Friday, February 27, 2009


IGWÖ, The Austrian Mangalitsa Breeders' Association (of which I'm a member) attended the Mangalitsa festival in Budapest recently. You can see their products in the picture.

That's Isabel Wiesner dressed in the fetching green cap. She's the wife of Christoph Wiesner, the guy who has dedicated his life to being able to do anything with a Mangalitsa.

New Mangalitsa Producer - Bakers Green Acres and Earthy Delights

Mark Baker with his chicken.

Michigan-based Earthy Delights working with Bakers Green Acres is America's newest Mangalitsa producer.

Mark Baker of Bakers Green Acres will fatten their Mangalitsa. In addition to having a temperate Mangalitsa-friendly environment, Michigan is blessed with tremendous numbers of oaks. Bakers Green Acres and Earthy Delights are the first to use Mangalitsa pigs to turn Michigan's acorns into a very high-value product.

Earthy Delights is the first Mangalitsa producer that already markets and distributes specialty foods. That's important - the average retail consumer wants pork products, not raw pork.

Mark attended the 3-day Mangalitsa workshop hosted by the Herbfarm in Woodinville, WA - which allowed him to meet the Wiesners and get advice from them on how to produce Mangalitsa of the highest quality.

Wooly Pigs has now sold Mangalitsa to producers in California and Washington, New Jersey and Michigan.

When I first visited Austria and saw people talking about the quality of their Mangalitsa fat, I thought it was odd. When I ate products from different farms and saw that the quality of the fat determined the quality of the product, I got on board - but I was the only American I knew of with that approach. Two years later, America has several Mangalitsa producers, and they are all focused on producing pigs with the best fat.

Wooly Pigs has succeeded in importing Austrian "Mangalitsa technology" and establishing links between Mangalitsa producers in Austria and America. Now that we've got Americans establishing relationships with Austrian producers and chefs (independent of Wooly Pigs) and even bringing Austrians to America to teach people the phenomenon has a life of its own.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

New Book: "European Pork Chains"

There's a new book that discusses the structure of the Iberian and Mangalitsa industries in Europe, along with other differentiated pork sectors around the world (e.g. China and South Africa):

In this book the results are presented of a comprehensive inventory of pork chains that has been conducted through expert interviews and in-depth case studies. The main focus of the book is on how well diverse and fragmented supply in the European pork sector matches differentiating demands for pork products in rapidly evolving markets.

One of the central topics discussed in the book is management of quality in diverse mainstream and specialty European pork chains. Inter-enterprise information systems, governance forms, logistics and sustainability aspects of European pork chains are also presented, as well as a number of interesting innovations in the chains.
Here is a link to the table of contents.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mangalitsa Cured Products

A customer expressed interest in cured products today.

I explained to him that based on how Mangalitsa production is developing in the USA, it would be a while before he'd be able to easily buy the stuff. The obvious sources for those products now are just The Herbfarm and The French Laundry - because they bought older pigs from the first generation farrowed in the USA and cured them.

I'm hoping that at years end, I'll have my first batch of cured Mangalitsa products, likely salami.

Many expect that if the Mangalitsa pigs are being produced in the USA, they ought to be able to acquire the cured products they've had elsewhere. But if nothing else, it takes 18-24 months to raise great Mangalitsa for cured products, and then months to years from then on to get the finished products. The Mangalitsa just haven't been in the USA long enough for all that to have happened.

I looked on the web and saw that there are more Mangalitsa options in Europe than ever before.

For example, this Spanish site has a number of hams from Iberian (or mostly Iberian) swine and Mangalitsa. This Italian site has Mangalitsa cured products. This site has many Spanish products made from Mangalitsa. Here's some nice looking stuff from Brussels.

The last production figures I saw were 60,000 Mangalitsa slaughtered per year, versus 2,000,000 Iberian. Clearly the Iberico is the favorite now. In the end, I suspect the Mangalitsa (or Mangalitsa crossbreeds) will overtake the Iberico, because growth in lard-type hog production will take places like Romania and the USA, where the cost of production is lower than in Spain.

