Thursday, May 19, 2011
There's an article about us taking 3rd in the Seattle Weekly. It makes us sound like ingrates, so I should explain - we knew around 4PM or so that we were in the finals, meaning that we'd take either 3rd, 2nd or 1rst place. When we found out we got 3rd, that was the worst possible outcome -- of 3 fantastic outcomes.
We knew that what we'd done (roast a pig and serve it, sans sauce) was so risky, we'd probably not even place. So when we found out we'd made it to the finals, we figured the judges had embraced our approach, and that we'd win - if only because Mangalitsa tastes much better than alternatives, and the other competing teams had all used meat-type pigs, which are relatively dry and flavorless.
After the fact, we sound ridiculously arrogant. E.g. being bothered about getting 3rd. But when you are in the moment, and know that the worst you can do is get 3rd -- and "all" you get is 3rd, you are irritated. And if you've been drinking all day - as we all had - you are even more irritated.
In retrospect, it is amazing that we got 3rd, as Leslie Kelly explains here.
Monday, May 16, 2011
I just got back from Memphis in May. Our team, the Fatback Collective, competed with two Mangalitsa pigs in the whole hog competition. We did very well, taking 3rd.
The team all worked together, with chefs and barbecue experts turning the pigs into barbecue. My job was easy as I wasn't responsible for the cooking. I did set myself the challenge (see below) of eating a big plate of Mangalitsa barbecue.
Nick Pihackis of Jim n' Nicks Barbecue organized a historic team of pitmasters and chefs. The team chose to use our Mangalitsa pigs, which is what got my pigs and me there.
Chef Donald Link
We ate a bunch of awesome food. Donald and Sean Brock brought crawfish, oysters, stone crab claws and softshell crabs. Many of us brought our best moonshine to share with the others.
The pigs tasted fantastic. Other chefs, competitors and guests were wowed by the flavor and succulent meat and fat.
Almost nobody had ever tasted a pig this good. It was fun to share stuff with people.
Nathan, pictured, is a personal trainer with 9% body fat. He talked to me about insulin, carbs and fat storage - and wolfed down a bunch of very tasty and fatty Mangalitsa ribs. It was great to watch people enjoy the succulent meat and fat.
To celebrate, I purposefully didn't eat much the day we'd present, so I was able to enjoy a big plate of barbecued Mangalitsa.
My thought was, how many times in your life do you get to eat your winning Mangalitsa, turned into barbecue by some of the USA's best pitmasters and chefs, and win at Memphis in May? Might as well really enjoy it.
Which I did.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
A longtime customer of mine loves Manglaitsa. I've eaten at his house before. He does a great Mangalitsa belly.
At top there's a picture of grilled quail, wrapped in Mangalitsa lardo.
These photos show how he wrapped some quail in Mangalitsa lardo and grilled them.
Obviously, the Mangalitsa fat makes the relatively lean quail more tasty.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
I wrote about Veritas on this blog a while ago. I just saw some nice photos of their food in a review by Steve Barnes of the Times Union. They are still using our stuff, which they get via DeBragga.
That above is some fish with some lardo on top of it. That's a great way to make fish taste extra special.
If you want to read exactly what the food is, I suggest you read the original review by Steve Barnes.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
It is neat to see what affection they have for each other. You can also see how fun pigs are to watch; they are so curious.
I called him today and chatted. I explained to him: if he'll personally drive out to Iowa to pick up a Swallow-bellied Mangalitsa boar (and drive it back to Orcas Island), I'll give him one for free.
Somehow I like the idea of guys in the remote corners of the USA breeding, fattening, slaughtering and processing Swallow-Bellied Mangalitsas into great food. He's really into the whole process. One expected benefit: if I can make it up there, he'll give me a place to eat and some great Mangalitsa products.
This is the barbecue team competing in the Memphis in May World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest with our Mangalitsa pigs.
Geddes Martin, owner of the Inn at Ship Bay on Orcas Island, WA sent me the photo below of two of his pigs. Don't look down if you can't stand the sight of blood.
Geddes runs an inn, raises pigs, processes them into food and serves the food at his restaurant. This is a lot like an Austrian "Heuriger". Basically, a farm that sells its produce to the public on site.
We don't have many of them in the USA - they are very difficult to run and make profitable. As a result, when you do find them, they'll either be really low end (underground) or high end, like Inn at Ship Bay, La Provence (a Besh Restaurant Group restaurant), Csarda Haz or Willows Inn (another culinary destination on the San Juan Islands).
If you are running a high end place, and raising and processing your own animals, it makes sense to use the very best pigs available. Hence, these guys favor Mangalitsa pigs.
One neat thing is that in Austria, the farmer can kill the pig himself on the farm and take it to the state to get it inspected (something I mentioned in November 2007).
In the USA, unfortunately, we have to bring the slaughterhouse and inspector to the pig in a mobile slaughter unit, which is a lot more complicated! That's one reason why people either kill the pigs themselves (break the rules) or just buy meat from a meat distributor instead of raising their own pigs.
