Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Edition of the Mangalitsa Processing Tutorial


Heath Putnam Farms paid the Wiesners to produce a new edition of the Mangalitsa Processing Tutorial. Like the first one, this one is available for distribution over the web.

In conjunction with the seam butchery videos, people ought to be able to learn how to cut a Mangalitsa pig with seam butchery techniques.

I think these are the best training materials available on the web.

Here's a link to the version for looking at on computer monitors.
Here's a link to the version for printing (much bigger).

Pig Whips


In the recent New York Times article about Mangalitsa pigs, there's a photo of a Mangalitsa owner, Ernő, wielding a traditional Hungarian pig whip. The pig in the foreground is running away from him.

Note: Ernő wrote me an email explaining he doesn't ever whip the pigs. He uses the whip to make a sound that scares the pigs.

The idea of his farm is to preserve the atmosphere of the early 1900s. On such farms there were "mangalica" pigs, pig whips, etc. You can see more photos of his pigs here.

It is fun to watch pigs. When there's something that bothers them, you can see them suddenly decide, "I'm getting out of here," and then they very purposefully do what they can to get away. The pig in the photo above has that look.

Once the pigs are fleeing, they don't relax until they are out of danger, at which point they go back to being lazy pigs. You can see the final part of this process in the video. Fat pigs (a bit like fat humans) really hate running away, and are looking for an excuse to give up:





When I saw the photo of Ernő with his whip, I knew it was a traditional Hungarian pig whip. Many Americans probably don't know what that whip is. Here's a web page (in Hungarian) with an illustration of a guy wielding one:
The idea isn't that you whip the pigs to make them taste better. You whip them because it is pretty much the only way, when they are run in freedom, to train them to do what you want.

One consequence of people raising pigs on modern farms (as opposed to the traditional free-range way) is that there's less demand for pig whips.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

New York Times: Betting on the Next ‘It’ Pig

There's an article in the New York Times about Mangalitsa pork and the American market:

But this year, buttery Mangalitsa pork made it onto the pristine menu at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville, Calif. Mangalitsa (MAHN-ga-leet-za) has been a menu item at Le Cirque, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Eleven Madison Park, Insieme and Vandaag. And Locanda Verde, Morandi and Seersucker have used Mangalitsa lard in pastry-making.

The chef Paul Liebrandt has been offering a fragrant Mangalitsa strip loin at the refined Corton in Manhattan. “The flavor is intense, well rounded, balanced,” Mr. Liebrandt said. “It is wonderfully smoky.”

It is great to see DeBragga getting credit for introducing our products to New York City. They've really worked hard to introduce our product to the New York market.


Rufus Brown and his Mangalitsa ham.

I'm very happy Johnston County Hams got some press for making America's first domestically-produced Mangalitsa hams. I ate some of the Mangalitsa ham from Johnston County Hams today, and it was the tastiest thing I ate all day. It was really neat to come home and read about it in the New York Times after eating it.

It is great that the article mentions Marc Buzzio's Mangalitsa products (made from our pigs), available at Eataly. I've eaten his lardo, and it is fantastic.

Heath Putnam & Paul Liebrandt

I'm happy to see Paul Liebrandt mentioned. Since we started selling in New York (back when it was frozen-only), he was a customer. It is great to see Per Se and The French Laundry mentioned - The French Laundry has been using this stuff a long time - they got the first Mangalitsa that went to slaughter.

It was great to read this:
In an interview, the food writer and former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl called it “the single best pastry fat I’ve ever found.”


There's so many people in that article who said so many good things about our pork.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pig Rations - High Carb

I recently saw an interesting post by Dr. Mike Eades (Sous Vide Supreme co-inventor and dieting expert) about low-carb versus low-calorie diets.

The rules of the low carb diet from the study are simple:

The instructions relating to the low carbohydrate diet were identical to those given to patients attending a hospital overweight clinic under our supervision. Essentially, the subjects were asked to take between 10 and 20 oz milk daily (about 300-600 ml), and as much meat, fish, eggs, cheese, butter, margarine, cream and leafy vegetables as they wished. The amount of carbohydrate in other food was listed in “units” with each unit consisting of 5 g carbohydrate; the subjects were told to limit these foods to not more than 10 units (or 50 g) carbohydrate daily.

Results:
Both studies provided between 1500 and 1600 kcal per day, but with huge differences in outcome. In the Key’s semi-starvation study (high-carb, low-fat) the subjects starved and obsessed on food constantly. In the Yudkin study (low-carb, high-fat), the subjects, who had no restriction on the amount of food they ate, volitionally consumed the same number of calories that the semi-starvation group did, yet reported that they had “an increases feeling of well-being.” Instead of lethargy and depression reported by the Keys subjects on their low-fat, high-carb 1570 calories, those on the same number of low-carb, high-fat calories experienced “decreased lassitude.”
It is fascinating to think that people on a high-fat diet would voluntarily restrict their calories so much, and report feeling high energy.

We feed pigs grain (high carb). Depending on their age, we feed them either corn or wheat. Both of those diets help the pigs to get fat (and wheat makes harder, whiter fat than corn).

Pigs love corn. Besides meat, it is hard to find something they like more. I'm guessing that like humans, it tastes sweet, jerks their insulin around and makes them hungry -- for more corn. The big pigs eat 5 to 6 pounds of feed a day. That's like eating a 5# bag of corn meal or flour, day after day.

At the end of their lives, we put the pigs on a wheat-based diet.* That really slows their gains (from around a pound a day to around .8 pounds per day), and they get a bit leaner. It is like switching them from grits to cream of wheat - if you've tried both, you know that it is a lot easier to eat a massive amount of grits than cream of wheat. The wheat "sticks to the ribs" more than the corn.

Just a small change in diet - from one high carb diet to another - results in a much slower rate of weight gain. Of course, the pigs are still getting fatter and fatter; that's the whole point.

Old books (from the 1800s) confirm the superiority of corn for fattening pigs:



Having seen how pigs respond to corn, it doesn't surprise me that a low-carb diets help people to lose fat. Obviously high-carb (particularly corn-based) diets make it very easy for pigs to gain fat. Humans and pigs are very similar - we are both omnivores, roughly the same size, etc.

* When we switch the pigs from corn to wheat is important. Do it too early and it takes the pigs forever to finish, which costs a lot more and impacts pigflow (pigs won't be ready on schedule). You need to know the desired final weight before switching the pigs to wheat.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Mangalitsa Spottings Across the USA

Here's some recent Mangalitsa sightings on the web.

Bondir in Massachusetts. I've written about Jason Bond on this blog a lot - he really gets Mangalitsa.

JP Eats food blog - Mangalitsa carnitas.

One Market in SF.

21 Club in NYC.


I these guys are all using pork from our feeder pig customers (Mosefund and Suisun Valley Farm). I don't think they are using our actual pork.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

James McWilliams: Why Free-Range Meat Isn't Much Better Than Factory-Farmed

James McWilliams has a thought-provoking essay at The Atlantic called "Why Free-Range Meat Isn't Much Better Than Factory-Farmed".

Now he's saying that he thinks eating the meat of animals killed for food is wrong, regardless of how the animals are produced.