As I've explained earlier, the Mangalitsa is only in such good shape now due to the actions of a visionary Spanish company; essentially, Mr. Olmos decided to produce Iberico-quality stuff at a lower price in Hungary. How ironic it will be if the Mangalitsa winds up negatively impacting Iberico profits.

In the growth countries like Romania and the USA, raising Mangalitsa (or crosses) makes more sense than Iberian Blacks, because pigs with hair work better. Mostly hair-free pigs like the Iberian Blacks would work in places like Texas and California - but those aren't very good places to raise pigs, due to the lack of cheap feed.

When I imported my Mangalitsa, I tried to get some Iberian Blacks too. It wasn't possible to make it happen. It really would have been something to have Wooly Pigs be the only company in the New World with Iberico and Mangalitsa genetics.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mangalitsa Piglets

I found these nice pictures of Mangalitsa piglets. They are very cute when young. When old, they'll be a lot less cute. If things go right, they'll all get turned into delicious food for humans.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Politician and Billionaire at a Pig Slaughter

There's a news story about Viktor Orban attending a pig-killing. Also there was a guy there worth (at one time) $3.2 billion, Sándor Demján. They killed a Mangalitsa pig.

The photos are really something. Since when do we get to see politicians put up their own meat? With this next photo, I suspect he's lost the vegetarian vote indefinitely:

Iberico Tariff

Don't sniff the black hoof of this Mangalista ham.

The Mangalitsa and Iberian breeds have a lot in common, and get used for the same things - among them, great cured products.

Recently, I read that Iberian ham was going to be subject to a 100% tariff. It looks like there is an ongoing dispute over beef production. The WTO ruled in favor of the USA, so to recover its losses due to the EU's actions, many goods (not just jamon iberico) will be subject to the tariff.

I saw also that the USDA will require them to be hoofless. Traditionally, the black hoof informed the customer that the pig was an Iberian Black, which provided some guarantee of the quality of the ham.

The black hoof doesn't guarantee that anymore, because a lot of non-Iberian hogs have black hooves, but some people still want the black hoof. I don't care whether the hoof is black or not. As long as it has superior marbling, flavor and juiciness, I'm happy. I wouldn't eat a Pietrain even if it had a black hoof.

The high tariff on jamon iberico is going to benefit America's Mangalitsa producers.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Mangalitsa on Public Radio

At 11:29 on this KPCC radio show, Dinner Party Download, the Mangalitsa-oriented section starts. There's a lot of talk of whipped lard. You can download it by clicking here. Reporter Brendan Newnam interviewed me, making the whole experience very pleasant.

Michael's Chocolate with Greaves - Mangalitsa Cuisine

I missed this recipe at the bottom of the article on Mosefund Farm and Mangalitsa:

Chocolate Truffles with Greaves

Courtesy of Michael Clampffer

12 oz Heavy Cream
12 oz Bittersweet chocolate, 60%, chopped
½ cup Hazelnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup Greaves (small pieces of protein left over after you render lard)**
½ cup
Cocoa powder, Valrhona

1. Bring cream to a boil.
2. Pour cream over chocolate in a large bowl and let sit for 30 seconds.

3. Whisk until combined, add hazelnuts and greaves, then refrigerate until firm.
4. With a melon baller or small spoon scoop out a truffle about the size of a cherry–they don’t have to be perfect–and roll between your hands to form a ball.

5. Pour cocoa powder into a bowl; drop truffles in. Roll around until fully coated.
6. Serve

Mangalitsa pigs can produce so much high quality fat that people use it in creative ways. American lard generally isn't worth processing into products, but in Austria, you can find a number of fancy fat-based products.

Greaves are the rendered bits of protein left from making lard. They aren't cracklings (which are made from skin). Greaves are used a lot in Central European recipes. Michael's recipe above uses it with chocolate. Mangalitsa greaves have a lighter taste than greaves from non-Mangalitsa pigs.

Chefs like the texture, economics and "wow-factor" of whipped Mangalitsa lard. It holds a lot of flavor chemicals and air, and has a light taste, so it can make great spreads.

