Wednesday, June 30, 2010
I went by Monsoon today and delivered Eric Banh some speck, sirloin and a few Heath Putnam Farms Austrian Pig Necks.
I showed Eric how to use the speck - basically:
1) Remove the rind.
2) Slice as thin as possible.
3) Put on top of warm food.
He made a few dishes for me. They all looked a bit like Kavin Du's dish, pictured above. I'm guessing that in Asia, they'd probably make it like Kavin, with soy sauce and wine vinegar - like Lop Yuk. Our stuff isn't like Lop Yuk - it is like Austrian speck.
In general, I don't think the details on the bacon really matter - so long as it has very high quality fat, it will taste good. The exact herbs don't matter. Whether or not it is smoked doesn't matter. Whether or not it is cured dry, wet or mixed doesn't matter.
The basic problem is that there's a lot of awful bacon - "artisanal" or otherwise - in the USA. Lousy bacon is lousy bacon, whether it is smoked, unsmoked, smoked over applewood, smoked over hickory, etc.
If you ever eat a really great piece of cured pork belly, you aren't going to mind if it is spiced with juniper vs. something else. You won't mind if it is smoked or unsmoked. Mainly you'll notice that it has great flavor and mouthfeel. Maybe one day, when there's a lot of really fantastic bacon available, it will make sense to argue about smoked versus unsmoked, or hickory smoke versus applewood.
I don't know if Eric will keep buying our speck - but at least today, he agreed it added a very nice touch to his dishes, at very little expense. Although the stuff is very expensive (per pound), a little bit goes a long way.
Finally, it was very nice for me to be able to go to a restaurant that I like being in, bring them my product and have them make me some food with it. Yes, it is a bit like a wine snob bringing his own wine to a restaurant - but what else is someone to do? I'd rather bring my speck in and have him make something with that than do without.
As the chef explains, the pork tastes more nutty than regular pork, but that the flavor isn't as strong as wild boar.
Although the food may be cooked to "Slow Food criteria", he used olive oil to make the mashed potatoes, when he could have made them a lot more traditional by using Mangalitsa lard.
Sadly, he did not use the Heath Putnam Farms Austrian Pig Neck cut for this roulade.
Final remark: if they really wanted to use local and traditional ingredients and be politically correct, the pig would have been of a German breed. But as in America, the traditonal German lard-type breeds - the ones that taste the best - are gone. Non-Hungarian chefs who want the best-tasting pigs have to choose "foreign" breeds like the Mangalitsa.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Samuel Adams has a specific cut of beef they are promoting - the Samuel Adams Boston Lager Cut.
Heath Putnam Farms is now going to lay claim to the Heath Putnam Farms Austrian Pig Neck.
You can learn how to cut your own Heath Putnam Farms Austrian Pig Neck by using this guide, produced by the Wiesner family so that Americans could learn seam butchery.
I found an article about producers of heavy pigs in Italy.
"Heavy pig" is an Italian concept. Basically, the pigs have to meet certain weight and fat-quality requirements, as explained in this document. Having heavy pig standards allows Italian meat processors to reliably acquire large amounts of raw material suitable for making high-quality cured pork products at low prices.
We don't have such standards in the USA, so meat processors and chefs have a tough time lining up supplies of high-quality raw material. Of course, some like Johnston County Hams and Knight Salumi, manage to do it by working with a quality-oriented producer like Wooly Pigs.
The Italian (and the Spanish, German, Austrian, Hungarian, etc.) understanding is that the quality of the raw material is primarily a function of the breed, feed and age at slaughter.
Compared to the Spanish or Hungarians who raise some lard-type pigs, the Italians raise leaner pigs (more like American producers), which don't taste as good. In fact, Italian regulations would forbid them using foreign lard-type genetics that would improve their quality:
Breeding at Suingrass Apart from meat quality, there is one more essential element in pig breeding for Parma ham production. All animals have to be from Italian descent, and bred and grown in Italy.
Although they raise fairly lean pigs, to their credit, the Italians do feed the pigs right, and they raise them older than American pigs, resulting in products that taste better in a side-by-side comparison.
As the photos I've copied from pigprogress.com show, the Italians aren't raising pigs "naturally". They are using very modern methods to produce the most high-quality pork they can, just as the Spanish and Hungarian producers do.
This is one reason why you don't see many photos of Italian pigs; most people don't look at Italian pigs and think, I really want to eat a parma ham. Just think about it: we hear so much about Italian cured products, but how often do you see pictures of Italian pigs (compared to say, Iberico pigs)? The reason is simple: most Italian pigs are raised intensively, and have been for a very long time. Yet it isn't pretty, so we don't see photos of it.
The Italians feed the pigs a lot of whey, a byproduct of cheese (e.g. Parmesean) production. Raising pigs intensively is a Po Valley tradition because how else are you going to get all that whey into them? It doesn't travel well. Unless you pipe it directly into the pig area, you'll have high costs.
People who see the pictures of the Italian pigs and feel that they need to be set free to forage in the (now-deforested) forests want to turn the clock back approximately 150 years. I don't see anything inherently wrong with that, even though if people wanted, for instance, to return to 150-year old transportation systems or 150-year old medicine, we'd think they were extremists.
Meanwhile, in America, one often finds people positing (without providing any data) that raising pigs "naturally" makes them taste better.
For example, today I read an interview of Steve Ells, founder of Chipotle:
"When we started serving pork from naturally raised pigs more than a decade ago, we did it because we thought it was a better way to raise animals and it produced better tasting food," said Ells. "I visited a pig farm and it shocked me to see the conditions of the animals. That gave rise to our commitment to find better, more sustainable sources for all of the ingredients we use."
It may have been true when Mr. Ells did his experiments, but when I see these Mangalitsa, being raised indoors, I know they taste better than every scrap of meat-type pork that Mr. Ells sells - despite the fact that they are not raised "naturally".
I think it is interesting that Ells feels the need to conflate "being good" with "tasting good". If being good is so great, why not just talk about that? Why does he have to hook people with the "tasting good" angle?
My own suspicion: Ells understands that people, like pigs, like to eat things that taste good. In fact, they care about that (and price) more than they do about how "natural" something is.
