Wednesday, June 3, 2009 Article on Pig Breeds

Mangalitsa and Gloucester Old Spot

There's an article in about pig breeds. It features the Gloucester Old Spot.

I refer often to a study that compared different kinds of breed-specific pork. The Gloucester Old Spot scored very high on eating quality. The Mangalitsa, being an extreme lard-type hog, isn't like the others. Among other things, in the study, it had the darkest meat and the most marbling (in one case, an astounding 11.8%, where 2.3% is average for the USA).

Ranked by principle components, the Mangalitsa was in its own category, while the GOS placed next to Berkshire pork from the UK and the Hampshire.

When I read the article, I had a number of thoughts.
The pork we sell at Marlow & Daughters is all from heritage-breed pigs, but while most chefs agree that these animals taste better, no one seems to be able to say why they do or even why some breeds are more popular than others

Scientists study why some breeds taste better than others. Their explanations involve genetics and chemistry.

It is important to keep in mind that pork doesn't need to be purebred to taste great (even if some purebreds do taste the best). Europe produced 2 million head of lard-type hogs last year, most of them crossbred. Those crossbred hogs probably all tasted better than any purebred Pietrain hogs. Genetics are the primary factor determining meat quality, but that doesn't mean purebreds offer optimal eating quality, or even the optimal price to performance ratio.
Yezzi relates a story get rid of a particularly aggressive Ossabaw boar that chased him around the barnyard one day.
That's one reason why that feral breed is doomed.
Perhaps Yezzi sums it up for all heritage-breed farmers when he says, “Pasture-raised, rare, heritage-breed pigs just taste the best.”
Looking at the domination of the super-premium cured products market by 75% Iberico crosses, most of them raised entirely indoors, I'd disagree. Taste is a function of chemistry. Things like genetics, feed, sex and age at slaughter matter more than whether or not the pigs spend time on pasture.

Whether you talk about mass produced Iberico products, or small-scale Mangalitsa, pasture isn't very important.

E.g. these Mangalitsa, in Austria don't have any pasture. They have a small piece of hillside and a bunch of muck. But due to their genetics, feed, age at slaughter and stress-free slaughter, they taste incredible:

On the mass-production side, you've got food pornography like this:
"INTRICATELY marbled dark mahogany folds of ham, each with a generous edge of satiny cured fat, peel off the antique slicer at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills."
You should keep in mind it probably comes from pen-raised Iberico like the ones pictured.


Lance said...

But saying "genetics, feed, sex and age at slaughter matter more" just isn't as romantic as "Pasture-raised, rare, heritage-breed pigs just taste the best."

While taste may sell pigs, romance sells ads.

Jacqueline Church said...

Heath - you always tell it like it is. Love it. Saw the article last night about 3 AM and had many of the same thoughts, in fact you'll see my comments there on Gourmet. I'm moving forward with my book, now in edit-proposal and Get-an-Agent stage.

I'll be in touch. Just read today about "grading up" and know Jason Bond has some Mangas out here being finished. Are they graded up? Need to learn more about this.

Heath said...

Lance - One of the reasons I do this is that there are some people who want to produce really great stuff, and they'll probably fail if they do what Yezzi says. Until I started putting material on the web about how to finish pigs to provide optimal raw material for cured products, there wasn't anything for the average English-reading pig farmer.

Jacqueline - The 75% females probably won't be upgraded. The 75% pigs make up the bulk of Spain's production because they are optimal in terms of price and performance. The F1 sows that produce them are very efficient. The 75% pigs are differentiated enough from meat-type breeds.

The fact that the 75% pigs are optimal is why I said that purebreds don't offer the best price to performance ratio. The 75% hogs do, because they come from extremely efficient F1 Mangalitsa sows.

Lance said...

Heath, I find it fascinating. I've got no relation to pork production at all (except a healthy desire to consume it). I don't recall how I found your blog but it's one of my favorites.