As more chefs use Mangalitsa in 2009, you'll see other chefs copying Mangalitsa preparations like whipped lard. This has already started happening in Seattle, where people have eaten more Mangalitsa than anywhere else in America.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Darwin on Pigs

Charles Darwin (who would have had a 200th birthday a few days ago) wrote some neat things about pigs. Google Books makes it available here.

Darwin is interesting because he wrote in the period where European pig breeders were improving their breeds (derived from wild boar) with Asian pigs. The European breeds were generally lean and unprofligate. The Asian pigs had better meat quality (more fat!) and bigger litters. Germany's best-tasting pig breed was produced from them. Swabian-Hall and Mangalitsa both taste much better than other breeds.

Despite being an extreme lard-type breed, the Mangalitsa was developed in 1833 from breeds derived from European wild boar, not by crossing with Chinese breeds.

I like to keep this blog on the topic of Mangalitsa - but Darwin's work reminds me of the Meishan and other similar Chinese breeds.

Text not available
Charles Darwin's Works By Charles Darwin, Francis Darwin

A small number of pigs of these Chinese breeds exist in the USA, mostly in research labs. They are in danger of going extinct, because the labs that have them want to shut down their research on them.

They are economically important, because they are the most prolific pigs in the world. They are obviously historically important, because of the role they played (and continue to play) in improving pig fertility.

Best of all, they taste very good! They also have great personalities. They are very different from other breeds of pig - very slow-moving and lazy.

Despite them tasting better than most breeds, Slow Food USA is not going to save them, because they have no historical connection to the USA. This is similar to the their take on the Mangalitsa.

Slow Food China (if it exists) might try save them - but given that the pigs are in the USA already, it is a shame to have them go extinct here unnecessarily.

If you'd like to help keep the Meishan going in the USA, please contact me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Austrian Seam Butchery

Christoph Wiesner recently visited the USA. Among other things, he taught people how he breaks down pigs.

In the USA, there's a standard set of cuts. In Austria, there's a standard set of cuts too, but it differs from the USA's cuts, in that the butcher mostly cuts through connective tissue, not muscles. Take, for instance, the shoulder butt, which one fabricates by cutting through a bunch of shoulder muscles without any apparent regard for anatomy. In constrast, Christoph's cuts are almost all whole muscles, and he uses just the knife for almost everything.

Cutting through connective tissue results in less waste. With non-Mangalitsa pigs, using a bandsaw is probably more economical, because the wasted material is cheap and labor is dear. With a Mangalitsa, it pays to minimize waste, and the chef himself (or someone he trusts) does the butchery.

One fancy tool he uses is a "Rippenschlinge". This tool allows him to bone out the ribs, leaving almost all meat on the side, not the ribs. That meat is very tasty, and some of the only meat on a Mangalitsa side. Doing the easy thing and cutting out the spareribs would result in fattier bellies, which would be worth much less.

The "Rippenschlinge" isn't a standard tool. Marcel Kropf, Christoph's teacher, sells it. It wouldn't surprise me if he designed it too.

I haven't seen any material available in English about seam butchery. Wooly Pigs has already brought Mangalitsa to America, and Mangalitsa fattening techniques from Austria, we now bring Austrian seam butchery techniques to the world via the internet. Please see the videos just below.

There's more in two other posts.

Part II -- the loin and belly.

Part III -- the leg.

There's more:

Part II -- the loin and belly.

Part III -- the leg.

Michael and the Mangalitsa

Dave of Mosefund Farm near some whipped Mangalitsa lard. has an article about Michael Clampffer, Mosefund Farm and Mangalitsa. As it explains, Mr. A's approach is very quality-focused.

Mosefund Farm will fatten Mangalitsa pigs (from Wooly Pigs) on their farm in New Jersey, marketing them on the East Coast.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Hungarian Mangalitsa

Photo apparently by Greimann or Kappa.

The 2009 Mangalitsa Festival is taking place. There's some nice photos and a post (in English) about it here.

It has a link to a good description of a pig slaughter event in a Hungarian village:
The email asked if we'd like to "participate in a real, traditional, HUNGARIAN VILLAGE PIGKILLER-ACTION!", and sweetened the deal by adding that "the pig is sentenced to death, the bus is ordered, and the pálinka is cold already." Far be it for us to turn down an entire day of homemade booze and blood-spattered gluttony, we signed on immediately.

