice. The meat is from Mangalitsa-sired pigs and the rice is fried in lard (from Mangalitsa pigs).

Once you eat that dish, you can't go back to the vegetable-oil version. Vegetable oil just isn't as pleasing in the mouth as Mangalitsa fat. It takes just one bite to see the difference.

I'm not implying that all rice cooked in lard would be good. Because a the pig's fat composition is a function of breed, feed and age, there's a lot of variation in fat quality.

I'm very happy to announce that I recently found a USDA-inspected processor that can make lard. They said they only get asked to do it once or twice a year - but thank goodness some people do things the old-fashioned way.

Mosefund Wallow

Michael Clampffer of Mosefund took some photos of their pigs wallowing.

They'll be slaughtered soon. They look very relaxed and happy. He says they are eating about 6# of barley a day. I find it hard to believe they are 300# live, as Michael says. They look like tiny pigs in the photo.

When I see those rocks and much that they've shifted around, I'm in awe of their ability to manipulate their environment to make things more cozy.

Wet pigs shake water off themselves like a dog. When you get splashed in the face by a wet pig, you know you've got filth on your face, which makes it extra gross. So if you see pigs wallowing, you shouldn't get too close, or you'll get muck on you.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Hungarian Crisis

I've been looking into fermented sausages recently.
It turns out that the Hungarian fermented sausage manufacturers are in big trouble.

Here's what has to say:
The company has debts totaling Ft 4 billion, which it has been unable to reschedule, and to date the state has not indicated whether it will step in with new loans. We'd say you should rush out and buy some of its famous téliszalámi, but due to its money problems it is apparently having trouble keeping up production. Meanwhile, on Sunday the paper reported that the equally iconic Gyulai Húskombinát may go bust if it cannot find new working capital.