Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mangalitsa Festival in Budapest

There's a Mangalitsa festival in Budapest, starting Friday, February 8, ending Sunday, February 10.

It takes place in Budapest, in Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park. You can find more information here:

Photo by Scott Eklund.

If you'd like to eat Mangalitsa, but don't want to go all the way to Europe, you can buy it in Seattle at the U-District Farmers Market (Saturdays) from Wooly Pigs. Wooly Pigs is the only producer of Mangalitsa in the Americas.

Above you can see some of our beautiful, free-ranging Mangalitsa pigs, enjoying a snowy day. Their taste is incomparable with typical pork, because of their incredible fat.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Planet Organics and Wooly Pigs Shoulder Bacon

If you are lucky enough to live in the Bay Area, you can have
our (Wooly Pigs) Berkshire shoulder bacon delivered to your
doorstep - by Planet Organics.

Shoulder bacon is a fairly exotic product in the Bay Area -
and ours is even more unusual, because of the care we take to
produce the best raw material for making shoulder bacon (and
other cured products).

Part of importing the Mangalitsa was learning how Austrians
raise hogs in order to produce the best cured products.
  • The breed, Berkshire, produces better meat and fat than typical hogs.
  • They are about a year old. That's double the age of normal hogs. Older hogs taste meatier and have much nicer fat than younger hogs.
  • The finishing diet, barley, wheat and hay, produces better fat than the standard corn/soy diet. All the cured products taste better as a result.

Shoulder bacon is a wet cured, smoked hog shoulder. It is a very
meaty product, and very convenient to use in the kitchen.

Planet Organics has a small amount of this stuff. If you live in
the Bay Area and like good cured meat, I urge you to order some

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Notorious C.U.T.

When we got our Mangalitsa pigs cut and wrapped recently. Tom and Larry Ellestad of Vern's Moses Lake Meats gave me a lot of tips on how to cut the pigs. Larry Ellestad pointed out that due to the pigs being so young, we'd better leave a strip of belly on the ribs.

That's a known problem with Mangalitsa pigs: they mature slowly, so the bellies of young pigs are small and quite fatty - there's almost nothing there.

I didn't really understand Larry's suggestion - because I imagined he meant to cut along the ribs somehow, which, as the picture shows, he didn't:

They labeled this cut "spareribs." It might as well be named "belly" - as there's more belly on there than ribs.

Larry's cut is very smart. The ribs contribute a lot of flavor, and the rib meat is wonderful. Serious foodies who've bought this cut are already very happy - like this one.

One thing I like about this is that this is the first American interpretation of Mangalitsa. In Austria, they like to do fancy butchery, with minimum use of the bandsaw. Larry's cut (through the ribs) is made possible by liberal use of the bandsaw.

I just saw today that Rebekah Denn (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) cooked up her spareribs - and she's got a glowing report, along with a very nice photograph of the dish, which looks really "cave man" with the ribs poking out. Here's her photo:

I'm wondering what to call this cut, and am soliciting suggestions. "Spareribs" doesn't do it justice. Its got belly, fat and ribs. This cut "goes to 11." Around the home, we call this the "Notorious C.U.T." - but we are looking for a more apt term. If you have a suggestion, please leave it in a comment.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Thanks to Our Customers

Wooly Pigs's Heath and Zuzi would like to thank everyone who helped to make Saturday a big success. We actually managed to bring the first batch of Mangalitsa to the American public.

It has taken us more than a year, a lot of money, sweat, tears, study and work-related injuries to make this happen. We know more about animal importation, hog fattening, fatty acids, cold storage, butchery, LTL freight, pig herding, electric fences, pig reproduction, jowls, pig noises, castration, ear notching, forage crops, pig scalding, boss sows and pig estrus than we ever thought we'd know.

Many, many peopled helped us to get that first meat to market. We can't list them all here, because we're sure we'll forget to list someone important.

Right now I'd like to thank the customers who showed up on Saturday to buy the very first Mangalitsa ever sold retail in the USA. We really didn't know if you were coming or not.

