Thursday, May 29, 2008

Pig Visit

Zuzi and I visited the Herbfarm's Mangalitsa pigs today. Before we could reach the pigs, we saw the sign above. We didn't want to trespass, so before going any further, we found Bill Vingelen, The Herbfarm's Head Gardener, and arranged for an official tour.

Bill escorted us to the pigs, explaining that anyone who wants to visit with the pigs is advised to show up late Saturday morning or early Saturday afternoon - he wants to structure visits and reduce his workload. He's usually reachable at 425-485-5300 x124.

Bill Vingelen shows Zuzana Putnam The Herbfarm's Mangalitsa pigs.

Bill loves the pigs. Although he's very busy with the garden, he spends enough time with the pigs that they are very attached to him, and very relaxed around him. When he scratches one pig, the others want attention:

Since we last visited, Bill's put in a pole, so that they can scratch themselves. We got to watch some pigs use it, which was fun. Pigs don't have hands, so they can't easily scratch themselves. They like to scratch on things like trees and boulders. The pole is visible in front of the pigs' hut, in the picture below.

The Herbfarm's pigs are becoming very at home in their new surroundings. Even the little pigs are getting less skittsh. They looked bigger. They spent nearly all our visit rooting, which they are good at:

The pigs have so much food! Besides their feeder, they've got grass, herbs and beets. They were barely interested in our pig treats. Some of them were very curious about us. We petted and scratched the ones that came close to us.

I scratched one Mangalitsa, but another one (apparently jealous) came over and flopped on his side, demanding I scratch his belly. As I scratched him, one of the little pigs came over to see what was going on:

It was a ridiculously pleasant visit. The pigs seem happier than they were last week. They are giving so much personal attention to these 6 market hogs. Our breeding stock doesn't even get this much personal time.

It was great to meet Bill and see how much the pigs love to be around him, and how much he loves the pigs.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Kylan Hoover's Bay Area Acorn-fattened Mangalitsas

Kylan Hoover's Mangalitsa Pigs in the Diablo Range

Kylan Hoover (of Livermore, California's Red Mountain Farm) - aka Mr. Oak - bought Mangalitsa pigs from us and is finishing them on acorns. He's got some photos of his pigs and ranch on flickr. You can see them here.

His pigs are foraging and eating supplemental barley, as our pigs do. The difference is the quality of the forage - his oaks produce ideal pig fodder. Due to the breed, feed and how he's raising his pigs, Kylan's will be most like the iberico produced in Spain, which are used to make jamon iberico.

I've read a lot of hype and disinformation about Jamon Iberico. With the importation of iberico hams, journalists and others have been repeating falsehoods about the pigs (e.g. all iberico are finished on acorns). I wish more people understood what we (and Kylan Hoover) are doing and why, and that there are a lot of different ways to raise pigs, which produce better or worse results.

Here is some informative material that gets into the details of the fattening process - and it hints at why what Kylan Hoover is doing is so extraordinary and outstanding:
I started at the source, with the pigs, and I visited them during the montanera, the six-month period when they roam the woods, gorging on acorns. By the time they commence this final feast, the pigs are about two years old. At Joselito and the other best brands (notably, Sánchez Romero Carvajal of Jabugo), the breed of pig is pure ibérico; however, less-traditional companies have begun interbreeding the old race with modern varieties that fatten up faster and produce more piglets. Government regulations allow manufacturers to call any pig an ibérico if its parentage is at least three fourths from the ibérico breed...

There are indeed lesser forms of jamón ibérico, made from pigs that haven't consumed so many acorns. The highest category—jamón ibérico de bellota, "bellota" being Spanish for acorn—comes from animals that have put on at least one third of their weight by eating nothing but foraged acorns and grass (and the occasional snake) during the montanera. Ibérico pigs with a diet less heavy in acorns are classified as recebo; if they have eaten solely cereals, pienso. In an average year, there will be 4.5 million ibérico hams, but only one tenth of them are bellota. Even among the bellota hams, Joselito separates the largest and best shaped, distinguishing them as Reserva hams. Because the acorn crop varies each year depending on rainfall, ibérico ham is as vintage-dependent as wine. "The worst acorn crop of my life was in 2000," José Gómez says. "Forty percent of Joselito hams were put out under the second label, C. Jota."

