Thursday, March 10, 2011

Finishing Diet

Salumeria Biellese's products from our pork at Eataly.


I read this post about some pigs near Portland and thought, "those pigs are going to have really soft fat":
They’ve been feasting on food scraps from the Allison Hotel, on green veggies, on bread from the Pearl Bakery, and lots of hazelnuts.
I find it interesting how people talk about this stuff. An uninformed reader, might assume, from the tone, that that diet is a good finishing diet. It isn't. People have known since 1867 that that sort of diet produces soft pork. That's 144 years. These days, it is clear what to feed pigs to make them taste good.

I don't know what's wrong with feeding old bread (you'd think it would be mostly starch), but my friends in Austria say it produces lousy fat. The food scraps will be high in polyunsaturated fat. The hazelnuts are fairly high in polyunsaturated fat. The pigs ensile that fat.Additionally, the monounsaturated fats in the hazelnuts will lead to less saturated fat in the pork. Odors in the dietary fat will wind up in the pigs' fat.

One problem we've got is that the typical quality of pork fat is so low in this country that people are turned off by pork fat. That hurts Mangalitsa producers.

It is like producing world-class Arabica coffee in a country that mostly produces and drinks the lowest grade of Robusta. You spend a lot of time trying to convince people why they should give you a chance.

7 comments:

Portland Charcuterie Project said...

Heath:

I live in Portland and recieved that same email.

I was wondering too about advertising that their pigs were eating food leftovers ( It's very common and happened on my family's farm as a kid ) but in the higher end market, I would assume they wouldn't advertise that.

You also seem to be not on board with the hazlenut finishing.


I've been making almost all of my charcuterie from Tails and Trotters hazlenut finished pork.. I think they're berkshires .. and for the last 90 days of their lives eat mostly hazlenuts and hazlenut feed.

I've found that pork to be fantastic.. making some incredible bacon and other insanely good cured meats ( you should try my coppa or proscuitto ).

Do you not think that finishing pigs on hazlenuts leads to the best quality pork?

I know everyone has a different opinion, but you've established yourself as an expert and I value your opinion.

Thanks,

Todd

Heath said...

Todd: I was wondering too about advertising that their pigs were eating food leftovers ( It's very common and happened on my family's farm as a kid ) but in the higher end market, I would assume they wouldn't advertise that.

Me: I don't think most consumers care, because they are ignorant of what slop-finished pigs taste like. Read the "soft pork" post for more info, if you need it.

Todd: You also seem to be not on board with the hazlenut finishing.

Me: Correct. It isn't the best. If it was, wouldn't the Italians or Spanish would feed their pigs hazelnuts? And yes, I'm an expert on this stuff. Also, all the Mangalitsa producers share info; we really care about what works and what doesn't.

Todd: I've been making almost all of my charcuterie from Tails and Trotters hazlenut finished pork.. I think they're berkshires .. and for the last 90 days of their lives eat mostly hazlenuts and hazlenut feed.

Me: I'm glad you are happy with their stuff. That's all that really matters.

At the same time, you've mentioned a bunch of specific things, like what the pigs are fed and what breed they are. How did you come to assume what you assume?

Look at T&T's site. The pigs shown aren't Berkshires. They don't claim they are Berkshires.

Also, if you read what they say, they don't say how many hazelnuts they feed:

"HAZELNUTS...It’s what makes Tails & Trotters pork so special! Traditionally, pigs produced for prosciutto are fed a special “finishing” diet for their last 60–90 days where a large portion of their feed is replaced with acorns. Finishing provides increased flavor to the fat and meat, as well as produces the necessary intramuscular and subcutaneous (under the skin) fat cover necessary for prosciutto production—our main long-term objective. While the Northwest isn’t good acorn country, it is renowned for its hazelnuts!"

Me: When I read that, I notice that they talk a lot about what happens around the world (Italy), but don't get specific about what they actually do. You really shouldn't assume anything.

This is where some of their pigs came from some time ago. Perhaps some of their pigs still come from that farm, perhaps not.