Cured Mangalitsa Products from The French Laundry

Devin Knell of The French Laundry sent me a bunch of cured products made from Red Mountain Farm's acorn-finished Mangalitsa pigs. I've got some bacon, cured loin and salami-like products.

Devin wants feedback so that he can improve his products.

I'd like to hold a small tasting event where we try the Mangalitsa products versus some products made from non-Mangalitsa pigs. There's not much, but I figure if you bring some stuff from other producers - particulary "artisanal" ones, there ought to be enough for a small snack.

If you are interested in this private event, please contact me. Due to the general scarcity of the stuff, I'm looking for people who are competent judges capable of giving Devin relevant feedback.

Mangalitsa Piglets Eating

Some people have been giving me old bread to feed to pigs.

At one time, the lucky pigs were much smaller. Five months later, they are a lot bigger.

Traditionally, pigs have played an important role as the utilizers of food waste. As Harris explains in his wonderful book "Harris on the Pig":
Pigs will eat food which, but for them, would be wasted.
Cows, chickens, goats, ducks and geese don't gorge themselves like pigs - which is unfortunate.

As diet (after genetics) is the second most important factor determining fat and meat quality, one must optimize the diet to control quality and cost. Feeding pigs free fishmeal and potato chips shortly before slaughter produces awful fat. But feeding pigs that stuff when they are young might be optimal, because if one can finish the pigs properly, they'll produce excellent fat and meat at an affordable price.

Hence, although old bread is not proper finishing feed, these Mangalitsas are at least a year away from slaughter, so they get to eat it. They really have a lot of fun playing with their food.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

'Naturally raised' - an Unfortunate Standard

There's an article in the Capital Press about different interest groups arguing over what the legal definition of "naturally raised" ought to mean.

I have written on this topic before. My view is that humans raising animals or plants for human consumption is fundamentally unnatural. Natural is hunting and gathering. Agriculture is necessarily humans imposing our will on plants and animals. Domesticated animals, themselves, are the physical manifestation of humans turning wild animals into something very different. Even humans stocking rivers with "wild salmon", or game parks with "wild boar" is unnatural - and those fish or wild boar, once caught, are hardly "natural"; their very existence is unnatural.

I'm with the Consumers Union, which "argued that the term naturally raised was ambiguous and that the AMS should simply certify livestock and poultry as being produced without growth promoters, antibiotics and animal byproducts."

I don't like standards like the "naturally raised" one, because they create incentives for producers to withhold treatment from sick animals - because once treated with antibiotics, the animals have to be sold at a discount. I'm not speaking theoretically: I've talked with people selling pork with those characteristics, and they've confirmed this.

For me, the most entertaining aspect of that article is:
In contrast, the National Pork Board characterized the program as setting artificial limits on pork production, since pigs are naturally omnivorous, eating meat and plants.

"Excluding feed ingredients such as dried blood plasma and meat and bone meal from use in a naturally raised standard is not consistent with the diet of pigs that are in their totally natural, wild environment," according to a letter from the National Pork Board.
A little too natural for some.

That's absolutely true. Pigs, wild and domestic, love animal protein.

When people kept and slaughtered their own pigs, they understood this a lot better. E.g. when you stick a pig, some blood spills on the ground. You pull that pig out to dehair it and the other pigs run over to lick up the blood. When you are all done, you take the inedible pig bits - e.g. the trachea - boil it and feed it to the pigs. They love it! And the pigs turn it into pork or fertilizer, which is better than rotting animal protein.

For most people, the reality of pigs is just too much. Hence, the NPB chose to say "naturally omnivorous" instead of "naturally cannibalistic".

People who know pigs know that the current "naturally raised" standard is unnatural and irrational. As I have explained before, "Certified Humane Raised and Handled" is likewise unnatural and irrational.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Feb 6-8 Mangalitsa Festival - Budapest

It is time for the Mangalitsa Festival in Budapest again, February 6-8. Or as they say in Hungarian:
Tisztelt Látogató!

