Tuesday, May 26, 2009

LaTienda Marketing "Jamon Mangalica"

LaTienda.com 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 LaTienda.com 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.

18 comments:

Jonny said...

Hi Heath,
This is Jonathan from LaTienda.com. Thanks for the critique of our description of Mangalica ham. We still have a lot to learn about this special pig and the meats that are produced from it, so any feedback you have is valuable.

Thanks

Heath said...

Johnny,

Pig production is very complicated, and techniques change over time.

It is too much to expect LaTienda.com staff to research and communicate all that information to the American public - especially since you folks don't produce any pigs, and can't easily visit the farms that produce the pork that goes into your products.

I wish you folks luck and hope (and expect) that your products will cause a big sensation.

Miguel Ullibarri said...

Heath, Jonathan, this is Miguel Ullibarri, from A Taste of Spain.

Jonathan, Don and Tim know me well from my previous yeras promoting Ibérico ham from the Real Ibérico Consortium.

I apologize for jumping into your conversation but, I believe this tpye of debate is not fair for many traditional farmers and producers of Ibérico, Mangalica and other rustic breeds which have survived to the industrial craze of low price tasteless hams, which dominate the market.

This also applies to the article published at the Atlantic magazine which, I must admit, is very catching. But the "world" behind Ibérico is much more complex and fascinating that weather some acorns are or not imported. As with any other product one can always find people looking for shortcuts and trying to cheat (this includes producers, distributors and journalists who, after all, must sell newspapers). The problem is that consumers can easily get lost, without even knowing that Ibérico represents much more than a great tasting ham: over 2 million hectares of Mediterranean forest survive in Western Spain thanks to the traditional Ibérico production. I recommend you check this FAO document: http://dad.fao.org/sstories/documents/story0.html

Guys, I believe it's worth focusing on conveying the positives (there are lots) around the existings quality traditional hams. We already have enough misleading information coming from the large meat corporations, so let's show some more respect for generations of traditional farmers and producers of Ibérico, Mangalica and other great hams who're doing an amazing job.

Hope you find this inspiring and, if I can be of help please count on me, you can reach me at miguel@atasteofspain.com

Thanks!

Heath said...

Miguel -- you wrote, "I believe this tpye of debate is not fair for many traditional farmers and producers of Ibérico, Mangalica and other rustic breeds which have survived to the industrial craze of low price tasteless hams, which dominate the market."

What isn't fair? Has anyone been inaccurate, or misrepresented things?

If you read my blog, you'll see that I think the Spanish and Hungarian producers do a great job. They show that it is possible to produce huge amounts of high-quality food at ever affordable prices - by using modern technology.

Miguel Ullibarri said...

Well Heath, if there is one thing I've learned from the traditional Ibérico producers is that they understand and accept one of very basic law: high quality is limited by definition and, specifically, by nature.
Of course we can benefit from technology where it contributes do do thing better, but it's not realistic to intend to produce, as you say: "huge amounts of high-quality food at ever affordable prices - by using modern technology"
That's exacyly the simplification behind the industrial production of food, which has turned great products such as ham into commodities.
Fortunately, more and more people understand that limited is not bad when it imples true quality in a wide sense: great taste plus a positive contribution to enviroment, local culture or rural development...
May be I'm wrong, but I don't like the idea of cheap Ibérico or Mangalica, I prefer to eat less of it and pay for what they represent.

Heath said...

Miguel, you wrote "Well Heath, if there is one thing I've learned from the traditional Ibérico producers is that they understand and accept one of very basic law: high quality is limited by definition and, specifically, by nature."

Bellota producers have figured out how to produce the most bellota product in spite of nature's limits: raising the iberico indoors almost their entire life is efficient - but acorns are still the thing that prevent you from marketing your plentiful pienso pigs as recebo or bellota pigs. Importing Turkish acorns to feed in the finishing period allows a producer to turn those less valuable pigs into more valuable ones.

Iberico and Mangalitsa are already produced industrially. That's good for consumers, pigs and the environment - in the sense that you couldn't sustain high levels of iberico production and herd health without those optimizations.

Miguel Ullibarri said...

Heath, I see we speak very different languages.

When I talk about Ibérico ham, of course I exclude those "new" hams prduced from intensively reared crossed ibérico pigs. The ibérico pig without the dehesa and the traditional rearing method is a totally different concept, even if technology allows us to replicate some of the characteristics of the original.

