Friday, October 31, 2008

Mangalitsa Breeding, Animal Genetic Resources of the USSR

For people interested in pigs and pig breeding, there's Animal genetic resources of the USSR. Soviet agricultural scientists constructed synthetic breeds in an attempt to meet their exact needs.

Just as the French constructed a breed for the Haitians, the Soviets constructed breeds to fit their climates. One of the breeds was based on the Mangalitsa. They called it a Mangalitskaya (it is near the bottom of the document).

Blonde Mangalitsa Boar

The history of the Mangalitsa says that the various Mangalitsa breeds were created in the 1800s by crossing half-wild pigs with lardy ones, a process somewhat similar to the Soviet process. As the Hungarians switched from running hogs completely extensively (outside) on forage to fattening them in pens on grain, they needed fatter hogs.Quoting Dr. Radnóczi Lászlo:
In period of the development of the breed the main purpose of hog keeping was to utilize the wet, swampy pastures and forests. The typical breeds of the 18th century were the "reed-hog" from the Great Hungarian Plain and the "Bakonyi" from the woods of the Transdanubian hills, whereas the voluminous, red coloured "Szalontai" was found in the eastern border of the Great Hungarian Plain. Late maturity, slow growth, poor dressing percentage and tough meet, stingy, substandard bacon were characteristic of these breeds. Their advantage was the resistance to the rigours of weather and diseases., The so called "spiny" hogs, which did not differ much from the wild boar, as they were outstanding runners and ready to bite, were the most hardy breeds in the Carpathian Mountains.

The half-wild herds walked around the forests and grazing lands all the year round, the sows farrowed in self-made nests placed in reeds and shrub bottom . Piglets constantly following the sow, grew into skinny young pigs on the poor grazing lands, spent the winter outside and by digging up scraps left on agricultural lands or by acorn mast they put on some meat and bacon, thus became suitable for slaughtering at two years old...

As a result of the wider use of maize production and the ploughing of forests and grazing lands and forming to arable area, there was a radical change in the conditions of keeping and feeding from the second half of the 18th century. In the 19th century the regulation of the river-ways accelerated this process. Due to the change of market requirements, there was a greater demand for fat and bacon of good quality and less fibrous meat.

The extensive husbandry could not cope with these conditions. The old breeds, such as Bakonyi and Szalontai were taken to the farmyards of the domains and the small owners, fed with maize and crossed with the "Sumadia" breed of Serbian origin. The constitution of the animals have gradually changed and the "fat-type" hogs were developed. Sows of the
slow growing type were mated with the "new-type" boars...
Swallow-bellied Mangalitsa Boar

The three varieties of Mangalitsa are genetically distinct, which the DNA shows, because the Hungarians first created the blonde Mangalitsa and then the red and swallow-bellied. People don't talk about it much, but the original breeds used to construct the Mangalitsa don't exist anymore, because it didn't pay to maintain them. Today's pork producers likewise abandon genetics that don't pay - explaining why besides Wooly Pig's recently imported Mangalitsa herd, there are no other commercially viable lard-type breeds in North America.

If you read about the Soviet synthetic breeds, you'll see that at times, they crossed wild boar with other existing breeds in order to produce tough, disease-resistant animals. That's not very different from the Hungarians crossing lardy hogs with their half-wild breeds, to produce tasty ones.

Red Mangalitsa boar

Later on, the Hungarians bred Duroc into the Red Mangalitsa herd. The red Mangalitsa herd grew so inbred that they had to mix in other pigs to prevent the breed from vanishing. They attempted to keep the meat and fat quality and foraging ability the same.

Blonde and Red Mangalitsa

As a result of the crossbreeding, the red Mangalitsa have more snub noses, larger testes, larger penis sheaths and blockier bodies than the other Mangalitsa. Those details aren't just curiosities; researchers study things like testis size, because it is related to reproduction.

Some people don't like the Red Mangalitsa because of the introgression. Yet due to the Hungarians selecting them for meat and fat quality, they taste like the other Mangalitsa. They didn't select the crossbred animals for their looks, but rather their superior pork, because the customer just expects a Mangalitsa to be a curly-haired hog with Mangalitsa-quality meat and fat.