All along, we've figured that if Europe has the top 1% of its pork products made from Mangalitsa or similar pigs, America, a market of 300 million people - without anything like Mangalitsa - would embrace us. It isn't clear if we'll succeed or not, but the fact that so many of you showed up and paid us for our novel meat (raised sustainably and humanely) gives us faith.

Thank you very much!

PS - If you bought Mangalitsa and are wondering how to prepare it, please check this out, and read the comments too.

Mangalitsa Festival in Napkor

There's a neat pig slaughter festival in Hungary, featuring Mangalitsa pigs.

The video and story are here. It is too bad that they characterise the pig as "particularly hairy" instead of "particularly marbled", "particularly flavorful" or "particularly Hungarian."

Hungarians have a very special relationship to Mangalitsa. Not only did the Hungarians create the breed, but they say that the pig saved the Hungarians during the 150-year Turkish occupation. Supposedly the Turks took everything but the pigs, forcing the Hungarians to live off their pigs, who ate what they found in the forests.

Many Hungarians consider the Mangalitsa their pig. For example, I got chided by a Hungarian for using the English spelling, "mangalitsa", instead of the Hungarian "mangalica." Having known a few Hungarians, I knew it was coming. I hope she accepted my explanation: if we'd gone with the Hungarian spelling, Americans wouldn't have much chance of pronouncing it properly. E.g. is there a non-Magyar American who knows how to pronounce Szombathely?

It is hard for Americans to comprehend how a people could be so proprietary about their animals. The only example I could think of was Masai with their cattle: the breed is tough and perfectly adapted to their environment (semi-arid conditions without water), and the Masai need the animals in order to live.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Killing Pigs Next Wednesday

We'll be killing pigs on the farm next Wednesday. They are a very good deal, and it isn't too late to order one.

They are year-old Berkshire hogs, around 400 lbs live, finished so that they have excellent fat optimal for curing. Killing them on-farm is optimal, as we don't have to stress them by loading and transporting them to slaughter. If you look at how things should be done, we do it correctly: breed, feed, keeping outdoors, older hogs, low-stress.

A half a hog produces about 100 lbs of cured and smoked product (bacon, shoulder bacon, jowl bacon, ham, sausage, fatback, etc.), and costs (with processing) about $600. The stuff looks like this, and in my opinion, tastes better than the stuff we sell at the farmers market. Due to the wholesale nature of the purchase, it is a lot more affordable. You can either pickup your meat in Clayton, WA, or we'll get it to western WA for a fee.

If you are interested in this offer, please contact me via phone (509-536-4083), or meet us at the University District Farmers Market this weekend in Seattle. I'll need to get your money very soon, because you have to own the animal before we kill it.

The picture above is Curt, the butcher, with such a hog on the rail of his mobile slaughter vehicle. Watching Curt kill that hog was very interesting, because the hog never saw it coming. One moment he was having a normal day digging in the dirt, soon after he was pork. A few weeks later he was a bunch of fantastic cured product.

That pig had it very good - he got to live to a nice old life outside with other pigs, and when it was his time to go, it was over instantly. I suspect more people die more miserably.

Below there is (clockwise from top) shoulder bacon, loin bacon, ham, bacon, smoked fatback and jowl bacon.

You need about 4 cubic feet to store 100# of meat. Such a freezer is cheap and doesn't take up much space.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Farm Photos

Scott Eklund, a photographer, visited the farm and took a bunch of photographs for us. To be fair to Scott, he said if I wanted to use some photos, he color-correct them for us, but I was too impatient, so I just used them.

The above is is one of my wife and me, with the first batch of Mangalitsa in the background. And here is my wife with one of our favorites sows, 25.

Sow 25 has been suspect for a long time - the Austrians almost didn't load her when we imported the pigs, because they figured she'd be a bad sow. There are some sows that cycle (estrus) continually, eat a lot of food and don't gain much weight - they may never produce a litter. She seemed to fit the type. She constantly follows humans around, hoping for a treat - which makes her endearing. If you ignore her and are holding food, she'll come up behind and nip you in the elbow, which isn't cute.

Recently she did have some babies - just 3 - but it turns out she's a bad mother. She sleeps with her butt to the door, so the pigs gather at the front of the hut, where they get cold and another sow can come and attack them. She also rejected one of her piglets, which froze to death. She'll probably be the first cull.