Also, having an engineer's mindset, it isn't easy for me to believe Mr. Ells when it comes to eating quality - especially in light of the fact that Italian products generally taste better than American ones (where pigs are likewise produced intensively), and that the Spanish and Hungarian ones, which are produced just as intensively, taste better than the Italian ones.
This conflating of husbandry with tasting good reminds me of the Hagakure:
It is bad when one thing becomes two.Producing pigs that taste the best is different than producing pigs "naturally". Although there may be some similarities between the two ways it doesn't do any good to get them mixed up.
One should not look for anything else in the Way of the Samurai.
It is the same for anything else that is called a "Way".
If one understands things in this manner,
he should be able to hear about all Ways
and live more and more in accord with his own.
As an example of someone who has it mixed up, here's a post about people (supposedly) attempting to reproduce Spanish products, by doing what they assume the Spanish do. I laugh out loud when I read that!
Just a few days ago, I tried some cured products from a small pork producer. They raise the pigs outdoors and feed them organic stuff. However, they don't feed their pigs anything special the last period of their lives, so their fat is (often) very rancid. I couldn't eat their cured jowl; the stuff was so rancid. I had to spit it out. I gave an acquaintance some of theirs and some of mine. He agreed that their stuff primarily just smelled rancid. Our stuff doesn't smell rancid. I know that guy loves our stuff: I saw him drop a piece of cured jowl on the dirty ground, and then I saw him wipe the dirt of the piece and eat it - because it tasted that good.
If your job is to produce stuff that tastes good, you need to focus on that, because that (and price) is what you'll be judged on. If your goal is to produce pork in a way that makes people feel good about themselves, that's what you'll do, even if it is worse for the animals, or even if it results in rancid cured products.
As a consumer, you should not expect that what is produced "naturally" is the best-tasting, just as you shouldn't expect that the "local" stuff is the best-tasting. If you want the best-tasting stuff, you need to seek that out.
 The German word is "Speckschwein" - the sort of pig that makes good speck, as opposed to fresh meat.
 Of course, the white pigs the Italians raise are derived from Danish pigs - but they've been in Italy long enough to be considered Italian.
 The Spanish system allows them to produce good-tasting stuff and take photos of it. Basically, almost all pigs live most of their lives indoors, but a fraction get to go outside for 60+ days. Judicious picture-taking allows people to feel good about their purchases, which are primarily motivated by taste.
 Just as raising Mangalitsa pigs in stalls is a tradition.
Monday, June 28, 2010
They'll have meat for the 4th of July - a very meaty holiday.
From talking with Bill the Butcher staff at the various locations, the stuff sold well and customers liked it a lot. Here's a report from one customer.
I'm happy that it is working out for the customers, Bill the Butcher and Wooly Pigs. It is working out well for the pigs too; demand for the pork means the Swallow-bellied Mangalitsa breed is more likely to survive.
Sunday, June 27, 2010
Lately I've written a lot about speck, seeing as our first batch just got finished.
Bill Burge, a St. Louis food blogger, got to taste our speck. As he tweeted:
Just ate that @woolypigs bacon--uncooked as suggested. Pretty damn good. Reminded of me of @cookingkids lop yuk a little w/ better porkYes, our speck is very good, and yes Mangalitsa fat is very different from other pig fat. At least, that's what the chemical analysis says.
As an aside, I ate off 2 other slabs of bacon I have to gauge fat texture--1 red wattle, 1 duroc cross. There's definitely a difference...
I'd never heard of "lop yuk", so I did some research. It sounds like the Chinese expression for speck or "cured pork" - particularly belly. I'd not heard of lop yuk (Chinese bacon) - but here's some info about it.
I'm fascinated by Chinese charcuterie. They have us beat by a few thousand years on pig breeds and products like ham, fermented sausages (e.g. salami) and bacon.
If you look at FAO's map of pig population density, you can see there's a belt that stretches from China to Europe. In that zone, you can find products like bacon, lop yuk, ham, salami, etc. Although the processes will be the same (kill the germs, dry out the pork to reduce water activity and stop further germ growth), the spices used to season the cured pork, and whether or not there's smoke on the product, will vary from place to place.
For example, the photo at top shows Bachenspeck, a typical Austrian product. It isn't made with soy sauce and other typical Chinese ingredients, but it has a lot in common with lop yuk: they are both cured and dried pork products. Someone looking for lop yuk would recognize Bachenspeck as a similar yet different product. Conceivably one could do for the other in a pinch.
This explains why the market for high quality cured pork products is a global one - e.g. this is why "mangalica szalami" is now marketed in Asia.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Here's what bauchspeck looks like.
I freeze it and slice it as thin as I can. Doing this a few times makes it clear why every Mangalitsa producer who makes speck seems to have a meat slicer - you can't slice thin enough.
I just have some little blocks left over, explaining why the pieces are so short. Normally they'd be as wide as the pig's belly.
It took the photo just after laying the stuff out. It hasn't had much time to warm up. It starts sweating in minutes.
In Europe, people eat this stuff like this, or put it on bread, or toast, or on top of food. Like many Mangalitsa producers (and chefs) I just eat it straight off the plate.
I must have had something like 20# of this stuff a week ago. I'm running low, and starting to feel a bit desperate. Between sampling, selling and personal use, I'm practically out - despite finding a little piece in a freezer that I'd forgotten about.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Heath Putnam Farms (bka* Wooly Pigs) recently sent a bunch of chilled meat from Missouri to DeBragga and Spitler in New Jersey. The stuff will wind up in some of NYC's best restaurants.
It is a big accomplishment to make this work, because many consumers insist on never-frozen meat - especially the Michelin-starred chefs that want to our stuff. It is hard to sell a top-quality product if it has perceived flaws, and these days, many perceive "previously frozen" as a flaw.
The timing of our first chilled meat load was great - pigs got cut on Wednesday and Thursday, picked up on Friday and were delivered to NJ Monday morning. You can't expect it to go much better, unless you run a dedicated truck, and even then, you'd only save a few days.
Modern packaging technology - eg Cryovac (TM) makes it possible to move meat around a large country like the USA, because it greatly reduces spoiling. If you don't have Cryovac or similar technology, but have refrigeration, you've got two choices: operate chilled and local or frozen (and potentially very remote).
It helps to understand those two choices by going back even further: pre-refrigeration.
