Sunday, August 30, 2009

What's a Family Farm?

The term "family farm" is inclusive: ninety-eight percent of all farms in the U.S. are family farms., according to the USDA.

Curious people might wonder just what forms a family farm can take, and if 98% of all farms are family farms, why does one hear the term "family farm" so much? Isn't that like talking about "white swans" instead of just "swans", or "cute hamsters" instead of just "hamsters"?

The basic definition of a family farm is, according to the USDA, a farm without a hired manager and a farm not owned by a non-family corporation or non-family cooperative. That definition, isn't very clear, because it doesn't so much say what a family farm is as what it isn't.

Obviously, a collective farm is not family a farm, unless it is a family collective. A farm with a hired manager is not a family farm; that excludes plantations or estates owned by absentee landlords.

Hence, the definition is about ownership and control, not size or biodiversity. In our age of capital intensive farming, where technology allows a few people to run a huge farm, family farms can be huge enterprises. In order to support a big family, a farm has to be very big.

Family Enterprise

Here's one video showing a diversified family farm in Ohio: cattle, pigs, soybeans, etc. They've got their own tractor trailers. That's sounds big - yet some other family enterprises make them look insignificantly small.

Small Family Farm Raising Pigs

Here's another family farm, where they raise a lot of pigs. Raising the pigs in modern buildings allows a small number of people to look after their pigs. They've probably got hundreds of sows.

The family farms shown in the video may not fit the typical person's idea of a family farm - but that's inevitable. American agriculture is so efficient, only 2% of the population farms. The other 98% get to live their lives without direct experience of farms. They also get to mostly live without direct experience of chiggers, runaway vehicles and lethal gases.

Despite not having contact with farming, a lot of the remaining 98% have emotional attachments to the concept of "family farms" - even if they don't have that same emotional attachment to other family-owned and operated businesses.

For example, despite the fact that a cheese-making dairy and a natto-making company might both buy soybeans and transform them (either through cows or bacteria) into food for humans, most people will have more "warm and fuzzy" feelings about the dairy, its cows and the family running it than they will about (respectively) the natto compay, bacteria and the family running it.

Although that is a purposefully contrived example, consider goat-fiber business versus a silkworm-fiber business. I suspect most people would feel "warm and fuzzy" about a family running goats, harvesting their fiber and making yarn from it than they would about a family feeding silkworms mulberry leaves, getting the fiber and then making silk thread. The presence of cute bleating goats makes the first famers a "real" family farm, while the other people are arguably bug exploitation experts. Of course, a dairy farmer tired of dealing with a bunch of irritating goats might think the silkworm operation looks pretty slick; you wouldn't have to deal with the goats every day of the year.

None of this relates directly to Mangalitsa pigs, Mangalitsa pork, etc - the typical topic of this blog. I got to thinking about these issues because I saw the Ohio Pork Tour videos (the two from above) and it brought to mind the fact that the vast majority of farms (98%!) in the USA are family farms, even though they take such varied forms.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tecnología del jamón Ibérico

There's a book available for preview via Google Books about how the Spanish make jamon Iberico, starting with things like the pigs, what they eat, why, etc.

The book is called "Tecnología del jamón Ibérico: de los sistemas tradicionales a la explotación"

Here's some neat pictures of the different Iberian breeds. There's also material on fatty acid composition, how they cut their hams and a lot more stuff.

As a cursory glance at the book shows, there's a lot of science to making great cured products. One advantage to knowing the science is that one can avoid entire classes of errors, like trying to produce great hams from pigs with the wrong genetics, feeding them the wrong stuff, making cured products out of young pigs, etc.

The information in this Spanish book is more complete than the stuff in Franz S. Wagner's book. Dr. Wagner keeps it a lot simpler, because his book is primarily for Austrian hobby farmers.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Extremadura Farmers Complain of Fraud

There's an article in the Spanish media where Extremaduran farmers are claiming as much as 80% of the pork marketed as Iberico is fraudulently produced (Google translation).