One would presume that had the Hungarian breeders had access to the resources the Soviets had, the various Mangalitsa varieties might have turned out differently. There's no reason to think they would have held back; the creation of the various Mangalitsa varieties and the disappearance of the Mangalitsa's founding stock makes it clear they were pragmatic.

My own thought on this is that it is very important to conserve biodiversity. It may not be necessary to conserve breeds (we can create them if we have enough biodiversity, money and time) - but without biodiversity, there's nothing to work with.

Down the Memory Lane - with pork fat

There's a nice post about Appel-Griebenschmalz (or Apfel-Grammelfett for those from south of the Speyer Line). It is a flavored lard, often just spread on bread like butter.

People in Central Europe eat a lot of bread-based meals, so having a tasty spread that makes bread nice is a an easy sell. As lard was the traditional fat, making it tastier with things like apples, onions and so on makes sense.

Here's an article that mentions Mangalitsa and its wonderful fat (machine translation ). Since reading about truffle-lard, I've been wondering if it would be possible to make a mushroom-flavored lard. It wouldn't surprise me if the Herbfarm would do that sort of thing, given that they use the mushrooms and Mangalitsa.

Rillettes and Mangalitsa

According to Wikipedia, rillettes
is a preparation of meat similar to pâté. Originally made with pork, the meat is cubed or chopped, salted heavily and cooked slowly in fat until it is tender enough to be easily shredded, and then cooled with enough of the fat to form a paste. They are normally used as spread on bread or toast and served at room temperature.

... Rillettes were traditionally made with fatty pork belly or pork shoulder. The meat was cubed, heavily salted, and cured for twelve hours. The meat was then cooked slowly over low flames until very tender. That being done, the flesh was raked into small shreds and blended with the warm cooking fat to form a rustic paste.
One thing I'm wondering about is what sort of traditional pigs they used for this. If you used a Mangalitsa belly to make rillettes, you'd essentially just have a version of lard, because the belly has such little lean.

Yet it wouldn't surprise me if people made a very lardy spread in the old days, in the same way that pancetta used to be less lean.

Central European cuisine still has lardy, flavored spreads (usually an unappealing brownish color that puts off tourists):

I've had that before in Poland and didn't really like it. But given the special quality of Mangalitsa fat, it would be a real treat made from Mangalitsa.

Braised Herbfarm Mangalitsa pork with foraged mushrooms and wild blackberries

There's an Herbfarm recipe for Mangalitsa shoulder available online.

The Herbfarm raises their own Mangalitsa. They finish their hogs on acorns (and other things) - a fancier diet than the one mine receive now.

Their hogs are also older and significantly fatter; they'll make better cured products. I'll try to get some new photos of their hogs. They've really gotten big.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fertilizer/Hog Reversal

Keeping pigs on dirt in the same spot leads
to nitrates building up in the soil.

Michael Pollan recently wrote:
But if taking the animals off farms made a certain kind of economic sense, it made no ecological sense whatever: their waste, formerly regarded as a precious source of fertility on the farm, became a pollutant — factory farms are now one of America’s biggest sources of pollution. As Wendell Berry has tartly observed, to take animals off farms and put them on feedlots is to take an elegant solution — animals replenishing the fertility that crops deplete — and neatly divide it into two problems: a fertility problem on the farm and a pollution problem on the feedlot. The former problem is remedied with fossil-fuel fertilizer; the latter is remedied not at all.
I've read other things in farming publications.

Essentially, fertilizer is expensive. It turns out that people are building hog confinements so that they can get the fertilizer. You even have people asking if "manure is more valuable than hogs?"

The basic idea is that if you capture all the manure (something possible with a modern confinement building), you can then apply it to your fields and reduce your fertilizer cost, in addition to recycling the manure.

If you keep your hogs in dirt lots (as opposed to a modern confinement), it is harder to capture the manure. The nitrates go into the ground, increasing over time. Eventually, if it rains on your property, the rainwater leaches away nitrates, which go into the streams and rivers.