Basically, meat spoils quickly. Around 40F, you've got bacteria multiplying rapidly. This is why in countries without refrigeration, you'll have slaughter and processing in urban areas, where people can afford meat:
Before refrigeration, chilled meat was pretty much all "local", because non-local chilled meat was rotten and unsaleable.
With pigs, pre-refrigeration technology included (assuming ambient temperatures were cold enough) immediate processing into shelf-stable products like country hams, speck (aka bacon) and fermented sausage like salami. The Chinese, who've raised pigs longer than anybody, have been making such products essentially forever, in addition to breeding pigs like the Mangalitsa that make very good versions of those products.
When you've got refrigeration, you can kill, chill and process, distributing the meat within days/weeks. That, in conjunction with hygiene improvements like a refrigerated meat case, is a big step above the pre-refrigeration system - but you'll probably still have slaughterhouses and rendering facilities in cities, which stink.
Among other reasons, with refrigeration alone, it isn't possible to economically transport chilled meat cheaply, because if you stack or pile it up, it heats up and spoils. E.g. throw 1000# of chilled meat from recently killed pigs into a box and stick it in a refrigerator and the meat generates heat. The core temperature will get around 40F and then you've got major rot underway.
However, refrigeration does get you frozen meat, and that stuff lasts and can be transported great distances. Or you can use it to postpone processing of meat, as the Spanish do with their Iberico pork.
As described in Wikipedia, frozen meat is amazingly old. That picture above shows the first refer ship - it was powered by wind.
The Dunedin About this sound listen (help·info) (1876–82) was the first ship to complete a truly successful transport of refrigerated meat. In its capacity, it helped set the stage for New Zealand's success as a major provider of agricultural exports, notwithstanding its extreme remoteness from most markets.A lot of meat you eat in restaurants is previously frozen, either by the meat company or the chef. I suspect many chefs insist on never-frozen meat because they know they'll probably need to freeze some of it.
The next major innovation, that makes possible the distribution of chilled meat over great distances, is Cryovac (TM) technology.
You might think Cryovac is new stuff, given that it relies on plastic bags and is spelled like a modern trademark - but the technology is actually quite old - approximately 70 years.
I was surprised to find this out. Here's an article from 1939 about Cryovac technology:
In 1937 a French scientist named Maurice Piettre, when he arrived in the U. S. for a conference on food processing, told of new wrapping material then being tried in France for refrigerated meats. The material was latex—pure natural rubber altered just enough to be workable. The trick sounded good to Dewey and Almy Chemical Co. of Cambridge, Mass., which was already using latex to make low-cost balloons ($2.25) for high-altitude meteorological and cosmic ray observation. The company's researchers set to work devising a commercial method for wrapping poultry and meat in latex.
To get a sense of how long ago that was, here's a video from that era, when "mangalica" pigs were still very common in Hungary:
Remember, that's pre-internet, pre-satellites, pre-mobile phones, pre-computers, pre-plastic, pre-petroleum chemistry, pre-pretty-much-everything-we-rely-on-today.
It really surpises me that in an era when some Europeans were still living so traditionally, we had cryovaced meat - but that's not much more surprising than the idea that back in 1876, we had refrigerated ships, powered by wind.
Of course, Cryovac (TM) technology isn't rocket science. You put the meat in a bag, suck out all the air and keep the stuff chilled. That's it. If you do that, the anaerobic environment greatly retards the growth of bacteria. Pork keeps for weeks. Beef can keep for months.
Unfortunately, the bacteria that does grow in anaerobic conditions is fairly stinky, leading to discussions like these between chefs:
hi, I went to a meat packing house that also serves to the general public and bought a huge hunk of skirt steak for cheap, it came in a cryovac bag. I've never had experience with this. When I opened up the bag, it reeked! I trimmed some of the fat and washed it and that seemed to help. I cooked some of it today, and put the rest in the freezer and it tasted fine
As to anaerobic "rot:" We sometimes toss terms around a little loosely. Actual anaerobic rot is usually the result of a type of bacterial organism called lacto-bacillae aka LABs. If, in addition to the smell you get when you open the bag, there's significant discoloration (not just darkening, but green or rainbow), and/or sliming, and/or the odor persists after the cleaning, the meat should be discarded. Otherwise, you're good to go.
If the seal breaks though - watch out. In the presence of oxygen, the meat rots much faster. That's why chefs are taught to reject "leakers" - bagged meat that isn't vacuumed sealed. Of course, if the meat is frozen, a punctured seal is much less of an issue, because there won't be rot.
Of course, once you can distribute chilled meat over great distances economically - thanks to Cryovac (TM) technology (whether powered by latex or plastic), there's no reason to have slaughterhouses and rendering plants in cities. I suspect that most people don't realize this. If we moved from our current to system to one with slaughterhouses in or close to major cities, we'd have odors and hygiene problems, as we did in the past, and it wouldn't be possible to use that real estate for other purposes.
* bka = "better known as"
I saw here that David Varley won Grand Cochon. Among other things, he served some oreo-like cookies, a dessert I've written about before.
It got me wondering if any of his team reads this blog, or if making Oreo-like cookies is just the most obvious thing to do, once you've got a bunch of lard.
I read about Varley and what they did. It sounds like they took it very seriously:
But Varley took every precaution to ensure victory. He prepped most dishes in Washington at the Four Season's restaurant kitchen. The cookie dough was mixed, rolled out and shipped frozen to Aspen with 60 pounds of dry ice. The staff prepared the pork terrine, made with prunes and Armagnac, cooked the meat, sous-vide, for the jungle curry and shipped that as well. All told, Varley said he overnighted more than 400 pounds of pork and other ingredients.The competition between the chefs reminds me of boars (or sows) fighting for dominance. Just like pigs or wild boar, people want to win. They'll spend a lot if they think it will get them victory.
"There's not a lot of room to prep in Aspen. Every chef that matters in the United States was cooking there last weekend," he said. "A lot of guys had more work to do there. We were able to come in and calmly take the victory."
Monday, June 21, 2010
On a happier note, Mangalitsa pigs also like to eat grass a lot more than typical pigs.
They'll happily spend all day eating grass. They are a bit like cows, except unless they have rings in their noses, to stop them from rooting, they'll have a fun time ripping up pasture.