I talked with Mr. Klingeman about soft pork and hazelnuts a while back. He agreed, hazelnuts make the pork soft. He told me they control how many nuts they feed. If I recall correctly, he said how many nuts they feed, how long and what fraction of the feed the nuts are depends on the nuts.

It sounded like really hard system to optimize.

If it is true they have to control how many hazelnuts they feed, you can see why T&T wouldn't make any firm representations on their website about how many hazelnuts (or how long) they feed; if they have to be flexible, avoiding firm statements on their website about what they do makes sense. And saying, "we feed them some hazelnuts, but not too many to ruin the fat quality" doesn't sound appealing.

If you care about what kind of pigs they have, what they feed them, how they raise them, etc. I suggest you get in touch with the people raising the pigs for them and ask them questions. Visit the farm if they'll let you.

Portland Charcuterie Project said...

Heath:

Thanks for the detailed reply... I really do value your opinion, and while I've had good results with T&T pork... I'm going to give Mangalitsa a try and see what I can create with that.

You've already given me the ordering info, so I jus tneed to find my next free weekend in between biz travel to free up for some curing.

Thank you again for your detailed and thought provoking response.

Todd

Heath said...

Todd - I'm interested to hear how things work out for you.

Heath said...

Todd: Also, I asked you a question, "How did you come to assume what you assume?"

It isn't that important, but I am curious exactly what you were assuming about their stuff, and how you came to assume it.

I find that whole phenomenon interesting. People assume lots of things about food.

Portland Charcuterie Project said...

I'll let you know how my first WP curing experiment goes.. I'll kick it off with a coppa and a belly ( for pancetta and bacon ).

I'm not really sure how I assumed breed and diet... I think It might be a combination of marketing/blogging/general information overload that I recieve on a weekly basis from pork/food producers of all sorts.


Until a short time ago, I thought that the hazlenut "finished" pigs, ate nothing but acorns like the iberico pics in spain.. but now I'm not even sure if they do.

All the best.

Heath said...

Todd: I'm not really sure how I assumed breed and diet... I think It might be a combination of marketing/blogging/general information overload that I recieve on a weekly basis from pork/food producers of all sorts.

Me: it is fascinating how that happens.

Todd: Until a short time ago, I thought that the hazlenut "finished" pigs, ate nothing but acorns like the iberico pics in spain.. but now I'm not even sure if they do.

Me: In Spain, they've got rules and certifications for what counts as iberico de bellota. They aren't at what people assume. E.g. breed can be part Duroc, they have to start the finishing period a certain weight, gain a certain amount, etc. It is all very technical. Most of the iberico pigs live most of their lives in intensive (aka "factory farm") conditions - yet most consumers don't know that, and assume the opposite.

If Tails & Trotters tries to do stuff and it isn't working - e.g. stuff costs too much, or customers aren't happy - they'll change stuff.

E.g. if they sell you pork out of their freezer from a few months ago, it might be produced quite differently now. The quality might be different too.

Imaging you are scaling up your business. In the beginning, someone writes about you. Maybe they mention specific customers. A bunch of people read that article.

Then you change how you produce your products, and you get more customers. And imagine you lose some of your initial customers.

So the entire picture is very different than whatever the journalist wrote about you. You produce differently, you sell to different customers, on a scale different from whatever they described.

Many people will still assume that everything is as it was. They don't take into consideration that whatever they read a few months ago might not be true.

Hence, although I talked with Mr. Klingeman a while back about hazelnuts, soft pork, how many nuts they were feeding and how long, I wouldn't even assume that Mr. Klingeman produces a single pig for T&T. Maybe T&T's hogs are all produced on a different farm, in a totally different system.

If you put your "lawyer hat" on and read the text on their website, it is clear that they aren't making specific representations about what they feed their pigs. I don't begrudge them that - what else is reasonable for them to do?

In any case, unless you ask the people who know what a business is doing, and ask them regularly, you really don't know what's going on with the business.