Previously, he attacked factory farming, but then also attacked non-factory farming. Non-factory farming has a number of health, environmental and animal welfare issues that most people don't know about about. When they find out about them (via folks like James McWilliams), they realize that non-factory farming isn't the panacea they've been told it is - but that doesn't lead to them dropping all farmed meat (according to McWilliams).

So now that he's realised that the proponents of non-factory farming can't be convinced to give up meat, he's attacking the eating of all meat of farmed animals, on the grounds that it does the animals maximum harm (albeit potentially without hurting them), because it denies them their lives.*

He even points out that killing a high-welfare pig (in a non-factory system) makes the world a worse place by reducing happiness more than killing a miserable pig (raised in a factory system).

I tend to be philosophical about what I do (I've touched on many of the same issues as James on this blog), so I had a number of thoughts when reading this.

1) It looks like McWilliams should have no ethical issues eating roadkill or other animals that just drop dead of natural causes. His problem seems to be that people are purposefully killing animals. As a thought experiment, one wonders if we stocked a piece of land next to a freeway, and methodically harvested the roadkill, if he'd object to people eating the (artificially more numerous) roadkill. I think so - he'd argue that whoever set up that system (aka "roadkill farm") was making the world a worse place by creating a world where more animals died unnecessarily.

2) To what extent does McWilliams value some lives over others? Mosquitos have potential too. Pretty much everyone thinks the world would be a better place if mosquitos weren't part of it. If he's going to start distinguishing between some species versus others, based on their innate "potential", what about the stupid animals (raise enough animals and some will be really dumb), who have less potential than others - can we eat them without feeling bad?

3) McWilliams ignores the fact that factory-farmed animals have evolved to live in factories. They really don't mind their circumstances as much as people like McWilliams would like to think - because they've been bred that way. That's why they outperform yesterday's animals, raised on yesterday's farms. If you put modern animals out in the wild, they don't cope as well as the less selected ones. This point is moot now that McWilliams is against all farmed animals - but I bring it up because it seems he's ignorant of this point, which buttresses his argument that different farming systems are more similar than meets the eye. E.g. a hoop building isn't that different from putting pigs in a barn (aka "confinement"): in both cases, you are keeping the pigs in a building so that you can feed them easily and keep them out of the elements.

4) What about in vitro meat? I'm guessing that James and I will be the first in line to champion that stuff. I really look forward to the day when we can eat delicious, tasty Mangalitsa-like food without having to raise and kill animals. I took a knife and severed the arteries of 2 pigs a week ago - watching their dark red blood gush out of them. It wasn't fun for me - it was a dirty and dangerous job that I had to do to get my meat.

The pigs didn't like the pre-slaughter experience much either - part of killing them was disrupting their routine so that we could kill them, and they don't like being woken up and herded around. I don't think they knew what was going to happen to them (they'd have fought a lot more), but pigs get spooked by new stuff, and they were definitely spooked.

5) What if we bred animals that weren't sentient? Most of us view mosquitos and parasitical worms as machines and hence don't feel bad about killing them. With technology, we can breed animals that don't think or feel. In McWilliams's terms, they won't have "potential". They'll be like really plants, just made out of meat. If we could "construct" such animals (via breeding or genetic engineering), would McWilliams feel OK about eating them? I would argue that to some extent, by domesticating and breeding pigs (and chickens), we've already done that - particularly with the Meishan, a spectacularly lazy and docile pig, and with the modern sows that perform so well in gestation crates. Obviously, they aren't that stressed by living in a little box, or they wouldn't perform so well. The same is true of "battery hens"; they have evolved to thrive in little cages.

6) If McWilliams is so concerned about animals living (as opposed to dying), he should be promoting (as most farmers do) modern innovations (aka "factory farming") in pig raising. Basically, with improving echnology, laws and incentives, we can make farming what we want. If farmers must use traditional methods, there's no way to improve animal welfare or reduce pollution.

It's a fact that modern (aka "factory") farms wean more pigs (because they avoid preventable death losses), and healthier pigs, than non-modern farms. It's a fact that modern farms can recover their manure and apply it to fields, as opposed to primitive farms (like this one), where the waste just goes into the lot's dirt and stays there. Finally, when it becomes possible to monitor the welfare of a pig (by monitoring its brain), modern farms will be able to design systems that keep pigs measurably happier than other farms.

7) When consumers focus on details like "outside access", they set themselves up for failure. Basically, people focus on the easily specified stuff ("outdoor access"). What the farm actually does and how much the animals on the farm would be better or worse in a different system (a clear function of the animals' genetics) are different things.


McWilliams ends his essay:
In any case, by choosing death for an animal, humans choose the seduction of taste over an animal's right to its future. Until someone can convincingly prove that this denial does not constitute unnecessary harm, I'll continue to view free-range farming and factory farming as gradations on the scale of cruelty.
I applaud McWilliams for being so logical, principled and direct. Meat (at least, non-roadkill meat) necessarily means intentionally harming animals.

Hopefully in the future we'll have in vitro meat or other technological innovations that will allow us to get meat without harming animals - that will be good, because those "meat machines" will be more efficient than our current animals, and raising them will result in less pollution.

Until we've got that, I agree - if your main problem is that farming animals means killing them, the details of how the animals are raised doesn't matter much.

I take this a bit further, and argue that consumers should make purchasing decisions based on what tastes good - because as I've explained before - and as the organic egg mess demonstrates:
To the extent that consumers pay more for identical things just because a salesperson says one was produced via a more virtuous process, all they are doing is encouraging fraud.


* You'll often hear advocates of meat eating say that people who attack one kind of farming (e.g. foie gras) are really out to ban all meat eating in an incremental fashion. James Mcwilliams is unusual because he's sincere and open about what he thinks. It seems obvious to me that if he was trying to get people to stop eating meat, he'd switch from attacking free-range pig farming to foie gras, or some other easy target. The fact that he's come out against farmed meat means that most people will find it much easier to ignore him.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Washington DC - Pigs Used to Dispose of Garbage

It is amazing to me that less than 100 years ago, people were studying the efficacy of disposing of Washington DC's garbage by feeding it to pigs.

Until very recently in Egypt, they used a system like this. It worked and kept people healthier than their current waste processing system, which does not include pigs.

I suspect that in the next decade or so, entrepreneurs will start feeding garbage to pigs again, because the cost of disposing of food garbage is getting to be very high. It will be sold to people as a "green" and "sustainable" solution.

One thing the study from 1919 points out is that pigs fed on city garbage brought a higher price than regular pigs - implying their pork quality - particularly fat quality - was better. This is contrary to what others have said about free-ranging pigs or slop fed pigs; basically, feeding garbage results in low-quality soft pork.

I recently got to eat some pig that was fed on some foul-smelling stuff*. The interesting thing: the meat tasted fine. Most of the fat of the pig (surprisingly not all) tasted nasty, smelling like the feed. Given my own extremely limited experience, it is hard to believe that pigs fed on garbage would taste better than the "regular pigs" of 1919.

Another detail from that study: pigs ate about 15-20# of high-quality garbage per day, and 30# during periods of low-quality garbage (e.g. summer, when there were too many watermelon rinds). That's a mind-blowing amount of garbage, if you consider that their smallest pigs were just 100#. You've got a pig eating more 10% of its weight in garbage per day - something I don't think a human could do day after day.