The acorn-rich diet transforms the fat of jamón ibérico de bellota. Studies from the University of Extremadura indicate that more than half the ham's fat content is monounsaturated (the type that is in olive oil) rather than the artery-clogging saturated kind usually found in animals. Significantly, at room temperature the ham's fat virtually melts, like a vegetable oil. "When the pig is slaughtered, an analysis of the fat is done," Real Ibérico's Ullibarri explains. "You can see the correlation between the amount of acorns eaten and the percentage of oleic acid—which melts at room temperature—in the fat of the animal."
Kylan Hoover's Mangalitsa Pigs

If Kylan kills his oldest pigs this Fall, they'll be 15-months when they go to slaughter. I've read that the hogs killed for iberico products are as young as 15 months old, so he's in that zone. The older pigs he'll market this Fall are purebred, so they've got the best possible genetics. We are all hoping that he'll have a great acorn crop, so that the pigs he kills will be fattened entirely on forage.

Based on meat science, those 15-month pigs will be the best available in America in 2008. Although older would be better, there can't be any better stuff available in 2008, because nobody has older Mangalisa (or Iberico) pigs to slaughter.

If Kylan keeps some of his oldest pigs and kills them in Fall 2009, after fattening them on next year's acorns, they'll be like the Joselito pigs described in the article -- more than 2 years-old. Based on meat science, those pigs will be just as good as the best of Spain - because Mangalitsa and Iberico pork taste the same (the former sometimes being passed off as the latter), and for fattening pigs, the Diablo Range might as well be Extremadura.

It doesn't matter that Kylan Hoover doesn't come from an old-world family that's fattened hogs for generations: if he just follows the system, he will get the results.

As much as we are committed to raising the best pigs we can, it boggles my mind that Kylan Hoover is doing this, because he's going to have so much invested in his pigs by the time they finally go to slaughter.

Kylan Hoover has already sold several of his 15-month pigs - two of them to The French Laundry. Come November/December, people in the Bay Area will be eating absolutely fantastic Mangalitsa pork, processed and served by The French Laundry. Starting in November/December (depending on when they kill them), we'll see Bay Area foodies raving about Mangalitsa.

We feel we've done a good job exposing people to Mangalitsa with our marketing of the pork in the Seattle area - but it is folks like Kylan Hoover, The Herbfarm's Keith Luce and Devin Knell and The French Laundry's staff who are going to really help carry things forward.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Woodinville Pigs

Zuzi and I went and visited the Mangalitsa pigs in Woodinville recently. As expected, they've wiped out the grass. It looks like The herdsman put some straw in there to make it less muddy and a bit more attractive:

The picture at the top shows a Mangalitsa eating a carrot. Pigs like carrots a lot. They are good pig treats because pigs like them and can't eat them very fast (unlike cookies). Even though the pigs are clearly being fed all they can eat (I saw some uneaten beets in their pen), they mustered some interest in the carrots.

The pigs have dug a wallow near their feeder. That allows them to cool down, but increases the smell. It smells a lot stronger than it did a week ago. I wish there was some way to capture that in writing.

The Mangalitsa-Berkshire piglets liked the carrots too:

I'm very curious about how they'll taste.

EDIT: I was looking at the comments and I saw that Snakeman took a fabulous photo of a Woodinville Mangalitsa pig. I'm putting it here so that more people will see how cute these pigs are - even when 9-months old:
Photo by Snakeman (Mark Silver)

Snakeman - if for some reason you want me to stop using your photo, please just say and I'll stop.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mangalitsa and Wild Boar

Recently a customer was asking how similar Mangalitsa is to the wild boar she had in Italy. The standard answer is that Mangalitsa is tasty like wild boar, but a lot more marbled and fatty.

Of the domesticated pig breeds, the Mangalitsa closely resemble wild boar in many important aspects:
  • Small litters
  • Good mothering by the sows
  • Slow growth
  • Hardiness, disease resistance
  • Foraging ability
  • Tolerate awful weather
Most domesticated pigs, in contrast:
  • Have big litters
  • Have bad mothering traits
  • Grow quickly
  • Need a lot of vaccinations and other meds to thrive
  • Can't forage well
  • Don't tolerate extreme weather well

The USDA's APHIS has a very informative page on wild boar. They concentrate a lot on the danger to our agriculture (instead of the wild boar's meat quality), because it is their job to protect the USA's agriculture from disease and similar threats:
"Hunters, farmers, and landowners should be aware that wild pigs can harbor infectious diseases and can destroy crops, livestock pastures, native plants, and wildlife habitat. Moving wild pigs to new areas or allowing them onto farms that have domestic pigs can have disastrous consequences"
Some people think wild boar are responsible for e. coli contamination in one farm's spinach that killed a few people and sickened 200. Part of the article reminds me of what it is like to keep pigs:
"There is lots of evidence for pigs damaging fenced off areas ... rooting, knocking fences down,''
Pigs love to attack the fence. They'll do it even when there isn't acres of tasty spinach on the other side.