So from one perspective, building a confinement that allows one to capture and then redistribute the manure, in a controlled fashion, is more environmentally friendly than alternatives that don't allow one to capture and spread the stuff. Hog confinements don't have to be big - a lot of farmers in the Midwest own small hog confinements. Some of them don't capture the waste so that it can be reused - but they'll retrofit them in the coming years.

If nothing else, if fertilizer continues to be so expensive, you'll have more big hog confinements, due to the new incentive. That would be like a return to the days of Harris, about a century ago. Back then, people also raised hogs for the manure, in addition to raising hogs for their fat (which, barring the gourmet segment, isn't likely to happen again).

Perhaps people who don't like confinements should be rooting for a return to the day when manure wasn't so valuable, because the fertilizer income gives confinement operators a competitive advantage over non-confinement pork producers.

I'm not intending to attack Mr. Pollan. I think this issue is interesting because it shows that farmers (big or small) react very quickly to incentives. When manure was toxic waste, they treated it that way. Now that things are different, they treat it like liquid gold. Smelly, disgusting, liquid gold.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Missing Mangalitsa

There's a photo of the missing Mangalitsa pig. After The Herbfarm got their pigs, one got sold to a similarly fancy restaurant (The Willows Inn) on Lummi Island. I haven't been able to visit that one like the other Herbfarm pigs, so it was nice to see a photo of him.

I hear they'll let him get old and fat (e.g. 2 years old), and then turn him into sausage, salami, etc. The fact that they want him for that means they have a lot of time to decide what to do with him.

Busted For Smuggling Meat

There's a news story about a woman getting busted bringing in meat from Mexico. Unless the meat is from a USDA-inspected slaughter and processing establishment, it can't be brought in. The story is noteworthy because they hid the sausages in "dirty" diapers.

The reason for the ban is that meat products can harbor diseases like classical swine fever. If pigs eat that chorizo, they could get sick and endanger the USA's herd. Haiti's herd had to be depopulated because of diseases brought in from Europe.

The rules seem anti-food and awful, until you consider that an outbreak of Classical Swine Fever or a similar disease would cost the USA's pork producers millions of dollars.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Pig Farms As Threats

People routinely use pig farms as retaliation in land use disputes. I saw this case today - basically, a guy fighting with his neighbor hopes to use a pig farm to stop them from doing what he doesn't want.

In another case, you've got a guy who was stopped from doing something, so he threatens to put in a pig farm to bother people.

If the pigs only knew. Not only do we control all aspects of their life cycle so that we can eat them, but we also use them to settle scores with other humans. Releasing wild boar, as one fellow was accused of (but later acquitted), would count too.

Butchering in Restaurant

There's a news story about kitchen staff getting busted for butchering a deer in their kitchen. What's odd is that very fancy restaurants - e.g. Alain Passard's L'Arpège, a restaurant with three Michelin stars, does similar things.

When I see that photo of that deer's head in a kitchen, I'm reminded that you'd never want an un-butchered hog in a kitchen. Because it would be foul on the outside, and then you'd have to get the guts out, which would only make things more foul.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Saving Haiti's Bacon, Porc Noir Gascon

Porc noir de Gascon

There's an interesting article about scientists creating a pig breed to replace the extinguished Haitian pigs. The high-input pink pigs they got from the USA weren't working out; they needed low-input, all-black pigs that could live cheaply.

They constructed the breed partially with the Porc Noir Gascon, a European breed from the Pyrenees similar to the Iberian Black and Mangalitsa. It has taken a lot of effort (translation from French) to stop them from disappearing. That breed, like the Mangalitsa (and unlike the Iberian Black), isn't well known.

Nowadays it is for very high-end products like Jambon de Porc Noir Gascon. Here's more info about the pig and the breed. It is too bad that even in France, they couldn't stop their best-tasting pigs from nearly vanishing.

They are a bit leaner than Mangalitsa. There's more photos of them here. Here's more info on the breed (in French).

10/27 - Food Articles From The New York Times

There's an article about restaurants that contract with producers to raise animals for them.