I remember being surprised to read that mast fed (e.g. free-ranging acorn-fed) pigs produced low-quality pork, considering how tasty and expensive the mast-fed stuff from Spain is.

It is very frustrating that there are so few certainties in pig fattening. It always seems there are exceptions.

That said, it is clear how to produce fantastic Mangalitsa pork - basically, grow them slowly and finish them on barley and/or wheat, killing them at 14-18 months. That method seems to consistently produce fantastic stuff.**


* As I ate the meat, I reflected that our ancestors ate whatever they could, and that some desperate people today eat nasty things on a regular basis. If you eat some really foul custom meat or game, it makes you appreciate the meat at the supermarket, which never tastes fantastic, but nor does it taste like vomit or fishmeal.

** We tend to kill ours around 10-12 months, for economic reasons. We may be shifting to heavier weights (and older pigs) in 2011.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Herbfarm, Serious Pie and Quick Hams

The Herbfarm's executive chef Chris Weber, working with sous Ben Smart came up with the idea of doing simple hams in 65 days. They were kind enough to share the recipe (see the link).

I gave that recipe to Gray Brooks and Tony Catini at Serious Pie (a Tom Douglas restaurant in Seattle specializing in pizza), and they transformed it a bit. They are just now tasting their hams, and they are very satisfied with them.

This makes me very happy, for many reasons:
  • The Herbfarm guys (Chris and Ben) are nice enough to share information. A lot of chefs are ridiculously secretive.
  • The recipe uses previously frozen, skin-off meat. We can always supply that. It is nice to be able to prove to people that our stuff, even frozen, beats everything else out there.
  • This is the first time I've heard of someone other than the Herbfarm achieving success with the recipe.
I have a lot of goodwill for Chris and Ben at the Herbfarm.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lardo from Knight Salumi

Mangalitsa pigs are ugly, but they taste the best. If you care about things other than how they taste, they aren't the pigs for you, because other pigs are cheaper, prettier, etc.


Chef Manfred Stockner with Mangalitsa lardo
and whipped Mangalitsa lard.

That reminds me of lardo. Lardo doesn't look pretty. But it tastes great. Chefs take that and present it cleverly, keeping their guests happy.

Another thing about lardo: if you want lardo, Mangalitsa pigs are the best pigs for producing it. No pig fattens as easily. Of course, to make the best lardo, you need to feed your pigs right.

Mangalitsa lardo from Knight Salumi

If you want to get Mangalitsa lardo, I'm happy to announce that Knight Salumi is selling lardo from our pigs in their online store. You can visit it by clicking here.

Of course, there are multiple sources for lardo from our pigs. I suggest you buy them all and compare them side-by-side.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Customer - Baker's Green Acres


I was looking on the blog of Baker's Green Acres, my customer, and I saw some nice photographs of Mark Baker and their pigs.

Bakers Green Acres has bought many feeder pigs from Heath Putnam Farms.


They've got shelter for their pigs, but they don't need it. Their pigs are big, fat and hairy enough that they can sleep outside. They are eating turnips that they dig out of the ground.


My understanding is that they've sold Mangalitsa to Olli, Earthy Delights, Cherry Capital Foods and other farmers and restaurants.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Farewell to Mangalitsa Chef

Bryce Lamb's Mangalitsa Waffles

Mangalitsa Chef Bryce Lamb came by the U-District Farmers' Market today to say goodbye.

He'll be moving to Rochester, MN to be executive chef at Sonte's.

In general, it hasn't been possible for him to find executive chef work around here. He was working as an executive chef, but the place got sold, and the new owner decided he'd be chef/owner, so Bryce got laid off.

He looked for an executive chef position in the Seattle area, but couldn't find anything - for a year and a half. In that time, he's been doing consulting work outside the Puget Sound area. E.g. if a resort has a restaurant that is flailing, they'll bring him in to fix it. They have no choice: a resort needs to be able to do banquets successfully (or it will hurt their hotel bookings), so it pays to bring in talented chefs like Bryce to fix things.

I find it unfortunate that he can't find exec chef work around here, but in many ways it makes sense: compared to cities like New York, Chicago and Las Vegas, there aren't many rich foodies dropping lots of money on food, which is what it takes to employ people like Bryce.

Based on Mangalitsa sales, I have a sense of where chefs like Bryce can work. In a nutshell:

1) New York - there's lots of high-end places serving business clientele
2) Casinos/Resorts/Country Clubs
5) other areas that draw in people with money

New York has lots of fine dining, because lots of business gets transacted in New York. If you are doing a multi-million dollar deal, it pays to eat out a restaurant that serves the best stuff.*

People who have lots of money travel to places like Las Vegas, Aspen, Pebble Beach and country clubs.** When they visit those places, they eat out, and they eat well.

The place where he'll be going, Rochester, is the home of the Mayo Clinic. Many wealthy people go there for medical care, allowing a restaurant like Sonte's to sustain itself.

I found out he served a few Mangalitsa courses at his interview. He used some cured shoulder from Johnston County Hams. He made his Mangalitsa belly waffles. He might have used some lardo. He probably used more (e.g. neck) - but the ones I listed were what stood out. I'm glad that going into an important job interview, he felt confident serving our stuff (and that of Johnston County Hams).

Bryce and I talked about how we'll supply him with product. By smart purchasing, he can probably cut his costs in half compared to the people who order small amounts, delivered via FedEx, on a weekly basis. Most chefs aren't willing to do what it takes to save this sort of money - namely, buy a lot at once.

I'm hoping that Bryce can help us figure out how a chef can use our various products to make money. Bryce is particularly willing to experiment. In return, we'll help him to control his food costs.

* DeBragga & Spitler distributes our Mangalitsa to those New York customers.

** A lot of those guys order from Foods in Season.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Citizen Kane of Cured Meats

I saw this on Urban Daddy:
Mangalitsa Pig Meat at Murray’s Cheese
FOR THE CONNOISSEUR

Bacon. The safest of emergency gifts. But with advance preparation, there’s no reason you can’t really blow it out this year—while still keeping it in the ham family, of course. Introducing Mangalitsa pig meat, now being sliced at Murray’s Cheese. It’s the Citizen Kane of cured meats.
Citizen Kane is widely thought to be the best film of all time. I'm happy that after mere months, people are discussing Mangalitsa ham (made from our raw material by Johnston County Hams) in those terms.

When you consider the Mangalitsa's advantages over all other American pig breeds, it isn't surprising that people talk this way about the Mangalitsa hams.

East and Western Europe

The above photo shows the Eastern European method of de-hairing a pig.*

It is the same as in Hungary, Romania, etc.

The basic steps are:
  • stun the pig (sadly, this is optional)
  • stick the pig in the neck
  • burn the hairs off
  • use scalding hot water to heat the skin and scrape away the charred layer
In the end it yields a more or less white pig -- you can see photos of the whole process here.

The resulting end product is different from a scalded pig. Scalded (and skinned) pigs are more common in "Western" Europe**. A few differences:
  • The pork close to the skin smells like burnt flesh.
  • The pork close to the skin cooks slightly.
  • It takes a lot of elbow grease to burn the hairs off. Whereas, if you get your scalder temperature right, the hairs come right off.
Although I happen to think scalding a pig is superior, most people seem to prefer whatever people do where they are from. Ukrainians and Hungarians seem to want the hairs torched, preferably with straw, so that the skin (and the bacon/lardo) gets the special burnt straw taste. Germans really want it scalded.