One point the Austrians made to us is that the problem animals are the ones the humans deal with, and hence have trouble culling. E.g. a sow that has a bad leg might wind up in a barn, where she'll get fed by humans every day. Once the pig is like a pet, it is hard to cull her.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Executive Chef Adam Stevenson's Advice on Mangalitsa Ham Steak Preparation

We recently submitted some Mangalitsa samples to a national magazine. I heard that the chef in charge of the photo shoot grilled the sample Mangalitsa ham steaks, and reported that it was tough.

Mangalitsa isn't like normal pork. Our Austrian friends warned us that every Mangalitsa producer has the problem that some customers buy the meat, prepare it like normal pork, and then complain that it is too tough. The standard Austrian advice is that people should cook it slowly, at a low temperature.

We got the hams cut into roughly 1lb steaks because one problem we've had is that farmers market customers don't want large packages of meat. One downside of such small cuts is that some people really want to grill them.

I asked Adam Stevenson, Executive Chef of Earth and Ocean, what we should advise people to do.
Here is his advice:
I would brine it first for a few days, then slowly roast or smoke under
200deg to internal temp of 165 or so, pork fat seems to break up and
become oily and mealy of roasted at/to higher temps. You could then
finish on the grill for final flavor and eye appeal.
Adam Stevenson and his staff prepare fantastic food. His prosciutto is the best I've had in Seattle, as is his Jadgrohwurst. Of course, I'm hoping that my customers, who got their Berkshire hogs in November, can equal or beat his prosciutto (based on our meat and fat quality) - but we'll have to wait and find out.

If you live in Seattle, I suggest you go get Adam's ham and cheese sandwich, made with his prosciutto (Cascade cured ham). My wife and I ordered one, and then immediately ordered another. It is an expensive sandwich, but in America, flavor is in very short supply.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Mangalitsa Delivery Update

On Friday night, we delivered the first batch of Mangalitsa pigs to our Seattle-area customers. The restaurants are:

This is the first time that American restaurants (other than The French Laundry) have received Mangalitsa pigs.

As The Herbfarm was our last stop, we got to spend some time with Executive Chef Keith Luce and his staff, and watch as they unpacked and inspected our Mangalitsa pigs. It was intimidating to watch them all take turns bending over and sniffing the meat. Some of the chefs just stood stiffly, poker faced, watching everything We'd never experienced that before. We had no reason to think they'd be disappointed, but we got nervous nevertheless.

A bit later Keith showed us a ham that he's curing, along with many other traditional products. He and his staff made the ham from the 400+ lb Berkshire that we delivered to him in November. He said that the lardo was already cured and gone, which really surprised us - they must have been using it a lot.

He gave us a sample of some cured loin from our Berkshire hog, which was some of the finest cured meat we'd eaten in America. He offered us a few pieces on a plate, and we had to resist the urge to eat it all very quickly, like pigs.

Mangalitsa Head Meat

When I went to the butcher recently, I picked up two Mangalitsa heads. I took them home to make stock and get the head meat. The meat in the plastic container is meat from the two heads. The meat is darker than typical pork, and it has a stronger flavor. The jaw muscle is a real treat - very lean, flavorful meat, but very tough.

The bottom teeth of the pigs don't look very sharp, but pigs can easily break skin when they use them. If a pig, even a piglet, bites you with those back teeth, it really hurts.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Mangalitsa Debut - The Cuts for January 19th.

I have some rough photos of the Mangalitsa cuts we'll be selling starting on January 19th, at the national debut of Mangalitsa at Seattle's U-District Farmers Market. Please excuse the photos looking washed out - I took them under the processor's fluorescent lights.

The pigs were around 5.5 months, so by Mangalitsa standards, they are young and small. Although some modern pigs would be "market weight" at 5.5 months, lard-type pigs grow very slowly. So there isn't much meat on them at that age.

Normally you'd roast such pigs (as we expect Lark, Le Gourmand, Sitka & Spruce, Stumbling Goat and The Herbfarm will), but seeing as we want to introduce American consumers to Mangalitsa, we need to give them things like chops and steaks so they can try it out easily.