I'm not the one who's going to aplaude these meat groups which have entered the "Ibérico" sector, trying to benefit from the recognition achieved by the traditional Ibérico products, but with an industrial/short term approach, creating confussion in the market and risking the future of the dehesa, which survives on a very fragile balance.

What's truly "good for consumers, pigs and the environment" is what traditional Ibérico farmers and producers do: accept that there is no point in trying to "susutain high levels of ibérico production" if that means changing the essence of this product. The fact that technology allows to do certain thing does necessarily mean that it is wise to do it... It's about time we learn this!

What if we all (producers, trade and consumers)accepted Ibérico as the extraordinary, limited product that it has always been, putting all this energy and money instead into making better Serrano, Parma...

Again, Ibérico represents much more that just a ham with a black hoof. Unfortunately some people find this difficult to understand or, what's worse, don't care.

One thing I learned in the past World Ham Congress from the people of the Aracena mountains is that it's good people who make good ham.

Hope this helps you.

Heath said...

Miguel - What, in terms of production, meets your requirements? E.g. do you think real iberico pigs must not be farrowed in farrowing crates? Can they be given antibiotics, vaccines or anti-parasite drugs? Do you think they need to be raised on forage their whole life, or just for 90 days?

What fraction of the stuff marketed as "iberico" (pienso, recebo or bellota) meets your definition of "real" iberico?

I think it is a very interesting issue.

If nothing else, I would hope that you'd appreciate me and McWilliams bringing it to the attention of consumers that they aren't necessarily buying what they think they are buying (purebred iberico raised extensively, finished on Spanish acorns).

Also, if you read this post, you will see, for instance, that I'm a bit bothered that the Hungarian rules allow F1 mangalica to be marketed as "mangalica". All the people who've bought feeder pigs from me in the USA would be bothered if I marketed F1 pigs as "Mangalitsa" - because it would dilute the brand and the value of their investment.

Miguel Ullibarri said...

Heath,

It's very much a question of VALUES, not just value.
That's what explains how the traditional ibérico farmers and producers have behaved for generations, and why still today they put tradition, nature or instint before technology, choosing to produce better, not just more.
The reputation of these people, who have preserved an incredible habitat, can not be damaged with simplifications or by trying to associate them with what some large meat corporations are now doing, rearing crossed ibérico pigs on an intensive basis to commercialize a product which should not be legally allowed to wear the "Ibérico" description on its label.
There is lots to learn from the traditional Ibérico model and, specialy, from the farmers and producers backing it, starting by honesty.
I hope more and more farmers and producers from other countries follow the ibérico model, not trying to replicate it, but working to recover their local breeds and habitats. This takes time and effort but it's worth trying, as they are doing in Nebrodi, for instance.
I wish you good luck Heath, I've really enjoyed exchanging POVs with you.

Heath said...

Miguel -- It sounds to me like almost none of the current "Iberico" production - that is, the stuff legally marketed as "Iberico", meets your standards. For example, even companies that market purebred bellota products don't generally make guarantees that their pigs are extensively raised. One has to figure that they keep those pigs indoors almost their entire life - because that's what's economical.

What's going on in America may interest you. Wooly Pigs produces pigs along the Hungarian lines. So far, the people who buy feeder pigs from Wooly Pigs raise them extensively. Many of them will be finished on acorns.

Miguel Ullibarri said...

This is a wrong perception that's building. I can assure you that extensive is the general rule in traditional ibérico, it makes more sense and it's more economical to let the ibérico pigs benefit from the natural resources provided by the dehesa, these pigs live where they belong and there find what they need

Heath said...

Miguel - Here's what you wrote:

"This is a wrong perception that's building. I can assure you that extensive is the general rule in traditional ibérico, it makes more sense and it's more economical to let the ibérico pigs benefit from the natural resources provided by the dehesa, these pigs live where they belong and there find what they need"

If you will examine this work, "Iberico pig production: The Problems of Success", you will see that as of 2008, 85% of Iberico production was in confinement.

I asked you what fraction of the goods marketed as Iberico met your requirements. I would figure now that it is something less than 15% - as some of them probably do things you don't like - and shrinking.

My understanding is that the more efficient producers (the 85%) are going to drive the traditional producers (the 15%) out of business, unless those 15% can somehow differentiate their product and get paid more for it.

Miguel Ullibarri said...