I think a big part of that is that the burnt skin taste (or lack of it) carries into the final products. If you are using to eating pork-rindy bacon, it tastes wrong without the flavor.

The pig pictured at top was done by some Ukrainians. I asked them why they like it that way. They couldn't say why, but did say that that's how they always do it.

Speaking of Ukrainians, I just dropped off more lardo at Taste of Europe in Kent. The first time, they bought 100 lbs. This time, they bought out the papria stuff and took a few pieces of the jalapeno stuff to try. They said the lardo, especially plain (typ. Ukrainian-style), sells very well.

That's no a surprise. Every Ukrainian, Hungarian, Romanian, Russian (etc) who eats our lardo things it is excellent. They may or may not like the spices on it (depending on what flavor it is), but they recognize the quality of the fat. I'm guessing the amazing quality of the Mangalitsa (more obvious back when fatback was a staple) is what motivated the Soviet pig breeders to develop the Mangalitskaya.

It blows my mind that Ukrainians will spend good money for special pig fat, while most Americans wouldn't eat it unless you paid them.

I gave the manager, a woman, some T-shirts. She was grateful, but I bet she'll give them to her kids. I haven't seen her dress casually in public. That's something people mention about America (particularly the West Coast); we dress casually a lot more than most people.

After I dropped off the lardo, I got some pickles, cultured butter and quark. It drives me nuts that there's no better pickled roasted peppers produced between here and Bulgaria, but I haven't found better ones yet.

* This pig was particularly hairy, so after burning, there's a thick layer of black "foam" from the burnt bristles.

** Hungary is clearly Western Europe, but they torch the hairs on their pigs.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Bias Against Woolly Pigs

Our modern breeds of pigs have less hair and finer hair than in the past.

In an old guide to the Berkshire breed, it says, "A woolly pig is not at all desirable."



How hairy pigs are and their meat quality is independent. For example, Mangalitsa pigs, which are very hairy, and Negro Lampino pigs taste similar. The Lampino has very little hair.

Hairs are relatively easily removed by scalding. Why the bias against hair?

My guess is that people just prefer pretty & delicate looking animals. Wild animals don't look nice.

Which of the following pigs would you trust:
wild boar

or this pig:

F1 Mangalitsa x Meishan

If I saw the first one, I'd try to get away from it. It just looks too mean and dangerous. The second one looks like something you could push around.

In the old days, the common breeds looked a lot like the wild boar:



Eventually those pigs were improved via Chinese breeds like the Meishan. Those breeds have fine hair, and very little of it:

Meishan boar getting an injection

The Chinese bred their local wild boars into pigs resembling the Meishan: pug-nosed, fat-prone pigs with fine hair. The Meishan comes from a hot climate, but even so, its hair is particularly fine and sparse:

Meishan pigs

When pigs like the Meishan were introduced to Europe in the 1700s, Europeans crossed them with their traditional breeds. The resulting crosses tasted better, produced more pigs per litter. They had more hair than the Meishans, but in general, they looked a lot more refined than the half-wild breeds of Europe. Here's a F1 Mangalitsa x Meishan cross. It looks a lot like a typical domesticated pig, despite its sire being ridiculously bristly in comparison:

F1 Mangalitsa x Meishan aka "Wu-Tang Pig"

Why is the Meishan (the pigs next to the human) so odd-looking? The answer is that it has been the most selected by humans. Chinese had thousands of years to breed their wild pigs into something they liked having around. Lazy, big-headed, docile, pug-nosed pigs are what they like.

Back in the 1700s, if you were in Europe and saw a pig with fine hair, you knew it has to be the product of a lot of breeding, and hence probably better for pork production.

It is easy to see how the bristly hogs would go extinct, even if they produced as efficiently as the non-bristly hogs. All it takes is people "playing it safe" for that to happen.


Why all this Matters

In order to produce high-quality 100% lard-type pigs, we have crossbred Mangalitsa pigs with Meishans. The F1s look a lot like domesticated pigs.

We've taken F1 Mangalitsa x Meishan gilts and bred them back to Mangalitsa boars, producing Mangalitsa x (Mangalitsa x Meishan) pigs. They look a lot like the F1s, despite having 75% Mangalitsa genetics. It is an amazing phenomenon. One wonders how the 87.5%-12.5% Mangalitsa-Meishan crosses would look.

Despite the Mangalitsa-Meishan crosses being excellent tasting, hardy, and quick-growing, we probably won't sell many as feeder pigs. The reason is clear: our efforts the last few years have created demand for Swallow-belly Mangalitsa pigs. Even if a pig has 75% Swallow-belly Mangalitsa genetics, if it just looks like a black pig, the fact that it is more disease resistant, grows faster and so on isn't going to offset the fact that it looks like a regular pig.

Customers that want Mangalitsa pigs need Mangalitsa-looking pigs.

The Berkshire crosses (75% Mangalitsa 25% Berkshire) that we've been producing the last two years probably don't taste as good as Mangalitsa-Meishan crosses, but at least they look the part.

One of the reasons I imported the Mangalitsa pigs was not only did they taste incredible, they looked incredible. As I expected, it is fairly easy to show people a Mangalitsa pig and convince them that they taste different from regular pigs.

I think it would have been much harder to start a business built on Meishan pigs, despite them being an excellent lard-type breed, because they look too ugly, and the crosses look too much like normal pigs.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Transylvanian Pig Slaughter

I made a trip to Alm Ranch in Fall City today, to see some Transylvanians do a pig their way.

In Hungary, parts of Ukraine and the Balkans, they burn the hairs off the pig, instead of using water. The method is:

1) burn the pig black
2) put water on the pig
3) scrape or shave off the burnt layer

I've never seen this done by experts who do it this way, so it was neat to watch.

If you look at the photo above, it could be pretty much anywhere in the world. There's something about the clothing and body language of the Transylvanians that doesn't look typically American.

Alm Ranch is an interesting operation. People show up, buy animals, and kill them. The farm provides facilities for slaughtering the animals. Alm Ranch is licensed and regulated by WSDA, although many operations like it exist that are not licensed.

Most of the customers are Asians or other recent immigrants. Killing and processing a pig is a social occasion. A lot of "normal" Americans have a hard time wrapping their heads around the phenomenon.

Based on who I saw at the place, I got the feeling that a lot of "normal" Puget Sound people have no idea this sort of thing goes on in their backyard.

Besides pigs, Alm Ranch has calves, cows, chickens, ducks and even a herd of water buffalo. I'd never seen water buffalo before, so it was a treat. The meat of water buffalo is said to be really special. I asked the owner if any restaurants were using the water buffalo. He said no - it was all just families buying their own meat.


Back to the Pig

Traditionally, people drink hard spirits to toast the soul of the pig. The Transylvanians had brought with them some slivovica, which they shared with me. I haven't had slivovica that good since I was in Austria. It was not surprising - the slivovica was imported from Croatia (former Austro-Hungarian empire).

It felt a bit odd to drink so early, but that's exactly what you do when you kill pigs this way, so I enjoyed it.