Given the similarities between Mangalitsa and wild boar, I decided to see what the library had on wild boar. So I picked up a neat book for kids called "Wild Boars" by Darrel Nicholson. Here's the cover:

The book has plenty of pictures showing wild boar piglets. They look a lot like Mangalitsa piglets and Mangalitsa-Berkshire piglets. Here are a few of the photos:

Wild Boar sow with piglets

Here's a closeups of wild boar piglets, looking a lot like our Mangalitsa-Berkshire piglets:

Wild Boar Piglets

The Mangalitsa sow also patiently nurses her piglets as they get big and annoying, like this sow:

One thing I like about the book is that it mentions how much pigs love to eat meat. Here you can see the piglets having a feeding frenzy:

It is hard to imagine what this is like, unless you've seen it up close. Below are some videos of Mangalitsa piglets feeding.

I think it is funny when a pig gets a mouthful of food and he tries to run away from the other pigs so he can eat his food without other pigs stealing it:

Another thing the book gets into is how terribly destructive the pigs are. I mentioned this a bit here, but in this next photo, you can see that the sow has done a lot of destructive rooting. She and her piglets are having wonderful family time ripping up the ground together.

One thing we noticed about our Mangalitsa pigs last winter was how much foraging they did. Just like the wild boar in the photo below, they kept busy, even in cold weather.
I feel sorry for the tree.

There is a nice mention of them eating animals that didn't survive the winter, and eating those animals too sluggish to get away. I'd never considered that before, but it makes sense. Those hibernating snakes don't have a chance.

Although the voracious nature of pigs seems terrible, their willingness to eat nearly anything and turn it into pork is why humans get along so well with pigs. For centuries, we've been feeding them stuff that would otherwise go to waste.

The book closes with a very cute photo and some text about how it is the humans that brought them:

Since the book came out, things have changed. Wild boar are increasing their range throughout the USA:

It is awful that the pigs are in the Midwest, where many commercial farms are. The wild boar will likely spread diseases to the domesticated pigs, causing huge losses. The problem has to do with wild boar being so disease resistant: they act as reservoirs for serious diseases.

The spread of wild boar to Upper Peninsula (MI) is hard to explain by gradual movement of the pigs. It could be that humans captured them and released them, for hunting, just as De Soto did.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Herbfarm Becomes "The Herb and Pig Farm"

The Herbfarm's Keith Luce visiting our farm.
Mangalitsa pigs in background looking on.

The Herbfarm has been one of our best customers since we started selling pigs.

With the arrival of the new Executive Chef Keith Luce, they started using whole pigs. That's great for small farmers like us, because we can't easily sell pork in smaller portions - the complexities of distributing pork and processing the unsold parts (and selling them later) would be too great.

Keith Luce has a lot of goodwill with us. One night, due to miscommunication with another chef, we had an extra Mangalitsa carcass. Chef Luce bought it from us, paying full price. Given that a Mangalitsa carcass is an expensive perishable, that really helped us out of a bad situation!

Chef Luce has also given us feedback that we've pased on to our slaughterhouse, helping to improve the quality of all the meat that we sell. Very few customers take their meat so seriously.

Their approach already so hands-on, I suggested to them, back in January, that they should buy their own Mangalitsa pigs, fatten them and slaughter them. I figured that they'd get a number of advantages:
  • By raising their own animals, they directly control the quality of the raw material.
  • They can fatten their few pigs at a higher standard than ours, by feeding them special food - e.g. acorns, or olein-rich feed like hazelnuts. They'll also feed them antioxidant-rich herbs, which are known to produce better pork for cured products.
  • By choosing when to slaughter, they get them exactly as fat as they want.
  • If they need to, they can kill pigs and have them in their kitchen on short notice.
  • It is a lot cheaper to move a trailer of live pigs than many chilled carcasses on many different days. Buying a bunch of live pigs saves them money.
  • By owning Mangalitsa, they ensure they've got them handy when they need them. Rather than talking to us and trying to get a delivery - perhaps finding out that we don't have any pigs available - they just have to call the slaughterhouse and run one of their pigs in.
Part of the deal was that we help them come up with a feeding program that will produce pork of the highest quality. If someone buys our pigs, we want them to make the most of them, so we teach them what we learned in Europe.