I spoke with Pig Breeder #1 about this. He's got some sows he can see near his house. he reports that they are out in the grass, eating pretty much the entire day. He feeds them a few pounds of corn, which they happily eat, but then it is back to the grass. Although he's raised pigs for decades, in a variety of systems, he's never seen pigs that like to eat grass so much.
Swiss Meat, the Western Hemisphere's lard-type slaughter and processing experts, cut and packed the pigs to spec.
Witte Bros Transportation, an LTL refrigerated trucking firm based in Troy, MO, picked up the Mangalitsa on Friday and got it delivered to NJ on Monday morning. If you ever run a meat company and need to get your meat moved around, I recommend you use Witte Bros. I've only had good results with them.
DeBragga - New York's Butcher - will distribute the meat to New York's best restaurants.
This is a major milestone for Wooly Pigs. It is a lot easier for a company like DeBragga to sell our product to chefs if it is never frozen.
You might think that chefs would look at the various options available to them (fresh/frozen, foreign/USA/same-state/local), the costs of those options and then, subject to some rational algorithm, choose the optimal items.
That's not at all how it works.
Instead, you find chefs with arbitrary rules, like "never buy frozen", "never buy from more than 60 miles away".
When chefs impose constraints like "never frozen" or "61 miles unacceptably far, 60 miles acceptable", they sometimes miss out on the best-tasting stuff, because frozen Mangalitsa (from far away) tastes a lot better than meat-type pork. A bunch of chefs at America's most esteemed restaurants agree with me.
Anyway, I'm happy that we've done our first successful load of chilled meat, because irrational or not, we have removed one major objection that Northeasterners might have to buying our products.
It wouldn't have been possible without Swiss Meat, Witte Bros and DeBragga all working together.
* bka= "better known as"
The typical story is that a sow gets pulled from the group to farrow. After weaning she's put back in with the group. At that point, the other sows will gang up on her and bite her when she tries to eat or drink - in the back legs or vulva. They'll make her sleep outside, away from them, even in very cold weather. This typically goes on for a 2-4 weeks. It is possible for the bullied sow to get maimed or die.
The various farms report that Mangalitsa pigs fight 2-4 weeks, compared to 2-4 days for regular pigs.
Pigs being fattened for slaughter do the same. Pigs will "hog" the feeder and stop newcomers from eating - even though the feeder is full of food, and allowing the strange pigs to eat wouldn't decrease the amount of food available to any pigs.
This information is from four farms, all very different from each other. It is in keeping with what I've heard from the Austrians.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Friday, June 18, 2010
If you want to buy the Speck, it will be available in Swiss's online store soon.
Mike made it by dry curing, cold smoking and then drying the pork. Christoph Wiesner does a mixed cure, but given Mike's facility, doing a dry cure, the way he normally does his bacon, was easiest.
The bacon was made with juniper and pepper, like in Austria. Unlike in Austria, we didn't trim the glands out of jowls the way they do (reducing the raw material weight by approximately half), so the product looks a bit more like Italian stuff.
Then there's the belly speck. It was made with the same process. It should be obvious why the belly is deribbed - otherwise it would have even less lean than it has.
It has taken a ridiculous amount of effort and time to get to the point of having lots and lots of speck and lardo. Here's a summary of the company's milestones - the ones we discuss with the public:
- Fall 2006: Visited Pick Salami museum. Bought some Mangalitsa salami.
- Fall 2006, Jan 2007: Investigated the Mangalitsa opportunity, visited Austria to learn about their pigs and roducts.
- 2007 onward: Lots of study into things like chemical composition, pig breeding, products, etc.
- Late 2007: Sold pork to the French Laundry, helping to position Mangalitsa as America's super-premium pig.
- Late 2007: Sold pork to Seattle restaurants.
- Late 2007: Started selling at Seattle farmers markets.
- Early 2008: Sold live pigs to The Herbfarm. With the help of Michael Ruhlman, sold some pigs to what became Red Mountain Farm. Some of the Red Mountain Farm pigs eventually became pork for The French Laundry.
- Partially relocated herd to the Midwest.
- Fall 2008: Started collaborating with Mosefund, a collaboration based on our mutual love of cured lard-type pork products. Without this collaboration, we'd all be poorer, either financially or culinarily.
- Jan. 2009: Helped the Herbfarm to host a comprehensive 3-day class, taught by Christoph.
- Jan. 2009: Expanded production network in the Midwest, employing top pig breeders and finishers.
- 2009: Sold a bunch of feeder pigs across the USA, establishing a network of lard-type hog producers. Told customers how to feed the pigs for maximum effect, ensuring that much of America enjoyed some excellent Mangalitsa.
- Worked out a deal Johnston County Hams, ensuring that Mangalitsa hams will hit the market.
- Fall 2009: Sold a bunch of meat to fancy restaurants, directly and through Foods in Season. Regular customers: Michael Mina and Charlie Trotter's - both with Michelin stars.
- Fall 2009: Encouraged Mosefund to host two incredible pig-killing classes.
- Found a very good processor (2009), got them trained to do our pigs our way (Jan 2010). Got Christoph Wiesner to release the best book in English on how to cut up pigs (2010).
- Early 2010: Worked out a deal with a Berkshire pork company to fatten pigs for us.
- Early 2010: Got New York's best distributor, DeBragga and Spitler, to carry our meat.
- Spring 2010: Established farm near our slaughterhouse, so that we can kill in small batches economically.
I can't believe how much work this has been. It has all happened in 3.5 years. I really feel I deserve some sort of prize for making all this happen in such short time.
Finally, I can eat speck in the USA* that isn't rancid, and has actual flavor.
Of course, almost all the milestones listed above required finding and collaborating with other like-minded people. Typically this was done via email or over the phone, not face-to-face. It is surprising this has worked so well.
I could have produced some one-off batches of speck, but I can't do that easily at home, and I never saw the point of doing a one-off batch. I want improvements that scale. Now I can take tens of pigs to Swiss Meats, have them killed and cut right, and turned into hundreds of pounds of these ridiculously addictive products.
The improvements Wooly Pigs has brought to Swiss Meat may benefit small farmers I don't even know. E.g. if I lived near Swiss and raised regular hogs (even just one or two), and wanted some good-tasting meat-type pork products, I could fatten my hogs on the right feed, take them to Swiss, and let them make the products.