Overall, it was nice to get a break from work, which invovles pigs, pork and meat processing, in the abstract sense -- and do something more "real".

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Picking Up Breeding Stock, Literally


Here's a photo of Morgan Weber of Revival Meats literally picking up his breeding stock.

Click on the image - the pig looks unhappy and silly at the same time.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Destructive Pigs

Before Mangalitsa Pigs:
After Mangalitsa pigs:

I found those photos on a Slovak site. Someone wants to sell some Mangalitsas.

The pigs in the top are happy. They've just been put into a pen full of green stuff to destroy. The pigs are running around, chewing and rooting.

I can't tell for sure, but it looks like in the bottom picture, they threw in some green stuff to get the pigs together for the photo. I can't believe that the pigs have wiped out the whole pen, except for some green stuff in the middle of the pen.

So the pigs in the bottom are happy too; there's something to check out.

What ridiculously destructive beasts. One reason why pigs destroy stuff so quickly: they know that if they let it wait, the other pigs will eat it before them. With pigs, there's always a race to the bottom.

Besh Restaurant Group & Mangalitsa

Heath Putnam Farms sells a lot of Mangalitsa to the Besh Restaurant Group. As previously mentioned on this blog, they've bought live pigs, to fatten themselves. They've bought the hams from Johnston County Hams. They buy roughly a pallet of pork a month, direct from our processor (euphemism for "slaughterhouse").

I deal mostly with Erick Loos, the chef of La Provence, where they've got their Mangalitsa pigs out back.

It blows my mind that these are the only guys who buy their meat this way, and not another restaurant group (e.g. one in New York, Los Angeles or Las Vegas), that could likewise buy in size). Somehow, they not only have the volume, but the desire for top quality meat, the willingness to work a little harder and the brains required to save money.

By buying this way, they probably save at least 30% of what they'd pay if they involved a meat distributor. Not all that the 30% is pure waste; distributors have to spend resources receiving, storing, taking orders and delivering stuff. By being more organized, smart and diligent, Besh Restaurant group saves money.

I like dealing with these guys because they are committed to our product - obviously, since they've got our live pigs out back of La Provence.

They do a great job selling our stuff to their guests - and best of all - they use our stuff in all of their New Orleans restaurants.

In one recent review, a diner characterized Restaurant August with the phrase, "Mangalitsa pork." That's great. A lot of people like that restaurant. I'm happy to be associated with it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Murray's Cheese & Mangalitsa Ham from Johnston County Hams

Murray's Cheese in New York City is starting with the Mangalitsa ham from Johnston County Hams.

This is the first group of retail food stores in New York City to sell the ham. They have stores at 254 Bleecker St and at the Grand Central Market.

George Faison of DeBragga and Spitler, the New York distributor of the ham, will be there December 10 slicing the ham for people at the 253 Bleecker store, from 3-6 PM.

Murray's staff told me they'll be selling it for 49.99/lb by the slice, and a 4-oz package for $16.99.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Heath Putnam Farms Gift Guide

Here's my gift guide for 2010: buy someone you love a Mangalitsa ham, or a sampler.

I saw another gift guide today - the gift guide of Ruth Reichl, former New York Times restaurant reviewer and Gourmet magazine editor. I was quite pleased to note her first entry in the gift guide (one per day until Dec 25th):

I'm starting with Mangalitsa pork, because I cooked some the other day, and I was truly startled by the sheer deliciousness of these beautiful wooly pigs.

MANGALITSA PORK

I love baking with Mangalitsa lard, which is pure white, soft and has a fine sweet flavor that is not quite like anything I’ve tasted before. When you're making pie dough it rolls out like a dream, and bakes up into a wonderfully flaky crust that lacks the mean piggy flavor of so much lard.

But the last time I ordered the lard from De Bragga and Spitler (debragga.com), I decided to order some meat as well. Let me just say that it is, hands down, the most delicious pork I have ever tasted. It is so sweet, succulent and seductively flavorful that the only seasoning it needs is some salt and pepper (and maybe a few cloves of garlic). Trust me: if you send this to a friend, he will love you forever.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Chef it Yourself's Mangalitsa Ham Recipes


Chef It Yourself has some recipes using Mangalitsa ham from Johnston County Hams.

I've copied just one of her photos above, the halibut. It is worth checking out.

The Marx Foods Recipe Challenge is already paying off.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Kale's Mangalitsa Tattoo & Lardo

I sent Kale, the guy with the first Mangalitsa tattoo, some of our lardo. You can follow Travail Kitchen, where he works, on twitter here.

He certainly deserves a shirt too. I wish they were already done.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Paleo, Sous Vide Supreme, CrossFit

By retailing high-quality products like lard, lardo and speck, I've gotten introduced to people following paleo diets.

Basically, if young, fit, educated people show up at the farmers' market and ask for a tub of lard, a block of fatback or a bunch of leaf fat - while expressing no interest in the meat - don't be surprised if they are either Weston A Price members or people following paleo diets. If they look very fit and buying this stuff, don't be surprised if they do CrossFit.

People who say they are eating paleo typically eat meat, fat, vegetables and fruits, while eschewing processed foods and refined carbs.

One of these paleo/fitness guys hooked me up with Dr. Michael and Mary Dan Eades. Besides being famous nutritionists, they are the entrepreneurs behind the Sous Vide Supreme, something I've written about on this blog before.

When I saw the Sous Vide Supreme last year, I got one, because it is a great way to cook a Mangalitsa belly - you get excellent yield, because you don't overcook it and render all the fat. When I later learned who the Eadeses were, I wanted to meet them, so we met at Monsoon and ate Mangalitsa, which they were curious about.

I later arranged for the Eadeses to visit Mosefund's pig event, where they spent 3 days learning how to kill, cut and process Mangalitsa pigs into food. Apparently they had a lot of fun.

Of course, Mangalitsa pigs are a good fit for paleo people, because they produce a lot of excellent fat. Paleo dieters need the fat, because they don't eat many carbs.

I've given out our products to paleo groups several times, like these guys, to introduce them to our Mangalitsa products. I don't know if they'll buy a lot of our stuff, but it is nice to introduce our stuff to a new market.




A while back, I decided I should try a paleo diet, to try to better understand my customers. My Sous Vide Supreme has made it very easy to do this.

A little bit ago, a pig tried to jump a fence. She broke her leg. A mobile butcher went to the farm and killed her, so I got the meat - approximately 200#. I can't legally sell that meat, because she wasn't slaughtered under USDA inspection. I cut her up myself in my kitchen, practicing my seam butchery. I vacuum-packed the meat in chunks.

Here's how the sous vide paleo diet works:

1) Put a bag of meat in the Sous Vide Supreme, at 130F, for around 24 hours. 130F is the right temperature, because the meat cooks, stays moist and gets tender.

2) When the meat is done, put it in the refrigerator and chill it.

3) When it is time to eat, slice of some meat and sear it in a skillet, on both sides. Typically 1-2 minutes a side. The goal is just to sear it and warm it for eating.

4) If you are getting low on ready-to-eat meat, put another bag in the Sous Vide Supreme, or you'll run out of cooked meat, which is inconvenient.

It is ridiculous how good Mangalitsa tastes cooked sous vide. I haven't overcooked it yet, except by searing it too long.