Heath, I have good news for you (I hope): It’s completely inaccurate to say that “as of 2008, 85% of Ibérico production was in confinement”

Your source contains a huge simplification, or mistake, as you prefer. It reads: “2 million Iberian pigs were slaughtered in Spain in 2003 (MAPA, 2004), from which about 15% were fattened under free-range conditions, in which is called "montanera" (fed on acorns and grass in the "Dehesa"), and the other 85% were reared in confinement and fed on mixed diets”

Well, it’s not just the Ibérico pigs which eat acorns and grass during the montanera (acorn season) that are reared under free-range conditions in the Dehesa. In the traditional Ibérico model all Ibérico pigs are reared extensively, following a complex system which takes advantage of the resources provided by the Dehesa in a sustainable way. This includes the Ibérico pigs which do not finally benefit from the montanera (as acorns are limited and their availability varies upon climate conditions), these pigs are finished on fodders right in the Dehesa, where they live and develop slowly, exercising and eating grass, cereals, roots, insects... Your source assumes that all the Ibérico pigs which do not benefit from the montanera are reared in confinenment, I guess somebody else must have noticed this mistake.

I warned you Heath, simplifying is very dangerous, specially with Ibérico, one can easily get a completely wrong picture.

So, what’s right to say is that 15% of the 2 million Ibérico pigs slaughtered in 2003 were finished on acorns at varying degrees, producing the “Ibérico de Bellota” and “Ibérico de Recebo” qualities. That is, 600.000 Ibérico hams of awesome quality, not bad for a traditional model with 2.000 years of history, which some view as old fashioned...

By the way, another inaccurate information I noticed in your blog is that Ibérico pigs are confined until the beginning of the acorn season. Sorry Heath, but Ibérico pigs begin their life in the Dehesa after lactation is completed, it’s essential that they exercise and develop slowly, to get ready for the beginning of the acorn season. I recommend you visit Spain and drive through the Western Andalucía or Extremadura, you’ll be able to see this.

I hope I’ve helped you to understand the beauty behind the traditional Ibérico model and, please don’t worry about its future, there are lots of great traditional farmers and producers doing a fantastic job, and an increasing number of committed consumers in many countries who appreciate how special traditional Ibérico is, and are ready to pay for what’s is worth.

Good luck to you!

Heath said...

Miguel -- What percentage of the pigs marketed as Iberico (under the law) are raised according to your definition of "traditional iberico"? What is your source for that information?

I think the agronomists I quoted were using figures from MAPA.

Here's another work, where Spanish agronomists say 80% of the pigs marketed as "Iberico" are produced intensively.

They don't say they are produced "semi-intensively"; they say they are produced "intensively".

If nothing else, intensive Iberico production is happening at a large-enough scale that producers using traditional methods are being driven out of business. Unfortunately, the press doesn't bother to say what fraction of the pigs marketed as "Iberico" are raised extensively versus intensively.

About the pigs being kept intensively before being turned out: here's a document from Compassion in World Farming, where they explain that:

"Most Iberian pig production occurs intensively. Of those that feed on acorns, most are reared indoors for the first 9-12 months before being finished on acorns. The difficulty with this management practice is that the pigs do not get time to adapt to the outdoor life. They are less likely to roam extensively around their ranges.."

Raising the pigs mostly indoors is an effective way to keep the costs down. I think that's why it is being done.

If you can provide figures - perhaps from MAPA or another reputable statistics gathering body, about the number of pigs marketed as "Iberico" (purebred or otherwise) raised extensively or semi-extensively, that would be of great interest to me and readers of this blog.

Miguel Ullibarri said...

Heath, what I’m explaining is not “my definition of traditional Ibérico”, but the definition shared by the traditional Ibérico farmers and producers. These principles, starting with the extensive rearing of all Ibérico pigs in the Dehesa, have been followed for generations and are included in the quality regulations of the four Designations of Origin protecting the traditional Ibérico products.

So, it’s important to clarify that traditional ibérico producers keep loyal to the extensive model linked to the Dehesa.

I’ll give you some MAPA figures, which maintains an official census of extensive Ibérico farms and number of Ibérico pigs reared in these farms: in 2007 there were in Spain 13.475 farms rearing Ibérico pigs extensively (do you know how many exist in the US, for example?), with over 2.5 million Ibérico pigs (including piglets and sows). Roughly this means that, on average, one hectare of Dehesa is dedicated to each pig!