A lot of people will probably find the fat on the cuts to be "excessive" - but if you go to Japan and see how they cut Iberico (an unimproved lard-type breed very similar to Mangalitsa), you'll see that it also has a lot of fat:
A lot of Americans have trouble understanding why you'd eat that fat - but once you've eaten it, you'll understand. Mangalitsa fat is particularly special!

Also, you can't see how the meat tastes from the photos - but if you could eat it, you'd agree that it has a very pleasant, meaty flavor. I just ate some cheek (I took the heads from my pigs), so it is fresh in my mind.

At the very top of the post, there's a photo of a chop. Here are some other chops:

Here's a fresh ham (behind it a chop):

And here's a shoulder roast:

And two pieces, each with a few tiny spareribs and a strip of belly (behind them some leaf lard and other cuts):

I'd never seen that last cut, which is basically some rib segments with some belly attached. The butcher, Larry Ellestad, says it is his favorite cut on a hog. You shouldn't use young hog bellies for bacon, so this seemed like a reasonable way to go.

Anyway, I hope I don't get attacked for not having them trim the fat. In countries that have pork like Mangalitsa, that's how it gets served.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Mangalitsa Piglets

Unlike normal pig breeds, Mangalitsa can farrow in winter with minimal assistance. One doesn't need to attend the birth, provide heat lamps or much else, assuming the sow can find some shelter and build a nest. The biggest danger is other pigs, who will, if given a chance, eat the piglets.

We "coddle" our Mangalitsa, providing them a small Port-a-Hut (we are the local dealers of this equipment) and straw or hay, which they pull into the hut to build a nest. We saw folks in Austria who just provide the pigs with old trailers and other junk to take shelter under. Humans providing animals warm, dry, clean shelter is a modern phenomenon without precedent - humans just didn't have the resources.

Some of our sows recently farrowed, so we've got photos.

In the beginning a Mangalitsa sow is especially protective of her piglets, and gets upset if someone visits the hut. She'll stand up and start barking. The piglet will typically run and hid behind his mother. It is astounding how they know to put a big pig between them and the potential threat. You can see that in these two photos - the first being a closeup of the second:

If you reach into the hut, the sow will bite. Most sows won't leave the hut when a human is around and the piglets so young. One way to grab a piglet (for instance, to castrate it) is to have someone distract the sow at the front of the hut, while someone else reaches in through the back window to grab the piglet, which will have run to the back to hide. All that bothers the sow a lot, so both people are taking their chances of getting bit. Most Mangalitsa breeders figure it just isn't worth the grief - you are better off handling the piglets when they are older, and the sow isn't so protective. Of course, late castration gets you in trouble with some people - but there aren't alternatives unless you confine the animals.

Mangalitsa breeders tolerate sows that are protective of their young because they generally wean the most piglets without human intervention. The sow that bites perceived threats also doesn't crush or savage her young. The sow that lets you pick up her squealing piglets without biting somebody is usually a bad mother.

This is the other view of the piglet that you see: a piglet's butt as he runs away behind the bulk of his mother.

When the piglets get a bit older, the sow mellows out a bit. Then it is possible to approach the hut and take some photos, and perhaps not get bit. When I took these photos, the sow was standing by my shoulder, and making agitated noises. Had the piglets squealed, I would have jumped up, to avoid getting bit in the face.

Finally, when the piglets get a bit older, they'll look like these guys, who aren't piglets or adults, but are still very cute:

One natural question is why the Mangalitsa is so different from normal pigs. The answer has to do with the history of pig breeds - essentially the Mangalitsa is a somewhat domesticated European Wild Boar. That explains the tremendous ability to fatten up, the special taste and fat quality and nearly everything else that makes the meat and fat superior to modern pork.

If you want to taste Mangalitsa, you can head to the U-District Farmers Market in Seattle on January 19, or you can head to a few Seattle-area restaurants (Lark, Le Gourmand, Sitka and Spruce, Stumbling Goat and The Herbfarm) after this Friday, when we deliver our first batch. When you are there, you might as well ask if you can try the very special Berkshire pork they got from Wooly Pigs.