Basically, I've always got meat ready to go. I'm such a lazy guy, and I love Mangalitsa so much, if there's meat ready to eat (after searing), that's pretty much all I'll eat.

It would be a lot harder to make this work if I wasn't always cooking meat sous vide, or about to cook meat sous vide - because there's a 24 hour lead time. Making it a routine makes it easy - and, to the extent that the Sous Vide Supreme is a win over other cooking methods, I'm winning a lot more than if I used it irregularly.

In addition to trying out a paleo diet, I've started CrossFit. I haven't done it much, but what I've done has been fun. I'd recommend to everyone, although it clearly isn't for everyone. Just as the Mangalitsa pig isn't like other pigs, CrossFit isn't like other workout programs - it is very intense.

One thing I notice is that after doing CrossFit workouts, I don't get as hungry as I do after aerobic workouts. It seems the intense workouts depress my hunger.

Results? In about a month, I've lost 10 pounds, increased my muscle definition, strength and aerobic capacity. I can't tell if my energy levels are higher. I definitely crave carbs, even though they ultimately make me crash. Bread is a guilty pleasure. Despite eating a lot of it, I'm not getting sick of eating Mangalitsa. I have fallen in love with my Sous Vide Supreme, because it is so convenient; there's no way I could cook meat so perfectly without it.

I'm very grateful that my customers have introduced me to this stuff.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lardo & Logo


Besides making our own lardo, we've been selling fatback to four different companies lately. The ones you might have heard about include Salumerie Biellese, La Quercia and Knight Salumi.

They are all very different people. G, Marc, Herb and Rey couldn't be more different. But they all appreciate the Mangalitsa fatback.

It will be interesting to see how they go about marketing the lardo. They all have the hard task of marketing a novel fatty luxury food to Americans. Once they bought the fatback, they committed themselves to the task of marketing the stuff - which is good for Heath Putnam Farms, because in the end, it will create more demand for Mangalitsa pork. By selling to multiple processors, we've ensured that Mangalitsa lardo is going to get marketed to many people very quickly.

I've heard that Salumerie Biellese's stuff is available at Eataly - that includes the lardo, the guanciale and the pancetta. I've read about it on twitter. Eataly is such a high-profile retail location, I have to figure Marc Buzzio is going to attract major attention.

At the same time, Herb Eckhouse (La Quercia) gets amazing press. It will shock me if Herb doesn't get some press soon about his Mangalitsa lardo.

Whoever gets the big press first is not only going to have an easy time selling his stuff - he'll also make it easier for the other guys to sell their stuff.

I spent much of yesterday getting stickers made with our new logo, so that customers like Salumeria Biellese can attach the stickers their products, letting the ultimate customers know which company is producing the pork that goes into the product.

When I knew we needed a logo ready for "prime time", I figured I needed to do it right. At the same time, it needed to have some continuity with our previous logo. So I called up my artist friend and asked him to make an R. Crumb-like line drawing of the pig.*

I try to put things like this off as long as possible, until I can do a good job of it, and make it pay.

Although our logo on our fresh meat has been irritating me for months, it just hasn't been necessary or feasible to fix it. But now that there's product in a retail environment, we need to increase brand awareness.

The idea of having a well-drawn image of the pig is to get people to stop and pay attention. If you click on the image above, you'll see it is a nice drawing.**

If I saw the sticker on a product, I'd ask what sort of pig it was. That would allow the salesperson to explain, "that's a Mangalitsa pig, the best-tasting pig known to man." At which point I would try the stuff, and buy it.

After that, I'd know to look for the Swallow-belly Mangalitsa on the Habsburg yellow background. After eating a bunch of that stuff, I would learn to look for that logo, and buy the stuff. I would expect it to cost a lot, but I'd know that it would be the best.

* I would have tried having R. Crumb do it, had I thought I could get it done cheaply enough.

** Now that the logo is nice, it will pay to get some T-shirts made. It is going to be fun to give those out to our customers.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Revival Meats Buys Swallow-belly Mangalitsa Breeding Stock

Ryan Pera and Morgan Weber (photo by Robb Walsh)

I just sold some breeding stock to Revival Meats.

This is exciting. Previously, they'd only bought feeder pigs.

As their blog makes clear, they are already doing a lot with Mangalitsa pigs and pork. For example, they've already sold a bunch of Mangalitsa pork in Texas. Important Houston chefs are very enthused about Mangalitsa pork. They already make Mangalitsa-centric products. Recently, they organized an event with the Wiesners to teach people about Mangalitsa pigs and pork.

Revival Meats has a unique business model.

It is a combination butcher (meat retailer) plus farm. Having a farm allows them to produce special animals (e.g. Mangalitsa pigs) differentiating themselves from butchers that carry commodity meat.

A similar trend has been underway with restaurants for a while now. For example, The Herbfarm grows many of their own herbs and vegetables. That allows them to fundamentally differentiate themselves from other restaurants.

On of the things that's neat about Revival Meats buying pigs is that they can control the entire production of their pigs. Their pigs will be born, raised, slaughtered and processed in Texas, however they decide they want to do it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mangalitsa Chef going to Minnesota

Mangalitsa Chef's Carrot Ginger Waffles

Mangalitsa Chef Bryce Lamb is going to Minnesota. He'll be working at a well-known farm-to-table restaurant, only 2.5 hours from one of our farms.

To get things off with a bang, I'm going to give him some Mangalitsa pigs.

When he went for his interview/audition, he took some of our Mangalitsa pork, which I provided as samples to the restaurant owners.*

Mangalitsa Chef made his Mangalitsa waffles and other Mangalitsa dishes for his interviewers. Apparently people liked his stuff a lot - which isn't at all surprising. The Wiesners think he's an excellent chef. Obviously he loves making stuff with Mangalitsa.

I will be sad to see him go.


* In general I don't give out samples. I gave them samples because they were nice on the phone, and due to the kind of restaurant they have, they are good feeder-pig prospects.

Friday, November 19, 2010

New Logo - Heath Putnam Farms


As part of the rebranding effort, we've got a new logo**. This will be showing up on our fresh meat and products in the next few months.

Here's the original line art (click on it):


The style, line art, was popular in the period when the Mangalitsa was popular. Before photography and halftones, line art was the way to make illustrations for print media.

For example, here's an image of a Berkshire hog from 1919:

Of course, the Berkshire breed has changed a lot, while the Mangalitsa has stayed the same.

** The artist is Tom Byrne, an accomplished artist. His email is xoinx@sbcglobal.net.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Binkley's in Arizona


Mouth By Southwest has a review of a 30-course dinner at Binkley's in Arizona. As the reviewer writes:

After a while, it just became a blur of Mangalitsa pork and Hudson Valley foie gras, liquid nitrogen and chemical baths, truffles and rare South American flowers. (See for yourself in the slideshow above.) Overall, though, it ranks among the top five dining experiences I’ve had in my life. And isn’t that what it’s all about?




I've reproduced the obvious Manglaitsa courses - although, if they used lard, it could be in more courses.


At top, there's the charcuterie plate. In the middle, a bread pudding course with mangalitsa lardo on top (could be interesting!) and finally some loin.