This is coming after the scandal of Mangalitsa being sold as Iberico - a fraud made possible because the Mangalitsa and Iberian breeds produce similar meat.

One of the big complaints that the Extremadura farmers have is that farmers in other parts of the country are producing Iberico pigs, with modern methods. That pork gets marketed, fraudulently if necessary, harming the Extremadura producers.

I saw another story, about a farm getting the go-ahead to create a 600-sow Iberico confinement (Google translation). Of course, in the USA, the farms that you read about in the news are typically bigger - e.g. 3500+ sows sows, not 600.

My understanding is that the 600-sow unit is exactly the sort of facility the Extremaduran producers would be complaining about: a modern farm, using the latest technology, located outside Extremadura, that will produce pigs that will compete with theirs (fraudulently or otherwise).

It is pretty easy to see how this happens: the consumer can't differentiate the finished products. He can't tell if a piece of tasty ham is from Hungary, Castille or Extremadura. If people want to hear their pigs are Iberico breeds, produced in certain ways, that's what marketers will tell them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ridiculously Fat Mangalitsa

There's a ridiculously fat Mangalitsa for sale on a Hungarian website.

That thing is so fat, it is amazing it can stand, much less walk to the feeder to chow down. About 90 years ago, many pigs were that fat:

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Herbfarm's Pig Dinner

While reading this blog post by gluten-free girl that mentioned a dessert featuring Mangalitsa bacon, I found out about this upcoming event:
Makin' Bacon

Go whole hog! Join us as we explore the pig as he once was: proud, marbled, and flavorful. You’ll forget “the other white meat,” as you taste a range of pork, both fresh and cured, from hand-tended Heritage breeds including the legendary Mangalitsa, or “Wooly Pig,” which we raise on our own farm. Makin’ Bacon is a delightful nose to tail experience.

Cutting Hams for Curing

Just as Spain and China and Hungary all have processors curing hams, America has processors (like Johnston County Ham) who make cured hams.

I found a document about country hams that gets into details.

Country hams are cut to help the hams turn out properly (see image above). Depending on a facility's ability to control temperature and humidity, the hams can be cut differently. In the image above, the top right is cut to reduce spoilage. The bottom right is better for controlled conditions.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jinhua Ham

China has a ham industry, a bit like Spain's. I've mentioned this before.

Their Jinhua hams are made from a special breed of pig, the 兩頭烏 ("two ends black"), which looks a lot like a Swabian Hall. You can see more traditional Chinese breeds here (well worth the look).

Here you can see photos showing how they produce the hams. It looks a lot like how they produce Iberico and Mangalitsa on the other side of Eurasia.

This photo reminds me of the "bacon coat" I've read about in my book on Mangalitsa, from Hungary. They mention a way of cutting the fatback and belly off the pig, in one piece. It is called a "bacon coat". The book says it gets cured in once piece. That's neat - you get the lardo and bacon on one big slab.

I'm not sure if the woman is holding a "bacon coat" - but I think the part near her hand is the belly, while the stuff at the bottom looks like from the loin area.

One thing I notice about the 兩頭烏 pig is that it has very small hams. So although they are famous for their hams, there's not much ham on one of them. The Mangalitsa is similar - we killed some pigs of different weights recently. The difference between a 160# carcass and a 190# carcass is mostly in the fatback and the belly, not the legs.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Elements Mangalitsa Dinner - Photos from a Guest

Jay Caragay, the creator of Spro, has a blog post about the Elements Mangalitsa Dinner, with lots of photos.

It looks like Elements served a tremendous amount of food.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Seam Butchery vs. Anglo-American Butchery

Wooly Pigs has tried to educate Americans about seam butchery. It has been a recurring topic on this blog.

I just found a comparison of Anglo-American butchery versus seam butchery (as practiced by an Italian butcher):

The two butchers watched each other with keen interest. Andy Winterburn, the butcher from Berwick-upon-Tweed who works at Peelham and was taking care of Spidey, sniffed as Renato from Friuli made incisions to take out the spare ribs from the Italian pig's belly.