As I explained, not all these Ibérico pigs reach the “bellota” or “recebo” qualities, as the availability of acorns is limited and varying, but all are reared extensively, that’s the very important piece of information that your sources miss, assuming that all but the “bellota” and “recebo” quality Ibérico pigs are reared in confinement.

What best demonstrates that traditional extensive method prevails, is the fact that the Dehesa (an ecosystem of the size of the State of Maryland), is one of the most expensive lands to buy, as it keeps being used and looked after by the traditional ibérico farmers, and enjoyed by the Ibérico pigs.

When talking about intensive “ibérico”, one should explain that this has nothing to see with the traditional ibérico sector, it’s not them who are considering intensive rearing . This is a new phenomenon driven by meat groups, mostly based in Eastern Spain where there is no Dehesa, which have started to rear intensively crossed ibérico pigs, in search of quick additional business. The Spanish legislation is adapting to this new situation, and the traditional ibérico producers have already required that the use of the Ibérico term is limited to products resulting from the traditional-extensive model associated to the Dehesa. In fact, the headline of the article you include in your previous comment reads: “Ibérico farmers (traditional) fight against intensive rearing”

I believe it’s wise to differentiating very clearly between these two opposite approaches, instead of accepting and contributing to the idea that both deserve to share the denomination Ibérico. The traditional Ibérico sector is already working on this and I’m sure the Spanish authorities will end up limiting the use of the Ibérico term to the traditional extensive product, we’ll then see who’s “driven out of business”.

If you enjoy “discovering” the dark side of ibérico, you can find documents from various sources to back your theory. But take into account their reliability, there are lots of interests involved. A clear example is this “Compassion in World Farming” document claiming that “those that feed on acorns, most are reared indoors for the first 9-12 months before being finished on acorns”. I know very well who’s behind Dehesa San Francisco (the source of this claim), and what moves them to consciously send this type of messages which, as I explained, are totally inaccurate.

Heath, I strongly recommend you stop reading and come to Spain to experience what goes on in the Dehesa and how happily these pigs live! More and more people appreciate, not just its incredible taste, but the VALUES that traditional ibérico represents, and are willing to pay for that!. I believe Ibérico brings some light/hope into the world of ham production, widely dominated as you well know by industrial-intensive products, also in the US. I guess this explains the great enthusiasm that US foodies are demonstrating with the arrival of Ibérico ham to your country.

Thank you and good luck!

Heath said...

Miguel - Iberian Pig Production: the problems of success" says that in 2003, Spain produced about 2 million head of iberico, 85% of them intensively. The other source I quoted says 80% was intensive.

It isn't clear to me what you are claiming about iberico production.Are you claiming Spain marketed 2 million head of extensively-raised iberico? If so, what was the total iberico production?

You refer to, "definition shared by the traditional Ibérico farmers and producers. These principles, starting with the extensive rearing of all Ibérico pigs in the Dehesa, have been followed for generations" -- yet it is clear that in order to produce 2 million head of iberico per year, it has been necessary to radically transform iberico production: breeds are different, feed is different, housing is different, etc. All those changes impact eating quality.

I agree with you that it is important to distinguish between the different categories of product. I would think that traditional iberico producers would want to inform people about what they do, to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

I just talked to a guy today who got back from Spain. He saw iberico "factory-farms". As he explained, they looked like American factory farms, except the pigs had slightly more space. What a difference from a traditional iberico farm!

I don't see myself as "'discovering' the dark side of iberico" - but rather, investigating how the Spanish produce a popular and premium food on an industrial scale.

Do you really think the iberico product exported to America is tasty? What I've eaten wasn't very good, compared to the Iberico I got at Schiopol airport, in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, you are correct: American foodies like that stuff a lot.

If you have any information on how Fermin (the sole exporter of Iberico) raises their pigs (e.g. intensive versus extensive, what they eat, etc.) I'd find that interesting. Based on what I tasted, I'd guess the pigs that provided the pork didn't get outdoors much.

Oerdin said...

It seems to me Heath is trying to slag the competition and not all of it in a fair manner. Now, I understand why he would want to down talk competing products but I do believe, judging by what is written here, that Heath is doing so unfairly.

Heath said...

Oerdin -- What are you standards for fairness? How have I violated them?

I don't have a problem with Olmos and Toth. I've said before, I approve of how they raise their pigs.

My problem is with marketers that misrepresent products, knowingly or unknowingly.

When LaTienda says that Iberico piglets have stripes, that them saying things that are seem untrue. I figure they are just ignorant about the pigs that pay the bills.