I have to figure that some of their cookies or cakes were cooked with Mangalitsa lard, because it really makes that stuff taste great.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Our Mangalitsa Pork on "Next Iron Chef"

Photo by Tasty Bits of Houston's
Kata Robata's fish dish.

I don't have cable, but I found a synopsis of the show here.

First, I should say, I'm happy Heath Putnam Farms has finally reached the "Iron Chef" milestone. I'm happy to see our product getting positioned next to Wagyu beef.

When I read the synopsis, I saw this:

Tsai: Mangalitsa Pork
Hopes were high for Chef Ming Tsai, as they have been all season, but was his style too 80’s-ish? His mangalitsa pork and pork shumai in hot and sour soup was sensational. But his slow poached lardo with grilled cepes brought out mixed reviews. Donatella even called it off-putting. His last, grilled mangalitsa pork loin with bordelaise sauce, was satisfying. Symon called his dishes the most focused they’ve been all season.

That surprised me. Mangalitsa lardo is the best! How could he lose?

A few seconds of reflection led me to: you can't make lardo in an afternoon. It takes a few weeks just to make "salo" (Ukrainian plain lardo). Lardo has a lower water activity than fatback, and it melts better on the tongue than fatback.

Based on what I know now, Tsai's dish would be better described as a fatback crepe. It wouldn't be terrible, but a lot of people wouldn't love it, the way they might the pictured fish dish from Houston's Kata Robata (which has Mangalitsa lardo), because the fat could be a little unyielding.

A customer wrote me to say that Tsai deserved credit for using the fat so boldly. I can see that; he recognized that Mangalitsa fat is wonderful and tried to use it. Too bad he didn't have enough time to make real lardo.

Enough of that - time to celebrate our achievements. It is great that lots of people now know that Mangalitsa pork is fantastic - because they saw it on TV.

Anyway, I remember selling these guys the meat they used in the show, at the end of June. I got a call from a chef in Las Vegas. They needed a bunch of loins for a Food Network show featuring the most expensive meat. We sent them direct from Swiss Meat and Sausage Company, our processor. It was a big rush to get the stuff out, because we had little time to make the Fedex deadlines, and we had a bunch of other stuff going on. The chef said it was for a TV show, but wouldn't say anything more, except that they needed our meat for a show featuring the best ingredients.

Now we know what it was.

Elysian Fields Lamb

There's a company in the USA famous for selling high-quality niche meat to my first Mangalitsa customer, Thomas Keller. The company is called Elysian Fields. It produces lamb.

Based on what I've learned about pork (and beef), if some meat tastes consistently better than an alternative, it has to do with the following factors (listed roughly by importance):

1) genetics
2) feed
3) age at slaughter
4) post-slaughter ripening
5) pre-slaughter stress


Heath Putnam Farms, the only farrow-to-finish Mangalitsa producer in the USA, started by optimizing factor #1, but also optimizes factors 2, 3, 4 and 5 (subject to economic constraints).

I was looking on the Elysian Fields website to try to find out what factors they control to make the lamb. I found the philosophy section:
Pure Bred’s Keith Martin and Thomas Keller here offer a new perspective on one segment of this industry, raising lamb, a method that puts the animal first and as a result makes what this farmer and this chef believe is the best possible lamb... Mr. Martin and Chef Keller believe that lamb raised according to its nature results in better lamb, and hope that those who buy Pure Bred, likewise share in and encourage these convictions about how livestock is raised in America...
That got me thinking.

What does it mean to "put the animal first"? Does it mean to cater to whims of each pig? If we did that to the pigs, besides feeding them a steady diet of ice cream and hamburgers, we'd have to get each pig a personal belly-scratcher. The ice cream and hamburgers would ruin the quality of the pigs' fat, Heath Putnam Farms would fail, and the Mangalitsa breed might go extinct (in this hemisphere) as a result.

If you look at the front page of the Elysian Fields site, you'll see a link to the following ("Voice of the Lamb"), a personal message from the owner:
All of us at Elysian Fields have discovered one thing for certain, how insignificant and out of focus we all can be in relating to the natural order all around us. We live within a miracle that continues to reveal itself, the dynamics of which we can barely begin to grasp. We feel, for some reason, that we are the center of this natural process when in reality we are completely outside. We have been given a great gift, a gift of choice, which we have decidedly developed into authority over all things. Or so we think. We have moved away as a culture and a society from “real” values, which has in turn removed us from our true mother….earth. No longer are we connected to the soil as all other things are. No wonder our walks in the park rejuvenate us, why getting our hands dirty feels so good. Within the order of nature exist the relationships which are its very fabric. Within these relationships are inter-dependencies proving we are all one, not The One.
That's doesn't explain why the lamb tastes so good either.

Keep looking and you'll find this page:
Once becoming part of the flock, Pure Bred Lambs are fed only natural grain without the presence of growth hormones or stimulants,which may interfere with the quality of the lamb in its commercial presentation. The feed (hay and grain) each lamb consumes is carefully monitored to avoid overeating. Thorough testing for content and nutrient levels is consistently conducted and monitored. Additionally, the water each lamb consumes is also tested continuously to ensure its purity by independent testing sources.

By feeding them grain, they set themselves apart from most lamb producers, who just have them forage. The bit about preventing overeating is necessary because unlike pigs, sheep will overeat. As explained on this sheep website:

Sheep "love" the taste of grain. It's like "candy" to them. They will overeat if grain consumption is not regulated. If grain is slowly introduced to the ruminant's diet, grain can be supplemented and in some cases replace some of the forage in the diet. Whole grain is better for sheep because it requires them to do their own grinding of the grain. Digestive upsets are less common with whole grain as compared to processed grains (ground, rolled, or cracked). Some forage should always be fed to ruminants to keep their rumens functioning properly and to keep them content.
Pigs are a lot simpler (and smarter!). They don't overeat to the point of hurting themselves, so they are easier to raise.

The fact that they feed the sheep grain is probably a bit controversial. A lot of people seem to think that ruminants should just forage. But most people like marbled, juicy, flavorful meat. It is a lot easier to produce fatty meat by feeding the cows or sheep grain, because grain has so much more calories.

Here's a guy writing about the difference:
Grass-fed lamb sounds good. New Zealand lamb is grass fed. Loncito Cartwright’s succulent lamb from Dinero Texas is grass-fed. But the best lamb I have eaten in a long time is grain-fed... The meat is buttery tender and has a fresh vibrant lamb taste, but the flavor is not at all gamy... A grass-fed New Zealand lamb carcass weighs somewhere between 35 and 45 pounds. The lamb chop is small, you can eat the whole thing in a couple of bites. An Elysian Fields lamb carcass is almost twice as big–they weigh 65 pounds on average–and a lamb chop is a meal. Don’t get me wrong, I like the gamy flavor of grass-fed lamb, especially on the grill. But comparing a New Zealand lamb chop to a Elysian Fields lamb chop is like comparing fajitas to filet mignon. And as you might expect, the Elysian Fields lamb goes for a lot more. Racks of Elysian Fields lamb are selling for $26 a pound in New York.
I wonder, what would happen if someone got the best-tasting sheep and optimized the diet and age at slaughter? How much better would their meat taste than the stuff from Elysian Fields?