'No butcher in Britain would do that,' he said. And when Renato started stripping down the pig's head for meat, Andy muttered: 'I could have done two pigs in the time this has taken. This is just not cost-effective.'

But, as Renato pointed out, there was 2kg of good meat on the head, including the cheeks - a delicacy once sold in Britain as Bath chaps...

Nowadays, in most British butchers, the head goes straight in the bin. When we'd finished, we totted up the proceeds. Spidey had started out at 75kg - and yielded 42kg of usable meat. The Italian pig weighed in at 62kg and produced 52kg.

The disparity shocked even Andy, who spent his career working in a busy butcher's shop.
Wooly Pigs (and other Mangalitsa producers) promote seam butchery because it allows the consumers of Mangalitsa to lower their costs. Mangalitsa is expensive enough that it pays to butcher the pigs with minimal waste.

To my knowledge, the next seam butchery class taught in the USA (by European experts) will be this one.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The American Restaurant, Executive Chef Debbie Gold

I just sold a half a very fat Mangalitsa "on the rail" to The American Restaurant's Executive Chef Debbie Gold in Kansas City. Here are some reviews of the restaurant at yelp.

The story behind the hotel and restaurant is really something. Chef Gold has won many awards:
  • James Beard Award Nominations for "Best Chef Midwest" 1997, 1998, 1999
  • James Beard Award 1999 "Best Chef Midwest"
  • James Beard Award 2002 "Best Restaurant Graphics" - 40 Sardines
  • James Beard Award Nomination 2002 "Best New Restaurant" - 40 Sardines

Chef Gold said she'll be making lardo, bacon, sausages, etc.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Great Mangalitsa Jowl Photos

Kavin Du's Mangalitsa jowl.

Kavin Du has a great photo of a Mangalitsa jowl on twitpic. Seeing it full size is really something.

I was talking with Michael Clampffer about the jowls today. Obviously you don't sit down and eat a big plate of them. Eating small portions (like Kavin's " Mangalitsa jowl marinated with rose sorghum and teriyaki, air cured then grilled." - pictured above) is the way to go. At the rate he's eating that jowl, he won't need another one for a long time.

I'm so happy when I see this stuff. Clearly some people in America really appreciate the Mangalitsa for what it is - a uniquely fat and tasty pig.

US sales of Mangalitsa hams expected to be 1,000-2,000 this year

Some Mangalitsa ham related articles appeared in the Hungarian press, both Hungarian-language and English-language.

Here's the Hungarian article (the source of the above photo). Here's the English version.

Toadberry (Vanda) was kind enough to translate the Hungarian article for me. The additional info in the Hungarian language article is:

  • They expect to sell 1000-2000 hams in the USA based on current sales numbers.
  • There are 20 different companies in Hungary doing Mangalitsa breeding.
  • The biggest Hungarian producer is Olmos es Toth, whose revenue is approximately 7.3 million dollars. This year, increasing prices are balancing out decreasing sales.
  • The increased cost of feed (last year?) cut into supplies.
  • 60% of Olmos es Toth's products are exported, 90% of that to Spain.
  • Toth expects to enter the US market with Mangalitsa products. In five years, the population of hogs in Hungary could double.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Ideas In Food writes about Mangalitsa. The photo is from their site.

I just got off the phone with Mosefund's Michael Clampffer. He took these photos from their dinner at Princeton's Elements. He said the dinner was a great success.

Here's more photos from the dinner.

Wool and Mangalitsa

I've been asked many times if Mangalitsa wool is good for spinning. I haven't yet heard of anyone spinning it. I think it is good for felt, insulation and fishing ties though.

In Spain, there's a center for wool processing which will have a variety of fiber animals - sheep, alpaca, rabbits - and even Mangalitsa.

So I guess if it is possible to spin Mangalitsa bristles into something, they'll do it.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Egyptian Pig Producers - Followup

After the pig cull in Egypt, there were stories about people losing income.