One funny thing - although Swiss Meat's Mike Sloan made the speck, he didn't know how it typically gets eaten. I asked him to slice some up so we could try it. So he threw some on a slicer and cut off thick chunks, without removing the skin. He figured we'd then cook it up. I had to explain that the stuff is eaten raw, like prosciutto, and that to eat it, we needed to remove the outside skin, then slice the stuff as thinly as possible, and eat that.
I think it is a bit perverse that the guy making some of the best cured products in the USA doesn't know how to present and eat the stuff. I think we need to rectify that with a trip to Austria.
I remember the first time I ate such products. I was a bit grossed out by all the fat. But I quickly became addicted. I've seen the same pattern with the jowl bacon - an excellent product that I think is less addictive than the jowl speck - but still very addictive.
I've got a bunch of speck now. I feel a bit like the drug lord Tony Montana, from the movie Scarface. Rule #2 - don't get high on your own supply. So I'm not eating much of it. I'll mostly sample it.
It is great to have these products. People eat them and see immediately why Mangalitsa pigs are superior to meat-type pigs. Speck is an awesome product. It reminds me of the good times I had in Central Europe. I can close my eyes, eat the product, and imagine that I'm on Christoph Wiesner's farm, relaxing.
If Christoph were here, I know he'd say my Speck is quite good, and that Mike did a great job for his first try.
Having the products ought to make it easier to sell raw material to meat processors. They eat the stuff and know immediately that unless they go with Heath Putnam Farms (better known as "Wooly Pigs"), they can't make products of comparable quality.
Having piles and piles of the product, and thinking back to when we didn't have any product makes it clear to me that Johnston County Hams' Rufus Brown had a lot of foresight.
Basically, last Fall, before we'd killed any reasonable number of pigs, Johnston County Hams tried some fresh meat samples (a few pounds of chops and leg steaks) and then offered to buy all our hams and picnics.**
Unlike other meat processors, they didn't ask for a sample of Mangalitsa ham (expensive to acquire or illegal at that time to import). They didn't ask for a fresh ham (unavailable), so they could cure it (12 month process).
In fact, had they asked for any of that, the deal might not have gotten done.
Instead, Rufus and the other Johnston County Hams staff ate a few pounds of fresh meat, did their research and decided they wanted to offer their customers Mangalitsa hams and shoulders. They then offered to buy our hams and shoulders, and the deal was done, after we met face-to-face.
It has been a pleasure to deal with Johnston County Hams. I send them the pork, they pay. If they've got quality issues, they tell us, and we and Swiss Meats do all we can to fix them. Even if Johnston County Hams doesn't give us feedback, we and Swiss Meats continually try to improve our quality and consistency.
I think it is interesting that the first company to lock in their Mangalitsa supplies was a medium-sized country ham maker. If they were much smaller (e.g. a small "artisanal" company), they'd likely be nervous about the risks of using such expensive raw materials to produce products that might or might not find a market. If they were bigger, they'd want to deal in quantities that we can't provide now.
Looking at the speck, I can't help but think of what it has taken to get here.
* I didn't do all this just so I could eat some speck. I did it because I figured that if I didn't pursue the Mangalitsa opportunity, I'd feel regret when I saw that someone else had pursued it and been successful. Or I'd be bothered because someone else would pursue it, but in a less quality-oriented way - so we'd have speck in America - perhaps even Mangalitsa speck - but it would have rancid fat. The worst part of that would be listening to people prattle on about how great it was, when I'd know the stuff was lousy.
** We later improved our cutting and we switched to much better hams and shoulders. The stuff we have is so much better now, I'm embarrassed that we did that first load that way. Back then, I really didn't know much about butchery. I'm not very good with a knife, but I know quite a bit about it now.
At the event in Missouri, people got stuff to take home. Here's the contents of one bag, starting at the upper left, and moving across and down:
Mangalitsa jowl speck
Swiss Meat & Sausage Company bacon - made from meat-type pork
Mangalitsa belly speck
Mangalitsa loin chops (bottom)
Mangalitsa neck steaks (top)
I figure that by the time someone has eaten their way through that stuff, they'll understand what Mangalitsa is all about.
That jowl speck is half a jowl. If it was a whole Mangalitsa jowl, it could be 4-5 pounds.
To me, wasted grains and vegetables is one thing, and wasted meat is an entirely different story. I've written about this before; basically, if we are going to raise animals and eat them, we should make the most of them, because that food comes from sentient creatures.
There's a variety of ways we can screw up with meat animals and the food they provide us with. These bother me a lot (roughly in order from most irritating to least):
- Massive culls by people indifferent to the welfare of the animals being culled, and in such a way that the food can't even be used.
- Having food spoil. That's a total waste of all the inputs that went into it.
- Having to throw food out due to improper processing, as with this recall.
- Cooking/processing raw material badly, so that people don't derive maximum enjoyment from food.
Thinking about this Spaghetti & Meatballs recall, I wondered, why don't people feed the stuff to dogs or pigs? Dogs and pigs, like humans, like stuff that is fatty, sweet, meaty and salty. Most dog food and pig food is a combination of starch and vegetable protein - very bland, boring stuff, compared to spaghetti and meatballs. They could make a lot of animals happy if they'd just let them eat this stuff.
Of course, most animals that eat meat, like pigs and dogs, are more capable (than humans) of eating uncooked food, including meat - because in the wild, that's all they get.
Bill the Butcher bought some product from Wooly Pigs. They've got our meat in their various Puget Sound stores.
My customers, many of whom have visited Bill the Butcher, have told me that Bill the Butcher has very good meat - the sort they can't get anywhere else.
One of their chefs, who runs the Redmond store, is a former cutsomer of mine, Scott Molyneaux. Scott worked at Grey Wolf Ranch. When he needed great stuff for special events, he'd call me and buy stuff.
This is the first round, so we'll see how things go from here. If people show up, buy the stuff and want to buy again, I figure Bill the Butcher will want to buy more pigs.
Many of Bill the Butcher's customers have bought from me before. A bunch of their customers probably haven't, because until now, we haven't had distribution that would reach them. I'm excited to have our products getting in front of new customers.
The photo above shows Bill (left) and staff trying some Mangalitsa bacon products. They ate them raw, despite them being non-shelf stable. That's impressive.