I should mention, feeding pigs an optimal ration makes it possible to consistently produce high-quality pork. If the pigs are out foraging, depending on what forage is available and what the pigs like to eat, you'll get different pork - often worse than if you just fed the pigs the right grains.

When Hungarians switched from free-range pigs to pigs fattened in pens, they improved their quality, efficiency and consistency over the previous free-range system.

"Next Iron Chef" Season 3 Episode 7

Our Mangalitsa makes an appearance on Next Iron Chef:
The Chairman's charge is SEDUCTION because an Iron Chef must seduce the taste buds. In the Secret Ingredient Challenge, the challenge is to create a seductive cocktail and snack in 30 mins.

For the Chairman's Challenge, the challenge is to create the most luxurious Iron Chef meal ever using expensive ingredients like Mangalitsa Pork, Maine Lobster, Wagyu Beef and Hawaiian Moi Fish.

I like how they list the Mangalitsa in front of all that other stuff.

If you want to order some our our products, call our processor at 573-486-2086. Make sure to explain you want the stuff from Heath Putnam Farms.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Micropig Problems


I had some people email me about breeding stock recently. They want to breed "micro" Mangalitsa pigs. Micro pigs are "teacup" pigs - as small as can be (e.g. 30#). The breeders are after the curly bristles and stripes of the Mangalitsa breeds, likely because the buyers of such pigs care a lot about looks.

I think that's bad for the Mangalitsa as a meat animal. The last thing we want is people getting upset about the that we kill and eat Mangalitsa pigs - in wholesale fashion.

This article is about people who buy what they think will be small pigs, but then they grow up into medium-sized destructive pigs. Because the people are attached to them as pets, they don't just slaughter and eat them. Rather, they keep them around, spending more and more money to try to contain them and mitigate the damage they cause.

The behavior of these pig owners would be unfathomable to our ancestors, who couldn't afford to have pigs destroying their few worldly possessions. It explains why the Meishan, derived from pigs that people domesticated thousands of years ago, is so lazy and tame (Chinese breeders killed off the unruly ones).

I tend to think the way our ancestors did: if there's pig that doesn't fit the system, you want that pig off the farm ASAP, even if it means killing it prematurely. If you keep that pig around, it will cause a lot of trouble.

When I see how big that pig on the sofa is (see photo at top), I'm surprised the sofa looks so good. If the pig was destructive like a Mangalitsa, it would have already ripped holes in the side of the sofa and pulled out all the stuffing. It would have also pulled the cushions off the sofa and had fun ripping them to shreds. I'm guessing they don't allow that pig near that sofa very often, or its a new sofa that they just bought, to replace the old one the pig ripped up.

My other thought when I see that pig is "wow, that's a FAT pig!" It is fat like a Mangalitsa.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mangalitsa Hams


Earlier today, I was looking at the picture (above) of our hams (made by Johnston County Hams), on the Marx Food blog.

Besides thinking, "I hope Justin doesn't hurt himself with that knife," I thought, "that sure is a lot of fat on that ham.

Then I saw that Costco is selling imported "jamon mangalica" (Mangalitsa pork, likely from Hungary, cured in Spain). Besides noticing that their price was much higher, I noticed that their ham likewise has a lot of fat cover too.

That's just how the pigs are. They are extreme lard-type pigs. They taste the best, but they have a lot of fat. The fat on those hams can taste wonderfully nutty.

Marx Foods & Mangalitsa Cured Products

Marx Foods is selling ham, shoulder and bacon from our pigs. As previously mentioned, Johnston County Hams buys our hams and shoulders (and bellies) and cures them.

Three-Michelin Star Restaurants like Per Se in NYC buy them - because they are incredible.

Marx Foods sells a lot of high-quality, hard-to-find ingredients to people. I'm very happy that they've added our Mangalitsa hams.

Justin Marx portioning a ham. (photo by Marx Foods)

Marx Foods has a blog - and they write about getting in the Mangalitsa products.

As they write on their blog:
In you want some cured mangalitsa pork to test-drive and develop a recipe, email me at justin (at) marxfoods dot com. I will send you my choice of the mangalitsa ham, mangalitsa shoulder or mangalitsa bacon. There will be a prize for our favorite recipe(s) and it will be delicious. Plus, the author of our favorite recipe will be eligible to compete in the Ridiculously Delicious Challenge next month.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ham Anatomy, Culatello Fabrication and Manufacture


Our hams (and paletas) get turned into cured hams by Johnston County Hams (order them here).

I've had some people who've bought pigs from me ask how to make culatelli (plural of culatello). Culatello is a cured product made from the "haunch" of a pig. It is a famous product, primarily associated with Italy.

You hear foodies talk about it, but you don't normally get the details.

I try to make this blog as informative as possible, so I've gathered here a lot of info about culatello. If you find this information helpful, please let me know.

The culatello picture, up top, is from this website. You can read about the product there.



It starts with anatomy. Click here for the best document I've found on ham anatomy. Download and look at it - it shows you the muscles in the leg.

The "top round" (aka "Frikandeau) is the biceps femoris (bf).
The "bottom round" (aka "Schale) is made up of the Semimembranosus (SM), Adductor (A) and Pectineus (P).
The "eye of round" is the Semitendinosus (ST)

The culatello is made from a 3-muscle ham, made up of the top round, eye of round and bottom round.

You can see the "top round" at the top, the eye of round on the left and the bottom round beneath it. How do you know which is the "top round"? One clue is the fat attached to it. The "bottom round" doesn't have as much fat, because it is on the inside of the leg.

To fabricate a culatello, you bone out the ham (cutting through a bit of the Sartorius), and keep the top round, eye of round and bottom round as a big piece. To make a finished culatello from that raw meat, you do something like this (rub it with cure, put it in a bladder, tie it up and dry it out).

In this video, a guy shows how to tie it up:



It looks like quite a chore.

A by-product of culatello manufacture is the creation of the knuckle (aka "Nuss") aka "Fiochetto".

In Italy, they make another product from it, a fiochetto.

One neat thing I found, in the course of doing this research, is how to debone a whole prosciutto (the whole leg) into the fiochetto/Nuss/knuckle and culatello/3-muscle-ham.

That's pretty neat! I'm willing to bet that very few people do that on a regular basis.

I remember reading about culatello years ago. None of it made much sense to me - what part of the pig it was, the chemistry involved in curing it, why it was aged, why it was safe to eat raw, etc.

Just a few years later, if my customers ask me for info, I feel I've got to get it to them - that's my new job.

The more I learn about this stuff, the more I learn how many details there are to get right. E.g. in order to make a great culatello, you need:

the right genetics
good husbandry (Mangalitsa reproduction is difficult at best)
the right feed
the right age at slaughter
killing in such a way that there's no blood in the ham and the same pH in each ham.
proper cutting of the culatello
correct curing & aging

and probably yet more factors that I'm not aware of.

It is hard to get all that right. It is amazing that some people decide to specialize in products like culatello, despite that fact that it is a difficult business, with lots of competition.


Thinking about factors that impact taste reminds me of factors that some people talk a lot about, that don't impact taste much. For example:

1) organic raw material

2) how close the culatello is produced to the pigs that provide the hams or the humans that eat the finished product.

3) sustainability issues. E.g. the best stuff tastes the best, regardless of its carbon footprint.

3) how modern the pig farm is