Heath Putnam with two Mangalitsa-Berkshire crosses, loading them into the Herbfarm's trailer.

It took them several months to get ready to keep pigs, but it finally worked out. So last Monday (May 12), Chef Luce and 3 Herbfarm employees made the long trek out to our farm in eastern WA to pick up their pigs. We sold them 5 Mangalitsa and 2 Mangalitsa-Berkshire crosses.

Keith Luce shaking my hand after loading the pigs.

Loading the pigs was uneventful. We backed our trailer up to theirs and moved the big pigs from one to the other. I carried the two piglets myself to their section in the trailer.

Trailer loaded and ready to go, Chef Luce looks happy to own some pigs.

We visited their farm a few days later. One of the pigs had already been moved to a different farm, the Willows Inn in Bellevue, but we could see all the other pigs and their new home. They looked settled in, and already very spoiled.

My wife and I were both struck at how much the farm looked like the small ones we saw in Austria. Woodinville is a very beautiful place.

They ignored our bread that we brought for them. We found out their feeder was full of very high-protein feed, so they weren't looking for a handout. Chef Luce told us that, somewhat ridiculously, the pigs are eating organic feed.

We were very impressed with their little pigpen, which looked as new as can be. We laughed at how they'd already muddied up their hut and dug up a bunch of the grass.

Of course, if the pigs ever decide to bust out of their pen, it won't keep them. They can leap over it if they want, they've got all day to short out the hotwire by shoving something against it, and once they get big enough, they can just bust through by pushing on it hard enough.

The only thing that's going to keep those pigs in that pen is a feeder full of tasty food.

The pigs looked at home:

They'd already done quite a bit of rooting, which you can see in this next photo. Their yard will be all dirt in a few days. The damage they do to a pasture is astounding.

We threw in some food to lure some over:

We thought the piglets were particularly cute.

Mangalitsa-Berkshire piglet

My wife tried to be nice to them. They were wary though, like most piglets:

My wife tried to interest a Mangalitsa in a flower.

Another Mangalitsa looked prehistoric:

Knowing the story of these pigs, it was just amazing to see them in Woodinville at The Herbfarm. The Mangalitsa pigs were conceived in Austria, born in the USDA's quarantine center in NY, trucked to eastern WA and finally brought, by Keith Luce to The Herbfarm.

They'll live for quite a while at the Herbfarm. When their time comes, they'll get processed by Keith Luce and his staff into things like cured products.

Seeing the pigs in their new home, knowing that they'll be getting treated so lovingly and processed with so much care by Keith Luce and his staff really made our day.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

"Their story is fascinating and their product is incredible..."

Photo by Jeff

I happened across the blog of a customer who writes about Wooly Pigs:
"Their story is fascinating and their product is incredible. We certainly will never taste pork roast in the same way. Their bacon is just as good, with a thick, chewy and meatier taste. We have done a couple of Mangaliste [sic] roasts, but this was the first taste of the bacon, and we are now fans as well."
That's very nice!

One interesting thing - Jeff is interested in sous vide cooking. I've been surprised at how many of our other customers do that stuff too. E.g. Devin Knell and Chadzilla. I have yet to hear of anyone preparing Mangalitsa sous vide.

Friday, May 9, 2008

U-District Farmers Market Change

We'll be in a different part of the U-District Farmers Market tomorrow. The regular market season is beginning so we've been moved.

Instead of being along the Brooklyn Ave NE side, we'll be along the NE 50th side, close to University Way NE.

We'll have a variety of Berkshire and Mangalitsa pork, including small portions of Mangalitsa belly.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mangalitsa Heart

I got a nice message with photo from a customer today. Here is his email (the photo is above):

Picked up a nice Mangalitsa heart from you last Saturday. Cooked it last night and it came out great! A very simple preparation: marinated in soy, sherry and a few other Asian things, then garlic, carrot, onion, and a little splash of stock plus a super hot pan. I can't normally get my wife to eat much of the "nasty bits", but she cleaned her plate.
My wife and I distinguish between muscles like the heart, tongue and jaw muscle and things like liver and kidneys. We eat the muscles without any reservation. We'll fight (like pigs) over the jaw muscles, which are particularly tasty.

