Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Thoughts on Slow Food's Remarks on Hungarian Presidium

Slow Food has something to say about Mangalitsa pigs:
All 17 farmers who are members of the Presidium raise the animals in a semi-wild state and grow the materials used to prepare feed. Two significant issues emerged however. In recent years Mangalica pigs have become highly prized due to the outstanding quality of their meat and fat. Seeing easy profits, many large producers (in Hungary and other countries) have begun to cross Mangalicas with international hybrids such as Large White to reduce the time required for growing and fattening.
My understanding was the Hungarian producers, like Olmos es Toth, were crossing the pigs with Durocs (the way the Spanish cross Iberico with Durocs), not Large Whites. Here's more info - on why they'd cross the pigs - and how it, in some ways, benefits the smaller farmers raising purebreds.
In addition, the Presidium producers are mostly unable to meet the extremely restrictive requirements of Hungarian legislation for meat processing and this means that almost all the Presidium sausage production is sold on the local market, in more or less illegal fashion, by word of mouth.
Hungary's meat inspectors must love Slow Food and those illegal Mangalitsa producers.
At the same time efforts will be made to raise public awareness of the difference between intensively farmed hybrids and the Presidium Mangalica pigs.
Historically, the Mangalitsa triumphed over the feral breeds that preceded it because it did well when intensively farmed (as opposed to being raised in semi-wild conditions, like the Mangalitsa's predecessors).

My general sense is that if the consumers can't tell the difference in eating quality between the intensively farmed hybrids and the purebreds raised in semi-wild conditions, there's little point to Slow Food's educational efforts. In fact, if Slow Food can get people to pay more for otherwise equivalent pork, based on credence claims like "raised semi-wild" versus "raised intensively", they'll just encourage fraud - as has already happened quite a bit in Spain, where you've got pork being marketed as raised in one particular province or country, when it wasn't - it was just super-premium pork that had been relabeled to suit the demands of the market.

Slow Food sounds a bit shrill with their, "Seeing easy profits, many large producers ...," as if the Slow Food Presidium producers are necessarily more virtuous and less profit-oriented than big producers (despite the small ones, by Slow Food's own admission, failing to comply with the slaughter and processing regulations, potentially endangering the health of consumers).

On the positive side of things, the Mangalitsa looks to be conserved, in Europe and America, due to companies making the Mangalitsa pork and products that people want to eat. I would hope that Slow Food would see the upside to that.


Anonymous said...

Hi Heath.
You´re right with this.
Our goal with cross breeding is mainly improve the product quality as we do here in Spain with Iberico: The ham of mangalica pure breed is very fatty, with few meat and no visible marbling. The cross breeding is much better in that sense. I´m a kind of purist for pork meat and I love the pure Iberico and Mangalica, but I´m sure that 95% of the people will never chose pure versus cross-b in a blind test.
On the other side, pure breeding produce so a expensive meat that I don´t think many people will be able to pay for it: You need 50% more time (And food) and you get 20% less meat wich means that the price need to be double at least.

Juan V Olmos

Heath said...

Mr. Olmos,

I'm confused about your marbling remark. Here's some Mangalitsa meat: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=72725&id=100000531368646

If for some reason you can't see that, please say, and I'll post the photo on the blog.

That meat is very marbled. I think the ham from that pig was very marbled too.

The USA is a very rich country. I think in times of plenty, there is a market for purebred Mangalitsa.

Chefs who handle a lot of Mangalitsa (purebred and 75% cross) can tell there's something different about the 75% crosses.

Heath said...

Mr. Olmos,

Just to be clear: my company sells a lot of 75% crosses.

If we only produced purebreds, it would be easy for another company to come in an dominate the market with crosses. As Wooly Pigs is the first mover in the American market, it would be wrong to let someone do that.

Obviously, if Spanish producers can market millions of Iberico crosses a year, there's probably a big market for crosses in the USA.

Funnily enough, if you read the history of mangalica pigs in Hungary, Hungarian peasants preferred mangalica crosses, because they fattened cheaper than the purebreds. That, plus the health benefits of heterosis, are strong arguments for crosses.