Courtney has a post at Real Food Fans about Deep-fried Scallops and Mangalitsa Rinds
One thing that's neat is she shows how the scallops look depending on how long they are deep fried. Those blocky bits above are the Mangalitsa belly.
Thanks to Swiss Meat & Sausage Company, Wooly Pigs finally has Speck like what I ate in Austria 3.5 years ago. There's speck from the belly and from the jowl. Ours is a dry-cured, cold-smoked bacon, hung until it loses around 30% of its weight, making it shelf stable. It is flavored with juniper, so it tastes quite Austrian.
I'm delighted to have a bunch of Speck - the sort of Mangalitsa products that inspired me to found Wooly Pigs in the first place. Looking at all that goes into the product, I can't believe how many things we've had to get right to make the product the best it can be.
On Wednesday, we had our big day at the slaughterhouse. Various chefs and media from Missouri (invited by Josh Galliano of Monarch Restaurant) got to see how Swiss kills and cuts our pigs. Josh did a great job getting a bunch of heavy hitters out there. They all had to get up early and drive out to the middle of nowhere.
We started by feeding them the Speck and lardo, so they'd see right off the bat that the pigs are special. This mirrored my own experience, in early 2007.
Then they saw some pigs get slaughtered. Because we'd killed pigs the day before, the visitors got to see those pigs cut. Swiss did a great job accomodating and educating the participants. I did my best to explain the various things that Swiss does to give us what we need.
The visitors weren't freaked out by the slaughter, which was a concern that Mike and I had. l'm happy that got to see what a dirty and dangerous job it is, and what a good job Swiss does.
We concluded with a lunch, where people ate the Speck, lardo, cooked meat and other things like cookies made with lard - and some incredible baked apples (made with lard).
When it was all over, a few chefs bought meat. We had special prices that day to encourage the chefs to buy.
I'm grateful to all the chefs who chose to purchase meat. Of them, Jimmy Fiala really stood out, because he bought so much. Jimmy is the owner of The Crossing and a few other STL restaurants. He's bought our products before, via Foods in Season, so he's quite familiar with our products' capabilities. I figure the visit to the new plant, plus the nice new cuts, convinced him to buy a lot.
Of the various guests, I'm betting Kevin Nashan and Josh Galliano will make it out to Swiss again, to learn seam butchery techniques from Swiss. It wouldn't surprise me if Keven even works on the kill floor too, to get the entire experience. I'd like to do that myself one day.
After the show-and-tell, I visited two major Missouri meat processors, to explore opportunities related to our pork. It really helped to have the speck for them to sample. Quite simply: given a product, meat processors can imagine how they'd produce something similar, how it compares to what's in the market, etc. They can't necessarily do that if you just bring them some raw material - e.g. a raw belly or jowl.
Finally, the first load of chilled meat heads to New York today (Friday). Hopefully that will go smoothly. It is a big deal to start sending chilled meat anywhere; obviously we'll have to do that to sell lots of pork.
I'll write more about the trip later.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
Saturday, June 12, 2010
A long-time very loyal customer showed up first thing at the farmers market today and bought the one and only pack of jowl bacon I had. She was very happy to get what she wanted, and she knew that had she not shown up early, she would have certainly not got it.
Immediately after, before I could do another transaction, some folks showed up. They wanted jowl bacon. One of them had come from New York. The two of them had come together to the market, their sole purpose: to buy some Wooly Pigs brand jowl bacon. Understandable, because Mangalitsa jowl bacon is incredible.
I assumed that since the loyal customer has eaten so much of it, she could do without this one time, and she'd like to see more people eating it, so she'd let it go.
She'd bought 4 packs of the stuff just a week or so prior - no big deal to give up the one pack, right?
My own strong desire was to please the guy that had traveled across 3 timezones to get the jowl bacon. I try to prioritize new customers; it is crucial to grow demand for our products in geographically distant places.
However, the loyal customer is a special customer, who really likes this product. For instance, a few weeks ago, she placed an order (which I can't fill yet), for 50 packages of the jowl bacon. She's bought a special freezer to hold this stuff.
It was dumb of me to assume that jowl bacon didn't really matter to my loyal customer. All signs are that she loves the stuff, to the point of addiction. Part of being a drug dealer is respecting the addictions of the customers, especially the best customers. I was not sensitive enough today.
As it happened, the loyal customer was having a special event later that day, and she wanted to introduce her guests to the product, as they had not had it before.
Worst case! Everybody had special needs.
The New Yorker was the pushiest of all four of us, pointing out that he'd come from New York to get the stuff. That was his position, and he stated it several times. He used it like a club, without remorse, to try to get what he wanted.
I felt overwhelmed with regret.
I proposed to give (free!) my loyal customer some "make up" bacon (belly and shoulder), if she'd let the New York people buy the jowl bacon. This was a desperate attempt on my part; its clear that she really likes what she likes. She doesn't want to substitute, even for free. There's a reason why she bought a freezer to hold a bunch of jowl bacon.
Even worse, by asking her to make such a switch, particularly on those terms (free), I put her in bind. If she said no, she appeared like a spoiler. Thinking of this experience, I regret it.
Thinking I was particularly Solomonic, I proposed to split the package of jowl bacon, then and there, with my pocket knife - and give (free!) each party half a pack. I figured I was being particularly nice; each party would get something, for free. Neither would get what they wanted, but they'd all get some of it.
I wasn't thinking of it biblically. I didn't want one of the customers to insist on the half pack, and for the other to give up and say, "ok, you take the whole pack," and then it would be clear who loved the jowl bacon the most, and I could then award the pack to that person.
I just wanted to resolve the stalemate by giving each customer half a free pack, and attempt to preserve goodwill from both.
No such luck: all parties rejected the proposed Solomonic compromise. Nobody wanted a free half-pack of jowl bacon. Back to square 1.
The topic of ordering the jowl bacon came up. I pointed out that Johnston County Hams has some really good Mangalitsa jowl bacon now. They aren't advertising it, but they've got it, and it is great. Everyone present took notes, but that didn't solve the problem of who was going to get the last pack.
In the end, the loyal customer graciously agreed to give up the pack. I wanted to give her some bacon (belly) and shoulder bacon to make up for it. She insisted on paying for it, so I sold it to her as cheaply as I felt I she'd let me get away with.
