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.

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

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.