Restaurants who do that can acquire very high quality goods at very low prices, in the same way that a tailor can produce you fantastic clothes at a reasonable price. Understanding inventory risk makes it clear why this is so: a producer can't afford to spend a lot to produce a premium product that goes unsold. The rational thing to do is to produce only that which can surely be sold profitably, which reduces the risk, but also keeps the cost to the consumer high.

Some restaurants, like The Herbfarm, raise their own hogs. That not only ensures they've got the price and availability, but they can control the finishing of the hogs to get the best raw material. Because they'll be processing the pork, they want to control the finish. To that end, they are feeding the hogs things like acorns, which are high in tannins, antioxidants and monounsaturated fats.

The best Spanish producers of jamon likewise contract for very special pork - as otherwise it won't get produced at all. In contrast, almost all American processors just buy spare unwated spare parts (e.g. hams), ensuring that their raw material and end results are mediocre, regardless of what processing methods they use.

There's also an article, "A French Family Dynasty Reinvents the Oyster", about a French oyster company and the methods they use to consistently produce the best oysters:
Oysters are then trucked here to be finished and packed. They spend several weeks in oyster ponds, with water changed regularly and salinity measured carefully, before being washed and sorted by size.
It doesn't surprise me that it takes controlling chemical variables like salinity to make the best raw material; pigs are the same (but its the fat and flavor to control). You can eat Mangalitsa pigs fattened on different farms and they'll taste better or worse.

I certainly hope that when the "New York Times" writes about American Mangalitsa producers, they'll be fair and say we are reinventing the pig - because the fundamental things required to produce the best pigs aren't that different from those required to produce the best oysters.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lucian Marcu, Butcher from Székely

Lucian Marcu - butcher from Székely

Székely (pronounced [ˈseːkɛj]) is part of Romania. The Székely people have lived there for about a thousand years. People have raised Mangalitsa pigs there, along with breeds like the Bazna, derived from Mangalitsa. Here's how they traditionally slaughter pigs there.

Lucian Marcu, pictured above, is a butcher from Székely. Amateur pig slaughter and processing is still a big deal in Hungary and Romania.

Lucian Marcu (left) scraping a pig.

If I lived in the Upper Midwest and needed pigs slaughtered, I'd call Lucian.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Swine Your Way

Mangalitsa Pigs in Hungary

There's a free book on keeping hogs from the University of Minnesota.

It covers 4 different systems:
  • Swedish Deep-Straw Farrowing System
  • Deep-Straw Hoop Structure System
  • Pasture Production Systems
  • Conventional Confinement Systems

There are other systems (e.g. Cargill Finishers), which are now considered sub-optimal compared to total confinement or hoop barns. People wouldn't typically build any of those today, but there are lots of them in place already all over America. During the period when Mangalitsa pigs were popular in Hungary, they settled on systems like this one to fatten the hogs. The hogs go outside and get fresh air. They can move around, so their muscles taste meaty. They can't run up and down hills though, so they get fat.

Here is another Hungarian farm, where they move around more. They've cleared out all small vegetation. One problem with keeping pigs on dirt is that they'll build up a parasite load (in the dirt) over time. That's not a problem with concrete.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mangalitsa Chops


Some customers took a photo of some meat they bought and wrote about it. I really like the photo of the chop. Their description was nice:
The result was amazing. The fat melted onto the jerusalem chokes giving them a wonderfully rich, soft texture and flavor. The main event, the chops, were INCREDIBLE! The meat was totally different than any pork I’ve ever eaten, unbelievably tender with a taste closer to fresh cream than meat. The fat got crispy and had a delicate richness that coated the mouth, but wasn’t overwhelming or greasy. We didn’t need it, but the combination of the Mangalitsa with small amounts of the sherry gastrique took things to yet another level. I don’t think anyone at the table was able to form a complete sentence until halfway through the meal…a fly on the wall would heard Mmmmm..oh wow..ooooo..oh…my this is umm…
As I've mentioned before, Mangalitsa meat quality is some of the best in the world. The Mangalitsa crosses taste great too.

Mass Production, Quality and "Artisanal"

Modern Jamon Iberico factory.