In retrospect, the entire experience was awful. If only I'd had two packs, it could have been avoided. If only the loyal customer had left before the others had shown up. If only I'd kept my mouth shut.
I regret putting one of my best customers in a bind. I'll make it up to her though, by giving her some ... wait… wait…. waiiiiit for it… jowl bacon.
It is probably hard for people to believe that adults really behave this way about food, even though people behave this way with cigarettes, illicit drugs, etc.
Like those things, Mangalitsa jowl bacon (or guanciale) will get you high. It will also get you addicted. It is more like a drug than food.
Also, as good (and druglike) as the belly bacon is, it doesn't compare to the jowl bacon. It doesn't come anywhere close. The belly bacon certainly tastes better than any other bacon out there - but pretty much everyone strongly prefers the jowl bacon to the (belly) bacon. The jowl bacon is strictly more addictive, the way cigarettes are more addictive than coffee.
Addicts act like addicts, regardless of what it is they are addicted to. Part of being an addict is having an intense feeling of loss when the stuff gets taken away. It really sucks when someone else gets exactly the stuff you want.
My own understanding of this phenomenon, and my shock at what a fiend I became after only a few days exposure to Mangalitsa cured products, is what convinced me that launching America's first Mangalitsa company was what I needed to do with my life.
Anyway, on the topic of jowl bacon, The Pig Next Door ought to be have shipped out or be about to ship out our Mangalitsa jowl bacon to their subscribers. They ordered 60 packs recently.
Also, Johnston County Hams might still have some really great jowl bacon (and bacon) made from our pork.
There's an article about a petting zoo with Mangalitsa piglets. The piglet looks very cute.
Then there's a photo from a "pig camp" in Germany. They are very hairy, fat and messy.
They looks lazy and obese.
It is odd to think that these are the best-tasting and best-marbled pigs in the USA.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Carl didn't import Swabian-Hall genetics. He's copying King Wilhelm I of Württemberg, mating lard-type pigs to European wild boars. The pig he entered into Cochon 555 was an F1 (either Meishan-EWB or EWB-Meishan, depending on who was the sire).
I called Carl to congratulate him. I jokingly asked him if the pig he'd entered into the competition was a Mangalitsa, because I'd sold him one a while back so he could see how it tasted, and compare it to his own pigs. He explained that that pig was eaten months ago.*
Although I wish Suisun Valley Farm's pig had won (a pig I bred and sold them), I was happy that Carl won, because his victory is part of the lard-type pork revolution underway in America. I am a key instigator of this movement.
Some time ago, Carl called me wanting to buy some Mangalitsa breeding stock. We never came to agreement on a price, but I did mention that he could cheaply acquire Meishan pigs, another lard-type breed. I also mentioned that the Swabian-Hall, a breed produced from Meishan pigs and European Wild Boar-derived breeds in the 1800s, contends with Mangalitsa in tasting competitions. Carl decided he'd try breeding his own Swabian-Hall, from Meishan and EWB pigs.
I explained to Carl what to feed the pigs to make them taste good, and how to do it economically. I did that because I'd like Meishan genetics to continue to be available (why), and I'd like to see people like Carl produce great food from lard-type pigs.
Someone who has eaten a lot of Mangalitsa, who attended the event, explained to me that the meat of Carl's pig tasted like Mangalitsa (a bit like this experience), while the fat didn't. The fat was a bit gristly, tougher and nastier than Mangalitsa fat. It isn't clear why. From talking to Carl, he fed them feed that should have resulted in good fat.
It is neat that Carl was able to produce a great-tasting pig with Meishan genetics and by following my instructions. Although my pig didn't win, my second favorite pig did.
* Carl said he missed that pig; it had distinguished itself by being able to catch donuts out of the air, like a dog.
Yesterday, I talked with Shane Petersen* of Suisun Valley Farm just yesterday. He sold the French Laundry a Mangalitsa. He visited, and Devin Knell had him taste some of their Mangalitsa ham.
The French Laundry's hams were made from quite old (approx. 18-month) pigs fattened in California by Red Mountain Farm. I tasted some of the products from those pigs in early 2009. The hams from that batch have dried out and matured about 18 months.
One can make hams quickly or slowly. If you make them the slow way, like the French Laundry and Johnston County Hams, you have to be able to delay gratification a ridiculously long time.
* As it says on their twitter profile, they are also producing Schaerbeek Cherries. Those are the cherries the Belgians use to make Kriek lambic.
Although the Schaerbeek cherry is in the sour cherry family, like the Balatons and Morellos, it takes longer to fruit, has a lower yield - but tastes more complex than the other Morello cherries. In that way, it is like the Mangalitsa pig.
To make the beer Shane wants to make, he's imported the best-tasting cherries in the world, just as Wooly Pigs had to import a herd of special breed pigs to produce the best pork made in the USA.
Monday, June 7, 2010
I visited the Herbfarm's remaining two pigs yesterday. The video shows them exiting their shelter to drink. It was relaxing and fun to see the pigs. They wanted to get scratches and pets, but they were so filthy I didn't want to touch them.
It is amazing that pigs can live in their own filth and produce such amazingly tasty food. Although most of our pigs generally live in less muck, on small farms throughout history, that's been the norm, and it doesn't seem to hurt the taste.
Afterwards, I visited the Herbfarm's kitchen. Among other things, Sous Chef Chris Weber served me some of his ham, made from that bit me two years ago.
The pig tasted like very flavorful. The fat was wonderfully light and clean. As the picture shows, he was quite marbled. I've not eaten a piece of cured meat, made in the USA, from a non-Mangalitsa pig that tasted this good.
It is nice to think that even nasty pigs can contribute something nice to the world.
Eating the pig got me to reflect a bit on how things have changed in the last two years. The company is a lot bigger, and our pigs and pork are much better known. I probably wouldn't get bit by a pig anymore. If I did, I wouldn't whine about it.
Here's how you can make ham like Chris Weber:
1) Take a frozen leg of Mangalitsa. Seam it out. Look here for more info (big PDF!).
2) Pack the meat in salt & herbs for 5 days.
3) Knock/wash the salt off. Hang the meat in a wine cellar (55F, approximately 70% humidity) for several weeks.
Friday, June 4, 2010
According to 7x7, Mangalitsa is the best reason to "lard out" in San Francisco.
I'm grateful that restaurants like Michael Mina recognize how special our product is.