Geddes Martin actually goes through the trouble of keeping pigs and having the USDA mobile slaughter unit come out to his place. Unfortunately for him, that means they skin the pigs (instead of scalding), so he loses a bit.
The photo above shows two of Inn at Ship Bay's Mangalitsa pigs in a mobile slaughter unit. They've just been stunned and stuck. After the photo, they were skinned, gutted, etc.
The photo, gory as it is, reminds me that we get meat by killing animals. There's no way to avoid it.* It is too bad we have to kill them to eat them; they are quite entertaining, even if they aren't sweet; they spend pretty much all day teaching each other who's boss.
So please, don't waste any meat - particularly not Mangalitsa.
* As soon as we've got vat-grown meat that is as good or better than Mangalitsa, I'll switch to it.
Monsoon (Capitol Hill in Seattle) does a mean Mangalitsa neck. Above is a photo by Dr Mike Eades, half of the polymath duo "The Eadses". We ate there on Easter.
I recently ate the neck at Monsoon with Lee Anne Wong and my multi-talented friend Chris.*
Chris took a sample of Monsoon's sauce home and came up with the following recipe.
300g Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce
90g lime juice
20g white soy sauce
20g fresh ginger - small dice
10g fish sauce
10g scallion greens - thin slice
There's no reason to think that Monsoon's recipe is exactly the same as Chris's, of course. It does taste very good though.
Besides putting it on meat, he says putting it on crunchy vegetables like cucumbers makes a great salad.
* Among other things, he's got a sous vide rig, rotovap and enough kitchen ridiculous equipment at home that he can cook along the lines of Alinea in his own kitchen. These are the sorts of people who love Mangalitsa.
Monday, May 9, 2011
This year the folks at Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q and friends have formed a team of people with a common belief in the celebration and brotherhood of barbecue. The team is comprised of James Beard award winners, celebrated pitmasters, chefs and Southern culturists to create the team Fatback Collective.
This all-star team includes Jim ‘N Nick’s founder Nick Pihakis (Birmingham, AL), Jim ‘N Nick’s Chef Drew Robinson (Birmingham, Ala.), Chef Donald Link of Link Restaurant Group (New Orleans), Chef Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon (New Orleans), Chef Ryan Prewitt of Herbsaint (New Orleans), Chef John Currence of City Grocery (Oxford, Miss.), Chef Sean Brock of Husk (Charleston, S.C.), Sam Jones of Skylight Inn Barbecue (Aden, N.C.), Pat Martin of Martin’s Barbeque Joint (Nolensville, Tenn.) and Rodney Scott of Scott’s BBQ (Hemingway, S.C.). Fatback Collective will compete in the whole hog category against top pitmasters around the country.
This is a fairly big recall. Approximately 6 tractor-trailers worth of product. That food is likely all going to get thrown away.
One sees these cringe-inducing recall notices so often. If the recall happened to anyone but a giant producer, it would probably wipe them out.
The reason for the recall is typical: the label on the product doesn't correspond to what's in the product. E.g. there's some whey or soy or milk or peanuts in the product, when the label does doesn't list soy (a known allergen) milk (a known allergen) or peanuts (a known allergen) in the list of ingredients.
Typically there's a statement in the recall notice that nobody got sick from the misbranded product.
It really is horrific how much product gets recalled, due to one stupid reason or another. Most consumers don't benefit from this. If anything, the regulatory system just costs them money, in the form of unnecessary and expensive recalls that don't improve things.
It all makes me wonder, why don't the labels on meat products just state, as a matter of course: "may contain whey, milk, soy and or peanuts"? The product most likely won't contain those things - but at least the packers would be able to avoid recalls if any of those 4 major allergens accidentally found their way into the products.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
To my knowledge (which tends to be accurate on this topic), this is the first time anyone has entered Mangalitsa pigs in a barbecue competition in the Western Hemisphere. I asked the herdsman to take a picture of them for posterity's sake.
These pigs were bred in Iowa, fattened in Iowa and Missouri and they'll get eaten in Tennessee.
They look quite exotic to me. If I was entering the competition with a regular pink pig and I saw these - and then read this sort of stuff - I'd be concerned.
I'm hoping the pigs do so well that competitive barbecue enthusiasts all decide that they need to "Mangalitsa up" in order to win.
Lee Anne Wong and I visited Serious Pie and Monsoon Capitol Hill. She took the photo of the cured Mangalitsa products they make at Serious Pie.
It was neat to hang out with her. I was surprised to find out that she's a big Mangalitsa fan.
Among other things, she's eaten Mangalitsa products from our pig & pork customers across the USA, including Mosefund in NJ and the stuff made in New Orleans by the Besh Restaurant Group.
She agreed that the products at Serious Pie, made by Curemaster Kenan Fox, are excellent.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
If you look at their website, you might think they are still making their international award-winning cheese. In truth, they aren't. I'm aware of what happened to them because for the last few months, I've been worried for them. I've been calling them and getting updates.
Anthony explained to me that they aren't making food anymore.* Basically, if you make food, you have to deal with the FDA, USDA or WSDA. In the case of the Estrellas, they ran into trouble with the FDA over food safety, and those problems destroyed them financially and drove them out of the food business.