With more time passing, as this article makes clear, things have gotten worse:
  • more malnutrition and anemia
  • more vermin and disease
  • more poverty

From the article:

The government's decision would have dire financial implications... "They made their decision without any research," said Syada Greiss, one of the Christian MPs in parliament.

"Who would this affect, how many, what damage would it do to the local economy, what would they do to replace their lost income? There was no real thought for the implications for one of the city's poorest suburbs. And that's why it feels like discrimination."

The government says it has compensated the Zabaleen but those who reared pigs say they received only a fraction of what their animals were worth.

It was also a one-off payment - hardly compensation for a twice-yearly income on which men like Mr Mosaad had depended.

"If you walk around this neighbourhood they are piling up the organic waste in the streets," said Ms Greiss. "There is nowhere to put it. No pigs to eat it. It is miserable here."

Farmers fear regulation because it can easily ruin them. The situation in Egypt provides an example of bureaucrats, with the stroke of a pen, destroying the livelihoods of an entire class of farmers while hurting public sanitation and general health.

I find it very interesting that people who don't eat pigs benefited from the pigs eating stuff that would otherwise feed vermin.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Pig and Processing News

I saw these articles today. They are instances of trends I've seen and written about before:
A few thoughts:

Once people start with the chickens, it is only natural to add dairy goats or pigs. Pigs are a lot more fun to have around than chickens.

People who make their own cured products at home typically want to work with good raw materials, because there's little point to investing so much labor in producing cured products roughly equivalent to those a deli can provide. Wooly Pigs has many satisfied customers who can attest to the quality of our raw materials for cured products - The French Laundry and The Herbfarm - two of the USA's most-esteemed restaurants spring to mind.

There's a general trend where developing countries get richer, want to eat more meat and then import genetics and pig-raising systems from countries like Denmark and the USA. This may lead to some ancient pig breeds disappearing. The country-specific breed preservation organizations (e.g. the ALBC) aren't up to the task of preserving the at-risk genetics of other countries.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Marketing the Mangalica

I found this article from "Business Hungary" about the Mangalitsa. Click on the images to view it.

The article says that Toth was an agricultural engineer who saved the pig. My understanding has always been that it was done with the assistance of the Olmos family. I say that because of articles like this one.

I'm guessing the article doesn't mention the Spanish connection because the article appeared in "Business Hungary" (not "Business Spain"). It sounds a lot more romantic to say Toth did it alone - but as the article itself mentions, the Mangalitsa wouldn't have thrived the way it has if were strictly a Hungarian phenomenon.

In any case, if the Mangalitsa could have survived as a strictly Hungarian phenomenon, they wouldn't have needed Toth; whoever was producing the pigs in Hungary would have kept on doing it and it would have been self-stustaining.

Obviously the Mangalitsa costs too much for Hungarian consumers (then and now) to support its production. So even if Toth had come in, gathered the pigs and produced them, without the Olmos group to help him turn those pigs into money when they were done, he'd have been stuck with a mountain of Mangalitsa inventory, and that would have been it.

Looking at it cynically, the ability to pass off Mangalitsa as Iberico probably increases the chances of the breed surviving; so long as Spain remains an expensive place to raise pigs, there ought to be demand for Mangalitsa.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Elements Dinner - Tickets Available

There's still tickets available for the Elements Mangalitsa Dinner.

Visit to a Country Ham Maker

View from the store
Tom Canaday (VP of Wooly Pigs's San Francisco Bay Area Operations) and I visited Johnston County Hams,a maker of country hams. Rufus Brown, the curemaster, showed us his facility, explaining how it works.

From their store, you can see the hams drying (picture at top). In the front, there's the hams from a gigantic pig (over 1000 pounds). They've been drying out since the 1970s and have lost a tremendous amount of moisture. Fat is still dripping out of them.

Johnston County Hams is one of America's last boutique processors of country hams. Country hams are a traditional American food, very similar to Italy's prosciutto, Spain's jamon or Portugal's Presunto. Johnston County Hams has been profiled by the New York Times.