Basically, it tasted like a Mangalitsa sirloin chop, with a slightly weaker flavor. Had I not known it was Iberico, I would have thought it was Mangalitsa.
This is entirely in keeping with various things I've seen about Mangalitsa vs Iberico.
The fat was a bit soft and breaking apart. I attribute that to the feed. It didn't not have a particularly nutty flavor - but perhaps if we'd cured that piece of sirloin, it would have developed.
I think that at approximately half the price of Iberico (and tasting very similar), we ought to be able to sell a lot of Mangalitsa in NYC.
Having eaten that stuff, I feel a lot more confident about our product; there's nothing cheaper yet still comparable to our stuff.
Morgan Maki, Bi-Rite Market
Pig: Mangalitsa from Suisun Valley Farm
QK: Tell me about the Mangalitsa.
...MM: The texture would be different, and the proportion of fat to meat would be different. The reason why Mangalista is a cool pig is because they store a lot of back-fat, two to three inches. It's poly-unsaturated fat, which has a lower melting point and creamier consistency.
Actually, the pig tends to store unsaturated fat (typically monounsaturated). If you want a pig to have lots of polyunsaturated fat, you can do that to pretty much any pig, by feeding it things like corn oil, corn or rapeseed oil. That will make the pig fat rancid.
QK: Now, Mangalitsa is hard-to-find. Why?
MM: It's a specialty product and more expensive because there's not a lot of them being grown in this country. Only one or two people have breeding stock. There's a fellow in Washington state who breeds the pig, but he'll castrate the piglet before he sells it to you.
QK: Because he doesn't want you to breed it?
MM: Yeah, you can't import a live pig into the country anymore but he had his pig before the USDA made the rule.
To date, nobody has offered much money for breeding stock. People prefer to buy relatively cheaper feeder pigs (neutered) - so that's what the company sells them.
It is inaccurate to say that you can't import a live pig into the USA.
Why do I bother making these corrections?
I mention this because news media are in the habit of asking chefs questions and repeating their answers as if the chefs are authoritative.
Chefs are generally not authoritative about pig lipid chemical composition and animal importation. Unless a chef raises pigs to make cured products that rival those of Europe's best, or has experience importing animals, he probably doesn't know much about this stuff.
I've got no beef with Chef Maki. Maybe he's a nice guy. I'd like to sell him a bunch of pork, or a bunch of pigs. But let's get real here: I know a lot more about availability of Mangalitsa breeding stock, how to import pigs into the USA and the chemical composition of pig fat.
I wish journalists would stop repeating what chefs say about things outside their purview as gospel - because too many readers are incapable of critical thinking.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Here's some photos from my trip to New York. I had some very positive and productive interactions with people.
That photo is from DeBragga's dinner - the New York debut of our Mangalitsa pork. The Wall St. Journal wrote about it here, and issued this correction here. As I said at the dinner:
"This is the beginning of a lard-type pork revolution..."
Tom Colicchio is a famous New York chef. A lot of people know him as the head judge on the show Top Chef. He's also the owner of Craft, a group of restaurants focused on top-quality ingredients.
Tom Colicchio's finger, Wooly Pigs logo.
Next is a photo of me with Paul Liebrandt, Chef at Corton.
I was happy to find out that Chef Liebrandt has been using our product for weeks. He likes it. He offered some constructive criticism of our product, in a very nice way. He's the sort of customer I love to have; he's the guy that helps us to improve things.
According to the Michelin guide, Corton is one of the top 11 restaurants in the NYC area. Corton has two Michelin stars, making it our highest Michelin-rated regular customer.
April Bloomfield, of The Breslin and The Spotted Pig was there, but I didn't get any photos of us. I talked with her at length about our product. She's used it a little bit, as mentioned in this important New York Times article.
Finally, here's a picture of Cia Bernales, food blogger, happy to receive some complimentary lardo:
I had a lot of fun talking to her. She's traveled a lot and eaten a lot of good food. It is great to meet people who are enthusiastic about good food. Without them, this whole project would be demoralizing day after day.
She's holding stuff from the first batch. I also sampled some of that batch to Kavin Du, a serious chef (non-professional) and Mangalitsa fan.
Kavin (and George Faison at DeBragga) provided some useful feedback, which we'll use to modify our process, hopefully making our lardo a better product. When you've got smart people who notice thing about food making the same criticisms, you ignore them at your own peril.
As previously mentioned, based on what I saw last week, top chefs all over New York will be making their lardo from our pigs, starting this week. That means it will hit the tables in 4 weeks or so.
I'm guessing it will take another 2 months for the press to notice and start writing about how amazing Mangalitsa lardo is, making it a food trend, like real pretzels.
It is going to be very fun watching this whole process unfold.
Those guys really like buying, processing and serving Mangalitsa pork. Looking at Chef Chris Windus's blog, I see they've done some really fancy hot dogs. B Baxter works for Chris, and has his own blog.
The hotdog reminds me of Chef Manfred Stockner, formerly of Zum Weissen Rauchfangkehrer, who had a simple little smoked Manglaitsa sausage. The point was, you looked at it and it looked like nothing special - the sort of thing you might pick up at the train station from a food cart.
Of course, it tasted incredible.
I was talking with a Mangalitsa producer recently. I suggested that if he wants to get some ideas about what's possible, he might want to make a trip to Orlando and see what they are doing.
The pigs they use in Florida are fattened by Pasture Prime Wagyu.
Quite impressive! It reminds me a lot of Mosefund, but with beer.
Suisun Valley Farm will have a pig processing class there later this year, taught by Christoph Wiesner. It will be something like this one.
Hopefully Corti Brothers in Sacramento will keep buying Suisun Valley Farm's pigs.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Eric Rivera, Seattle chef (Seastar in Bellevue, WA) and customer has a blog.
Eric and I are in agreement on the superiority of Mangalitsa jowl bacon.
He recently wrote about Mangalitsa jowl bacon, in relation to a BLT. I've written on the same topic - arguing that there is no better BLT, and (arguing a bit cheekily) that Michael Ruhlman ought to change his contest from a BLT Challenge to a Mangalitsa jowl bacon BLT challenge.
He's also got a page on some tapas, at least one dish of which used some Wooly Pigs brand Mangalitsa jowl bacon.