It is very unfortunate. In a very short period of time, the Estrellas acquired cattle with optimal genetics for cheese making, established their cheese operation, made a bunch of international award-winning cheeses and then got shut down by the government due to food safety issues.
The fact that they won awards in London really impressed me; it means their cheese wasn't just better than American cheeses (which generally aren't the best in the world), but foreign cheese too.
The whole incident is very complicated. From talking to people and doing research, I know that I don't know what the perfect outcome would have been. Basically, if you look for listeria hard enough at any creamery, you'll probably find it. As a result of the government's actions, the Estrella's are ruined, and it isn't clear that our food system is any safer as a result.
The FDA makes their general attitude clear in this press release:
Basically, they prioritize safety over everything.
The first rule strengthens FDA’s ability to prevent potentially unsafe food from entering commerce. It allows the FDA to administratively detain food the agency believes has been produced under insanitary or unsafe conditions. Previously, the FDA’s ability to detain food products applied only when the agency had credible evidence that a food product presented was contaminated or mislabeled in a way that presented a threat of serious adverse health consequences or death to humans or animals.
Beginning July, the FDA will be able to detain food products that it has reason to believe are adulterated or misbranded for up to 30 days, if needed, to ensure they are kept out of the marketplace. The products will be kept out of the marketplace while the agency determines whether an enforcement action such as seizure or federal injunction against distribution of the product in commerce, is necessary.
When you consider that food is perishable, and that time is of the essence, it is clear that the FDA's bureaucrats can easily ruin food producers.
In general, what happened to the Estrellas reminds me of the tradeoffs inherent in our food regulation system. We have a very safe and cheap food supply. But most of our food doesn't taste very good. If you think America's "artisanal" food does taste great, you probably haven't traveled and sought out really great food.**
I'd rather live in a world where adults can choose to take their life in their hands and eat really good raw milk cheese from people like the Estrellas. But I'm also the sort of guy to drink moonshine and eat uninspected meat. It drives me nuts that you can get better tasting food in poor countries like Slovakia or Serbia than you can in the USA, the richest country on earth.
One of the reasons I founded Heath Putnam Farms is that it seemed like I couldn't be the only one bothered that the USA's pork products didn't measure up to what Hungary could produce and export to Asia.
Don't get me wrong - Hungarians are amazing, and punch way above their weight, especially in food. But shouldn't America be able to beat them on quality, if only because we have so much more money to throw at the problem, and a huge domestic market to support the consumption of good food?
I know a lot more now. Basically, Americans want cheap food. A lot of "foodies" like to eat something slightly better than mediocre and pat themselves on the back for it. There's a ridiculously small segment of the population that wants to eat really great stuff, and will do what it takes to get it.
* Anthony said they'll sell live animals to people. Those people will be responsible for turning the animals into food.
** I'm not trying to sound like a jerk. That's just my experience. I've had better tomatoes from Bosnia than I've ever had from California. Spain produces better almonds than California. Hungarian salami, made from "mangalica" pigs tastes better than all "artisanal" American salami I've had. "Factory farmed" Iberico pork tastes better than all non-Mangalitsa American pork, etc.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
I've been invited by Fatback Collective, one of the many teams competing.
I was originally contacted by Drew Robinson, team member and executive chef of Jim N Nicks Barbecue, a 28-location barbecue chain. He wanted to get some whole Mangalitsa pigs to barbecue. They were in the testing phase.
They held a cmpetition/experiment in Charleston. Besides the Mangalitsa, the tried barbecuing meat from Red Wattles, Ossabaw crosses, Berkshires, etc.
Unsurprisingly, everyone thought Mangalitsa tasted much better than the alternatives. That's not a surprise; it is in keeping with other meat science experiments.
I later found out that the team also includes James Beard Award-winning chefs John Currence, Stephen Stryjewski, Sean Brock and Donald Link . They've used Mangalitsa pigs before; Donald was the one who told the Jim 'n Nick's guys to consider Mangalitsa.
In the end, they decided they'd invite me out. Hopefully they'll win and I'll get to join them on stage. They actually flying me out. I'm humbled they are willing to do this - and I get to eat their Mangalitsa barbecue for free!
I think it is great that they picked Mangalitsa pigs in their bold attempt to win. I'm not surprised they settled on our pigs, but when a bunch of smart, talented, accomplished people, doing their best to win decide that you've got what they want, that means a lot. It is a major vote of confidence for Mangalitsa pigs.
These people work so hard to win. I can't reveal the details, but basically, they take a very rigorous approach to the problem. From the outside, competition barbecue doesn't look nearly so serious.
What's neat about the barbecue contest is that the judges taste blind and each team needs to produce pretty much the same food. Meat quality really ought to matter, so I think we've got a decent chance of winning.
I really hope the Fatback Collective wins, if only because they've really put their heart into it.
This is a major milestone for the Swallow-Bellied Mangalitsa breed. E.g. in 2007, we sold the first Mangalitsa to The French Laundry (3 Michelin stars). In 2011, we've got a team of barbecue innovators and Mangalitsa fans using Mangalitsa to try to win the Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Competition.