Seattlest has more info on this.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Mangalitsa Pigs on Sale in USA For The First Time Ever

Mangalitsa pigs are for sale for the first time ever in the USA.

Wooly Pigs, the only importer and only producer of these very different hogs in the New World, delivered one of these a few months ago to The French Laundry - but now we've got about 60 of them that are ready to be killed and eaten. They are about 6 months (~120 lbs), so they should be used for fresh meat.

Most agree that Mangalitsa is incomparable with normal pork. Even when fed and raised properly, popular modern hogs (including Berkshire, Duroc, etc) aren't as succulent - just as a chicken, no matter how its fed or kept, can't taste like goose.

Some of our Seattle-area customers will get their first Mangalitsa later this month. Wooly Pigs will sell Mangalitsa cuts at Seattle's U-District Farmers Market starting January 19th.

If you'd like to buy some of these amazing pigs, please give me a call at (509) 536-4083.

Delivered to the Seattle area, a whole pig costs $500. We can also arrange delivery to the Bay Area or Portland, at a different price. If you want to fatten your own Mangalitsa, we'll sell you a live pig. We'll have Mangalitsa-Berkshire crosses for sale to farmers in Spring.

Need Hungarian Translation

There's an ominous looking news story involving some Mangalitsa pigs right here.

I'm not quite sure what the story is, and would appreciate if someone could supply a rough translation from Hungarian to English. From what I gather, the pig owner died and his Mangalitsa pigs ate him a bit. The cops are trying to figure out exactly what happened, but it is hard, because the pigs destroyed a lot of evidence.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Austrian Guy On No-nitrite Bacon - "Nitrite free: Where does the truth end?"

As I mentioned before, Austrian meat scientists are generally pro-nitrite and nitrate to a degree that Americans find shocking. Language barriers can prevent us from communicating - but sometimes a guy like Gerhard Feiner comes along, who writes in English.

His essay, "Nitrite free: Where does the truth end?"is the best thing I've seen so far on the fundamental problems of the current situation:
  • Consumers can't tell there's nitrates in the product - because the "celery juice" and "cane juice" listed on the label don't scream "nitrates".
  • Nitrites form in the product - but the consumer doesn't suspect that, as they don't appear on the label. Were nitrites added directly, they'd have to be listed on the label as preservatives, which would turn off consumers. So having nitrites form in the product pays off two ways.
  • You can get nitrosamines forming in the no-nitrite, no-nitrate product, just as in stuff with nitrites directly added. Hence, there isn't necessarily a health benefit to the no-nitrite, no-nitrate product.
  • Although the amount of nitrites that form in the no-nitrate, no-nitrite product are lower than in the ones where nitrite is added directly, when the consumer reads "no-nitrite", he figures there are no nitrites, not just fewer.
One point Feiner doesn't bring up is does the amount of nitrite in the product vary from batch to batch? One good thing about directly adding nitrites is that you have some handle on how much is going in. Is producing nitrites in a roundabout way from celery juice and cane juice just as regular and predictable?

I'd be happier if my products said "naturally cured", "no nitrite, no nitrate", as I'd make more money. And if I knew that there were lots of "natural" nitrites in the product, safeguarding the health of my customers, I'd sleep easier. Yet it seems terribly dishonest to produce meat products labeled "no nitrite, no nitrate" when the whole point of the processing is to get nitrites in there without any clues on the label.

Yet, based on prices we observe in the market, and feedback from customers - e.g. getting attacked for not having a "no-nitrite" bacon), people very much want meats cured with nitrites - they just don't want any clues to it on the label.

Two Great Pig Books

There's a new pig book out that includes hard to find info on raising pigs outdoors: "Dirt Hog", by Kelly Klober.

For a historical perspective on raising pigs, "Harris on the Pig" is the best. Harris's first edition appeared in 1870. He was an incredible biologist. One of my favorite parts read:
Of the desirable qualities in a pig, therefore, a vigorous appetite is of the first importance. A hog that will not eat, is of no more use than a mill that will not grind. And it is undoubtedly true that the more a pig will eat in proportion to its size, provided he can digest and assimilate it, the more profitable he will prove.