I've noticed an unwarranted bias in America against mass-produced food. I suspect it is because most mass-produced American food isn't very good. Also, the best mass-produced food (e.g. jamon iberico) is marketed as if it isn't mass-produced.

All this leads to people making incorrect assumptions about the potential to produce great mass-produced food.

Most American food companies produce for the price-sensitive American consumer, not the quality-sensitive consumer. The ones that do produce for the quality-sensitive consumer (e.g. Lindt's American subsidiary) often try to hide their American status; because with products like chocolate, it is a stigma to be made in America.

Spanish Hams

When I lived in Europe, I rarely saw American food. When I went to the food section at Hertie, I'd see all sorts of non-German stuff, but very little of it was American. The few American products really stood out. One that was clearly very popular was Kraft cream cheese. I later heard plenty of Europeans talk about that cheese and how much they loved it, even though Schmelzkaese and other European cheeses are similar.

Later on I read a fascinating article about how Kraft is the dominant company in cream cheese, because they know how to make cream cheese better than all others - big, small, organic, conventional, "local", biodynamic etc. I think it is interesting that:
  • There are essentially no "artisanal" cream cheese manufacturers worth talking about.
  • Kraft, a gigantic food company, makes a world-class product. Because of Kraft, we can proudly say that America produces at least one cheese that the world loves - in the same way that we love Italian parmesan.

Iberico Sows in Gestation Crates

Farming processes, optimized to produce excellent tasting food, don't have to look traditional in order to beat traditional producers on eating quality. Those small producers who can't even get the basics right (e.g. breed and feed) aren't going to beat modern producers who optimize that for meat qualtiy. Iberico hogs, carefully raised in confinement, taste better than meat-type hogs - even those raised by loving small farmers practicing traditional farming.

Because producing good tasting food is about chemistry and processes, it isn't surprising that large companies can produce that stuff better than "artisans", in the same way that drug companies are better at producing medicines than home chemists. The fact that a home chemist uses "organic" techniques or "local" ingredients isn't going to necessarily make better products, and may even lead to lower quality results, by constraining the selection of inputs.

Of course, small producers can produce better results than big producers - they just need to be very good.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Qualitätshandbuch für Fleisch und Fleischerzeugnisse aus bäuerlicher Produktion"

The Austrian government publishes guides for farmers who want to make and market products made from their livestock. One such guide is "Qualitätshandbuch für Fleisch und Fleischerzeugnisse aus bäuerlicher Produktion".

The books are amazingly detailed, covering things like breed, feed, transport, slaughter, breaking down the carcass, curing, aging, etc. As I've mentioned before, a lot of this information isn't available in English.

Kapitel 1: Qualität
Kapitel 2: Rechtliche Rahmenbedingungen
Kapitel 3: Fütterung und Rasse
Kapitel 4: Transport, Schlachtung, Zerlegung, Kühlung
Kapitel 5: Frischfleisch
Kapitel 6: Fleischerzeugnisse
Kapitel 7: Pökeln
Kapitel 8: Wursten
Kapitel 9: Reifen von Dauerwaren
Kapitel 10: Räuchern
Kapitel 11: Sensorik
Kapitel 12: Reinigung und Desinfektion
Kapitel 13: Herstellungsabläufe
Kapitel 14: Rechtsgrundlagen für die Fleischvermarktung

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Second American Makes the Mangalitsa Pilgrimage

An American is visiting Austria right now, hanging out with Mangalitsa breeders who fatten and process their hogs. He's also spending time with Chef Stockner, one of Austria's best chefs and Mangalitsa experts. You can see those guys on YouTube.

His trip should get written up by the food media, so I won't provide more details now.

If you are someone interested in fattening Mangalitsa and processing them, I recommend you consider making a similar trip. Although there are other countries where people process hogs, they normally work with leaner ones. E.g. you could go to Italy and make pancetta. But when your Mangalitsa pancetta winds up looking like pure fat, you'll be in uncharted territory.

Here's photos of typical Austrian products made from Mangalitsa. Many Americans are shocked at how fatty that stuff looks.