Ígéretünkhöz híven 2009-ben is megrendezzük a Budapesti Mangalica Fesztivált a 2008-as nagy siker után másodszor.

This year, the festival will be international, in the sense that the Wiesners (from Austria) will have a booth at the festival. It is neat to see Mangalitsa becoming more than a Hungarian phenomenon.

Frozen Mangalitsa - Frozen Wagyu Beef - Frozen Fish

A lot of people have a bias against frozen meat - that includes frozen Mangalitsa.

One chef that knows a lot about Mangalitsa - Manfred Stockner of Zum Weissen Rauchfangkehrer - explained to me that as far as he's concerned, frozen Mangalitsa is just fine.

Coming from a perfectionist, that surprised me - but then he explained that because the meat is so fatty, it doesn't get damaged as much as you'd think from the freezing and the thawing. This sounds similar to the freezing of fatty fish versus the freezing of lean fish.

Wagyu beef, which like Mangalitsa, is very fatty, also performs well despite being frozen.

From a quality perspective, slaughtering and freezing Mangalitsa in the cold months, when they've got the best fat, can produce better Mangalitsa than slaughtering them in the hot months. I'd certainly choose previously-frozen acorn-finished Mangalitsa over fresh but grain finished Mangalitsa - a realistic set of choices, given the seasonal nature of the acorn crop.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Soft Pork, Mangalitsa Fat Quality and American Cured Products

Fat Quality

As experiments show, Mangalitsa produces incredible meat - arguably the best pork in the world.

Yet as the Mangalitsa produces so much fat (see above photo), producing high-quality fat is the primary job of a Mangalitsa producer. Given that it costs a lot more money to produce fat than protein, low-quality fat, in a Mangalitsa, represents a tremendous waste of feed.

In some parts of the world, the goal has been to produce hard, snow-white fat. Among other things, hard fat looks good and doesn't gum up machines like soft fat (also called "soft pork"). It has better mouthfeel.

In Austria, producers make hard, snow-white fat by (among other things) strictly controlling what the pigs eat in the last few months of their lives. Feeding pigs a low-fat diet causes them to synthesize fats, which are generally hard. If the diet contains fats, particularly polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) they'll store away those softer fats, potentially resulting in soft pork. Hence, Austrian advice is to avoid fattening pigs on feed with PUFA.

In Italy, for example, there are standards about the PUFA content of the raw material used to make their hams. PUFA must be below certain levels, or the pork is unsuitable. This is a ban on soft pork.

Barley is the typical base of a low-fat pig ration. That feed is common in Canada and Europe. In America, the base is corn, which contains high levels of PUFA. As mentioned in this article, the difference in feed explains why pork fat in Europe (and Canada) is typically harder than in America, where, if pigs are fed the typical corn-based diet, they produce softer fat.

Although most Americans seem happy with softer fat, it makes it hard for Americans to export pork to foreign markets, where people dislike soft pork. This isn't just a problem now; it has been a problem for more than a hundred years.

When pigs are outdoors, they typically find high-PUFA feed like plants, bugs or carrion, producing softer fat than pigs fed a special low-fat diet. For example, Christoph Wiesner told me that he's seen pigs from a confinement that had harder fat than his outdoor-fattened Mangalitsas. He said that even if he tries to feed his Mangalitsa the same ration as the special confinement pigs, his outside pigs find and eat things with PUFA in them, resulting in softer fat.

Fat quality isn't really on the American radar, but keeping pigs outdoors, as opposed to indoors, is. The general assumption is that outdoor pigs are always better than indoor pigs. To hear someone like Christoph Wiesner explain that the confined, non-Mangalitsa pigs produced superior fat is a real eye-opener, because Christoph lives off his fat quality.

Another eye opener: Christoph isn't romantic about keeping pigs outdoors. He views the pigs as machines that transform inputs like barley into fat, which he cures and sells. Of course, all pig producers want their pigs to be stress-free and happy - if only because that helps them grow and stay healthy.

Although plenty of people make romantic, non-scientific generalizations about happy pigs tasting better, feeding pigs ice cream, salmon, pizza and hamburgers (the sort of things pigs really want) and giving them backrubs all day would still produce completely awful and unsuitable pork. It would not only be soft and rancid-prone, but also fishy, from the salmon.