Salted hams

In addition to making country hams, Johnston County Hams makes prosciutto (more dry and aged than the country hams), bacon and other products. One of their hams is sold as a Portuguese-style "Presunto", popular in New Jersey.

I've been eating a lot of their prosciutto today. My pack will certainly be gone before the sun goes down.


As the pictures show, you start by salting a ham (which cures it), then letting it equalize, then dry out. In the salting phase, water comes out of the ham and salt moves in. In the equalization phase, the salt moves into the interior of the ham, curing it. In the drying phase, the product dries out and ripens. Enzymes in the meat break it down during the drying phase.

Equalizing Hams

Johnston County Ham is located in Smithfield, North Carolina. Smithfield is a big name in pork - but the Smithfield people normally hear about is Smithfield Virginia, where Smithfield (the world's biggest pork company) is based. I'm guessing there are close to as many Smithfields in the USA as their are Oaklands.

Rufus explained that Johnston County Hams has benefited a lot from tourists driving down the interstate, who see "Smithfield" and think, "let's buy a country ham, now!"

Drying hams

Johnston County has a very nice rail system for moving around the hams, as seen in the photographs. We were very impressed with the plant and its smooth flow (approximately 80,000 hams per year). They've got a system that's been working for decades.

Our hosts were very hospitable. I'm looking forward to going back to Smithfield. Rufus Brown will be visiting Mosefund's Mangalitsa event in January.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Woolly Coat

Mangalitsa pigs have woolly coats. Such coats make them look cute, even if they are mean.

I was reading that the woolly coats offer excellent protection from the sun and the cold - but they are particularly bad in wet conditions.

This means that raising Mangalitsa pigs in places like Texas or Utah ought to work fine. I'm guessing Florida might be too wet for them.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Cute Pigs are Still Pigs

You might think that a cute pig like the one pictured wouldn't hurt or bite. It just looks too cute.

Similarly, this dog looks cute too:

It turns out that the dog, a Komondor, is typically fierce. And pigs like the Mangalitsa can be too. Here's another picture of that cute Mangalitsa. It looks less cute to me:

And here's a blog post about that same pig, that used its tusks to rip open someone's thigh:
Although placid to look at we were warned not to get our hands in his way ,he has a fine set of tusks which ripped open Chels thigh on an earlier visit into the pen.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Bussinessman's Over the Top Farm

I found this article in the foreign press (translation) about a guy creating a farm/fine-dining/hotel estate where he's got Wagyu cattle and Mangalitsa pigs. He's got some other particularly tasty animals there too.

It won't surprise me if he puts in his own slaughter and processing. Once you get the raw material, that's the next logical step.

It reminds me a bit of Mr. A and his Mangalitsas, and the events he's hosting in January.

More Suisun Valley Farm Photos

I got some photos taken by the breeder who delivered the Mangalitsas to Suisun Valley Farm.

I figure it had to be an odd day for Shane; 50 or so 70-day old pigs show up all at once and they each have their idea of what they'd like to do - dig, eat, wallow, fight, etc. You go from having nothing to suddenly having 50 pigs, each with its own personality.

It can be overwhelming, especially if the farm isn't ready.

In this one you can see the pigs making a wallow. The pigs in the back on the left look to be fighting.

I should mention: it takes a lot of skill to turn out a uniform batch of pigs. Basically, the breeder has to plan out what boar to breed to what sow, to try to get something "in between". If she's got long legs, he ought to have short ones, and vice versa. The goal is that all your sows in a group all farrow on the same day, so that you get a uniform batch of pigs, all the same age. Then you try to help out the smaller pigs, so that they can catch up (as much as possible) to the bigger pigs.

It takes a lot of skill and attention to make this happen. If the farmer does a good job, it is because he's able to effect "unnaturally good" results of all pigs thriving. The "natural" result (observed in nature or on farms without attentive management) is for the weak to remain weak, because the stronger pigs dominate them and hoard all important resources like food, shelter and water. So you'll see weak sows producing weak pigs - some of which die.