I am a firm believer in learning from people who already know what they are doing. In that vein, if you know about making and marketing salami - and would be willing to talk to me about it - please contact me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

What is Good Meat?

Mangalitsa Ham from a Hungarian Producer

When asked the question, "What exactly is the definition of 'good meat'?", Bill Niman (founder of and now ousted from Niman Ranch replied:
This is not my phrase, it’s the Times’s. But here’s the way I see it. It takes a lot to make “good meat” but it isn’t rocket science – it’s more about common sense. “Good meat” is meat from animals who were always treated well, who were given a chance to live in a way that allows them to express their basic natural behaviors, move freely, breathe fresh air, and feel sunshine on their backs and faces. It also comes from animals who were never given growth hormones, fed antibiotics or other drugs or fed meat-by products or other unnatural feeds. Finally, good meat can only come from animals who were provided a swift and painless death.
When I read Niman's answer, it is clear he's completely focused on the method of production, not on organoleptic (taste) properties.

I find it interesting that some people producing meat generally considered to taste the best don't farm anything close to the way Mr. Niman suggests.
  • Spanish producers of Iberico increasingly raise them in confinement, even if some get finished outdoors for a few months of their long lives. The Spanish freely use antibiotics and other chemicals. E.g. people feed hogs specially-crafted diets designed to produce the best fat. Whether alpha-tocopherol or copper sulphate are "natural" simply doesn't matter to the Spanish producers.
As I've mentioned before, even wild salmon aren't all produced naturally. That's certainly not true of oysters either - in both cases, humans optimize the reproduction, even if the animals finish in a more natural environment.

A lot of people would like to think that what's "natural", "organic", "local" or whatever is naturally going to taste the best. It not only isn't the case - but one can find examples like confined Wagyu cows versus free-range cows that force people to choose between good-and-unpalatable versus bad-and-world-class.

People have already been forced to choose between what's good and what tastes better - and it even involved Niman Ranch. E.g. a chef chose pork from Cargill (a producer not meeting the "good meat" requirements), because it was better than Niman Ranch's pork.

Another interesting issue involves what the animals themselves want, and whether or not that fits with Mr. Niman's "good meat" criteria. E.g. animals, like humans, like being inside, where it is warm and shielded from the wind. They also like to eat things like ice cream and Cocoa Puffs. When the Spanish producers turn the hogs out on the Montanera to eat acorns and whatever else they can scrounge up, that's probably perceived by the hogs as a reduction in their quality of life. Until that time, they've been in a warm barn, eating concentrates. Just as most people would rather sit inside and eat a bowl of cereal than be outside foraging for raw vegetables and carrion, the hogs probably prefer the easy life.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Wild Boars, Breed Preservation

Wild boar are a huge problem in Germany, as in America. Recently a hunter got killed by one. The article mentions that with the increased planting of corn (due to its high price), there's more fodder for wild boar, so they are undergoing a population explosion.

In America, a guy is on trial for being the "Johnny Appleseed" of feral hogs in Minnesota - although farmers there probably think of him as a biological terrorist. He's already blamed for the appearance of wild boar in tens of counties (with the associated crop destruction) and two pseudorabies outbreaks in domestic swine herds. Pseudorabies is absolutely awful for the owners of those herds; if the government finds out that you've got pseudorabies in your herd, they put them all down.

That brings up another interesting issue: a lot of people who keep rare breeds of pigs raise them outdoors, where they can catch diseases from wild hogs, badgers and other wild animals. In some cases, this has been disastrous. E.g. you've got a GOS producer who lost his herd due to bovine TB, which they caught from being outdoors. On a bigger scale, Spanish farmers have had to kill large numbers of Iberico due to diseases like Classical Swine Fever. Now that they raise them indoors more and more, that's less of a problem.

One argument says that if your goal is to preserve rare breeds, you should be wiling to do use technology to do it. E.g. raise them indoors away from wild animals, and use modern techniques like hormones and embryo transfer to increase their numbers - and even use techniques like cloning or gene modification. I don't think that most people who say they are in favor of breed preservation are aware of what breed preservation really entails.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Making The Laundry List

There's an article about companies that sell food to the French Laundry in the Washington Post. I'm quoted in the article, and it mentions Mangalitsa.