Historically, there has been a big bias against soft pork, and against hogs fattened outdoors on mast. Given the tremendous consumer embrace of acorn-finished hogs it is hard to understand why there'd be such a bias. Christoph Wiesner, for instance, agrees that his few acorn-finished Mangalitsa taste better than his grain-finished Mangalitsa.
Text not available
Journal By Royal Society of Arts (Great Britain)

But, if you look at old books, you'll see lawsuits involving "soft pork" and pigs finished on mast. You'll also see books that mention "soft pork" from mast-fed American hogs going to poor countries while harder pork from confined, grain-finished hogs went to richer countries.

Early in the 1900s, soft pork was a major problem. With the switch to soybeans, Americans ruined their pork. The soft pork from the South had some flavor (and likely better fatty acid composition), but the Northern stuff was just awful. You see a similar thing today, with overfeeding of DDGS.


What about high-MUFA (monounsaturated fatty acid) pork? It does tend to be softer - if only because the presence of MUFA in the pig's diet reduces SFA (saturated fatty acids), which reduces fat hardness.

Yet despite being soft, high-MUFA pork (in contrast to high-PUFA pork) is oxidatively stable (doesn't go rancid), tastes clean and light and smells better. For example, confined pigs fed MUFA-enhanced feed can produce better pork for processing.

Around the world, people pay a premium to eat soft, oily, acorn-fed cured products. I've eaten Iberico de Bellota in Europe - it was superior to all other pork I've eaten. It was also much better than imported Iberico products I've had in the USA (they don't import the best). That explains my tremendous enthusiasm for Red Mountain Farm's acorn-finished Mangalitsa pigs: the Mangalitsa is the only pig raised in America with the potential to produce world-class pork.

I'd like to see more information on high-MUFA pork versus the sort of pork that Austrians like Christoph Wiesner produce, with their barley and rye finishing diets.

Text not available
Bulletin of the Pan American Union By Pan American Union, Union of American Republics, International Union of American Republics

Soft Pork and the American Market

Soft Pork is a phenomenon with a long history in the USA. It is still important, and explains why most pork and pork products produced in the USA are below European standards, because the Europeans don't like soft pork.

Part of the issue is that high-PUFA soft pork is not only soft, but also rancid prone. High-PUFA pork also loses a lot of water when cooked, which people don't like.

In the past, American pork was so bad that it got exported to Ireland (because it was cheap), while the Irish exported their harder pork to Britain.

This issue is not merely historical. Right now, there are American producers who make an American version of prosciutto. This gives consumers an opportunity to make comparisons and see what they prefer.

As mentioned previously, the Italian have standards that regulate the hardness of the fat they use for prosciutti. In America, there are no such rules, and, as previously mentioned, the typical American fat is softer (and more rancid-prone) than that of Europe.

If you want to perform a test, go to Whole Foods and buy some La Quercia and buy some Italian Prosciutto, and compare the fats. See which fat is whiter, harder and tastier, and which one is yellower, softer and more "off" tasting. Some people think that La Quercia is as good as the Italian stuff. Based on America's historical acceptance of soft pork, most Americans won't detect much difference. If, on the other hand, you strongly prefer the Italian fat, you may want to explore things like Mangalitsa - because Mangalitsa producers necessarily manage their fat quality.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Wooly Pigs and Mangalitsa on "Eleventh Hour"

The Mangalitsa breed and Wooly Pigs (the company) got mentioned by the TV show "Eleventh Hour" recently .

When I watched the show, I learned:
  1. Mangalitsa pigs come from Hungary
  2. The pig's genetics make the Mangalitsa fat more unsaturated than normal pork.
  3. It is marbled - "it's like the Kobe beef of pork".
  4. Mangalitsa is very expensive and labor-intensive.
  5. Some people consider the Mangalitsa blood a delicacy.
  6. Restaurants have theft problems with Mangalitsa. To reduce the employee theft, they build refrigerators secured with card-key locks.
I'm astounded that they got all this stuff right - particularly the marbling compared to other breeds, and the higher levels of unsaturated fat.