I heard that in Spain they remove cuts like the eye muscles, which have an official designation and get marketed, the way we'd market the trotters or picnics.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Brad Mohr's Mangalitsa Roast

Photo by Brad Mohr

Bard Mohr just wrote about his Mangalitsa roast. The photo above is his. It is great to read stuff like:
It was the most amazing and unique pork I've ever tasted. Rich and flavorful in an almost beefy sort of way. Even the juiciest, best-prepared roast pork often has a very firm cardboardy texture. This had none of that. And that fat! I should mention that I've never been one to blindly chow down on fat; I'll trim away even a thin band of fat from my meat before it goes in my mouth. But this stuff was completely different. It was light and almost airy; soft enough to spread (say, in place of butter on a nice hunk of crusty bread). And the outermost layer was salty and crispy and smokey.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Greg Atkinson's Mangalitsa Pork Belly Recipe

Below is an email I received today from Greg Atkinson:


It was good meeting you on Saturday morning. I was delighted to try the Mangalitsa Pork Belly.

We brought the belly home and braised it with aromatic vegetables. It was pretty amazing. It seems to me that only the most devoted fat lovers would appreciate this sort of thing. But appreciate it we did. The fat has a very appealing foie gras-like consistency and flavor.

I'll be reporting on farmer's market pork in an upcoming issue of Pacific Northwest magazine, the Sunday newsmagazine of The Seattle Times.

Here's the formula I developed to braise the belly:

Pork Bell Braised with Aromatic Vegetables and Beluga Lentils and Broccoli Raab

An old cast-iron skillet with a close-fitting lid was my first choice as a vessel for braising the pork belly. A heavy, enameled pan (like a Le Crueset) would also work well. Except for the initial bit of fat that melted when I seared the belly, the fat did not melt out of the fragile structure, but remained suspended in a delicate matrix until it fell away with the nudge of a fork.

For the Pork Belly:

1 (1.5 to 2 pound) bone-in, skin-on pork belly, cut into two pieces
1 large leek, white and pale green parts only, cleaned and sliced thin
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 stalk celery, cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
3 "coins" of ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed black pepeprcorns
2 cups chicken broth
For the Lentils and the broccoli raab:
3 cups water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 bay leaves
1 cup Beluga (small, black)
1 bunch fresh broccoli raab, or other braising green

1.) Gently sear the pork belly, skin-side-down, bone-side-up in a dry cast iron skillet over medium heat until a few tablespoons of the fat is rendered and the skin is beginning to brown. Reduce heat to medium-low to prevent the fat from smoking and keep searing until the underside of the pork belly is a deep golden brown.

2.) Preheat the oven to 300. Remove the pork from the pan and pour off all but a tablespoon of the fat left behind. Raise the heat back up to medium and saute the leek, carrot, celery, ginger and garlic in the pork fat in the pan until the vegetables are just beginning to color. Pour in the chicken broth and plant the pork, skin-side-up on top of the vegetables. Cover the pan and move it to the oven. Allow the pork to braise for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the fat and meat are falling-off-the-bone tender.

3.) To cook the lentils, bring the water to a full rolling boil with the salt and bay leaves and stir in the lentils. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and simmer until the lentils are very soft, but still holding together, about 30 minutes.

4.) With a slotted spatula, lift the pork belly out of the braising pan and let it rest on a cutting board while you cook the broccoli raab. Strain about a half cup of the pan juices from the pork over the lentils, and discrad the solids. In the remaining pan juices, cook the broccoli raab over medium-high heat until it turns a dark emerald green, about 3 minutes.

5.) Plant a spoonful of lentils in the center of each of four large serving plates. Distribute the broccoli raab between the four plates arranging the greens in a wreath around the lentils. Cut each piece of the pork belly into two pieces and put a piece, skin-side up on top of each pile of lentils.

Best wishes,

Greg Atkinson
Culinary Consulting
5190 Eagle Harbor Drive
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
(206) 947-8636

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Mangalitsa Pork Belly - Favorite of the Night, Not Enough to Go Around

One of our recent customers catered a 10 course dinner. He wrote:
Sadly, the next course, which was the favorite of the night, didn't get a picture. It was Mangalitsa Pork Belly slow braised in Guiness and topped with Bourbon BBQ Sauce and Shaved Black Truffles. It was served with Cheesy (9 year aged cheddar) Grits and Molasses Sauteed Collard Greens. The only criticism we received was that they didn't get enough.

Among other things, the Mangalitsa belly beat out oysters, lobster, lumpfish caviar, red snapper, scallops, foie gras and lamb.