The article makes it sound like it is incredibly hard to sell a product to the French laundry, because they check to make sure that you've got the best product. It isn't really so bad: if you are the one with the best, they want to work with you. It might be hard to convince them that your olive oil is so much better than the others out there, but if you are selling something as world-class as Mangalitsa, it is easy for them to make a decision.

The difficult thing is that if you decide you'll produce the best, you have to find customers other than the French Laundry. Some potential customers, even those with Michelin stars, won't make a decision based on quality and price. E.g. they'll want you to be "local", organic or something other than what you are: the producer with the best-tasting product.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fixed the Broken Links

In my previous post on Austrian products, I had a bunch of broken links to an Austrian food website.

Blogger could't handle the German alphabet used in the links. I've fixed the links, so if you click on them, you'll get taken to www.schätzeausö

Austrian Mangalitsa Products

There's a nice article in Spanish about Mr. Olmos and Mr. Toth forming their Mangalitsa business - "Una empresa de jamones recupera una raza de porcino al borde de la extinción"(here is a google translation).

The Spanish know what to do with the pigs - they'll treat them like their own Iberico. They won't bother to turn the Hungarian pigs into Hungarian products (e.g. szalami) and sell that in Spain (although Pick and Herc do export all over Europe).

Similarly, the Austrians have started processing Mangalitsa pigs, into their own Austrian products.

Their products are different from the Spanish products. A few key differences: they smoke their products, they bone out the legs and they use wet or mixed curing methods. Here's a summary of Austrian methods, translated into English.

Here are some photos of traditional Austrian products made from Mangalitsa. Click on the captions for more info:

Rohschinken aka ham

More ham

Kareespeck- aka "loin bacon"

And so on. Click here for all their Mangalitsa products. There's a lot of pates, lard products and a bunch of specialty products that don't immediately spring to mind when you think Mangalitsa.

One funny thing about the Austrian products is the huge amount of fat in the products. Indeed, some of the products, like the Paprikaspeck, are entirely fat. That product - which many think of as a Hungarian specialty - is one of the most addicting. The versions I've had were parboiled, which gives the fat a wonderful bite.

Normally people need to try these products in order to be convinced of how great they are. If you haven't eaten them, they probably just look too fatty - perhaps even repulsive. One bite is normally enough to turn people around.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Thanks to Our Customers - Again

Little Miss Naughty Holds a Mangalitsa Side

After months of being out of Mangalitsa, I finally sold some at a farmers market. Response was astounding.

Notorious C.U.T.

I asked the slaughterhouse to prepare Notorious C.U.T.s - as these are a favorite cut - but they didn't. Instead, they gave me a bunch of sides, like the one pictured at the top. It isn't normal for retail customers to buy sides - that's just too much. A side weighs about nine pounds, a Notorious C.U.T. about 1.5 pounds.

When informed of the mistake, our customers are purchasing sides. They love Mangalitsa so much that they'll buy a 9-lb side. I never would have guessed that I'd see someone come up and buy a side of a Mangalitsa - and see that same person leaving, looking very happy, like he'd just scored. A bit like a rat dragging a big treat back to his nest.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Mangalitsa-Berkshire Belly

I tried my first Mangalitsa-Berkshire (50/50) belly today. As previously mentioned, Wooly Pigs runs a breeding program, the goal of which is to allow us to produce especially tasty hogs using our Mangalitsas. Purebred Mangalitsa is too extreme for most consumers anyway - it defines one extreme of the pork continuum.

Part of the breeding program is mating Mangalitsa boars to Berkshire sows, to produce F1 hybrids. The males are all castrated and marketed. The females are either marketed or used to produce 3/4 Mangalitsa market hogs.

This is how it starts:

The sow in the background wonders what's going on.

Here's somewhere in the middle (about 4 months into the process):

And this is how the pigs end up - seared and braised (14 months into it) :
Seared and then simmered in a pot.

When I cooked it, I thought I was cooking Mangalitsa. When I ate it, it tasted enough like Mangalitsa that I think you could fool someone into thinking it was Mangalitsa. Except for yet lardier hogs, I have never had such good pork. It was definitely better than Berkshire pork produced similarly. I ate just a little scrap (the missing 5th piece) and felt satiated and excited for about an hour.

I can imagine that if someone just wanted really great-tasting pork (in a market increasingly flooded with Berkshire pork), a Mangalitsa-Berkshire cross would give one a real edge over everybody using meat-type breeds. Mangalitsa is so incredible that just 50% Mangalitsa is still noticeably better than the Berkshire, which is the best-tasting common American breed.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Nice Book on Pigs and America

There's a neat book about America and the hog business, "Hog Ties", by Richard P. Horwitz.

Although Dr. Horwitz is a professor of American studies, he moonlighted on a hog/cattle/grain farm for 20 years.

I agree with this review of the first edition of the book at Amazon:

It is a very thoughtful look at American culture through the porthole of the relationship of people to pigs.

Many people have commented on the plight of "family farmers" as affected by "integrated" agriculture, but they either have a political agenda or little real understanding. In this case, tremendous effort is made by the author to understand the business of pigs and pork, and changes in society and the pig industry. This description of the swine industry is a studied, objective viewpoint, even if it is incidental to the real purpose of the book.

Mainly, the book is a unique study of human beings and relationships to each other and other species, including pathogens. The book contains thought-provoking observations on life, death, culture, agriculture, multiculture, and communication.

Dr. Horwitz points out a lot of things that most pork eaters don't know. One of the biggest mistakes that people can make is to assume that hogs are just like humans:
Hogs present and additional challenge in that they plainly are different enough from people that projections of the "if-I-were-one" sort are a radical stretch. Try as I might, for example, I cannot fully imagine being drawn to the smell of shit or engaging in other grossities that pigs normally elect when given a chance. Like most people who sing the song, I can more readily imagine "swinging on a star." But perhaps hogs under extreme conditions put out such clear signals that wholesale leaps of imagination are not required. The challenge might be a bit of translation rather than projection.

When, for instance, you walk into any swine barn, you are bound to see hogs chomping on the steel bars of their pens. Scrunch, scrunch, grunt, scrunch, over and over again. What does this "chewing behavior" mean? What does it tell us about, say, the animal's welfare or respect for its rights?

The Humane Farming Association, claiming support from "agricultural scientists" who study such things, says they know. Chewing is a "temporary measure of releief from the torment of crate confinement." It is "abnormal ...simply the desperate expression of frustrated animals pushed ot the point of madness ...[that] resembles, in many respects, the development in humans of chronic psychiatric disorders."

Mangalitsas cheek-to-jowl, crowding fence.

Since I am neither an animal scientist nor a psychiatrist, I may be handicapped here, but this is not the sort of interpretation that experience seems to counsel. I regularly see hogs (and "cribbing" horses) engage in such "endorphin-releasing stereotypes" in wide-open fields. Although the sows on the old-timey farm next-door have about a quarter-acre apiece to roam around, they ordinarily crowd together ("cheeck-to-jowl," as people have been saying for decades before confinement was an issue) and chomp on the panels in one corner. Chewing on gates is a common enough pastime to suggest an analogy closer to biting your nails than banging your head against a wall.

I could understand why Bay Area vegetarians might leap to alarming conclusions, but I find it hard to believe that people who well know pigs would respond in kind. In fact, I was unable to find the "agricultural scientists" to whom the Humane Farming Association referred. The association's director would not respond to my telephone calls and letters requesting citations. In searching for those citations, what I found instead was strong support for my common sense. John McGlone, probably the single most respected pig specialist among animal behaviorists in the United States, monitored a controlled comparison at his research center at Texas Tech University and concluded: "Outdoor sows spend as much time chewing rock and chewing in the air as indoor sows spend chewing bars... We conclude from our studies that both behaviors are normal."
Google Books allows you to preview the book.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Mangalitsa: Realy Expensive Pig Grease

Here you can see some Mangalitsa fat selling for €9,95 per 150 grams -- that's a mere $42/lb - and that's in a place where Iberico is for sale too.