Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bob del Grosso on "Artisanal"

Here's Bob del Grosso commenting on "Artisanal":
The meaning of the word “artisan” has been so inflated and distorted by industry and journalists, reporters, bloggers, marketers and credulous “foodies” that it cannot even be trusted to convey its basal meaning of “a craftsman who makes something with hand tools or by hand alone.” I mean, how much faith can you have in a word that finds applications like “artisan bread” on thaw-and-bake supermarket bread or “artisan eggs” on boxes of eggs that only the week before were labeled “free range eggs?” And when you live in a culture that allows some 25 year old with hand saw a boning knife and a two week long butchering class under his belt to hang the name “Artisan” over his door, you can be forgiven your mistrust of the quality of his “artisanal” craft work.

I think the term “artisan [fill in the food/cooking noun]” is at best nearly useless and at worst another one of those Kafkaesque devices whose meaning has little to do with what it is applied to and which, like the terms “free range” and “organic,” does a much better job of obscuring the truth than explaining it.

So Michael, in answer to your question (“Does Artisansal Mean Anything Anymore?”) : unless it is qualified with supporting evidence that a piece of work was produced by a human being using her hands and hand-operated tools, the word “artisan” cannot be trusted to mean anything other than what the entity that has decided to apply that label to itself or its products thinks you think it means. In other words, when you see the word “Artisan(al) ” on a sign or label you can expect to find handmade or hand-rendered products within, but don’t be surprised to discover that the artisan was a drunken robot.

I think the team at Swiss is as "artisanal" as it gets when it comes to killing and cutting pigs in the USA. But even then, it's a job. There's a team of people, and they work as fast as they can to get the job done. It isn't about artistry or looking cool.

It is about getting the pigs killed, cut, processed and sent out the door so that we and our customers can all make as much money from them as possible.

I met Bob in person at Mosefund's wonderful event in January - which is being held again this November. Bob is a very nice guy. One striking thing about him is that he sounds like Christopher Walken - one of my favorite actors.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mangalitsa in St. Louis

Here's a review that mentions our Mangalitsa in St. Louis at Jimmy Fiala's Liluma:
The star of the evening was the Mangalitsa Pork Ribeye, served with a beautiful combination of green beans, heirloom tomatoes, sliced carrots, and balsamic. Mangalitsa's are a fattier pork product, so some trimming was in order once it arrived at the table, but the flavor was unmatched - a more robust, marbled, sensuous slice of pork I have never had. Take care - this was a large serving of meat, enough for two, so either pack up half before hand, or be prepared to split and fill in with some veggie-rich sides or small plates for the healthier experience.
My comments:

1) Next time I hope she eats the fat. It tastes great and is light, unlike other fat. It isn't gross and gristly.

2) Her reaction is tyipcal - the Mangalitsa is the best piece of pork she's ever had. For many people, their first bite of Mangalitsa is the best meat they've ever had.

3) Mangalitsa prices in St. Louis are low enough - due to logistical efficiencies - that chefs and diners get a lot for their money.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

NYC Paleo Dinner - Videos

Melissa McEwen posted this video preview of the NYC Paleo Mangalitsa dinner on YouTube. I previously mentioned her and her paleo peers here.

I like how Melissa starts:
We're gonna eat some really delicious food tonight. And its paleo food so that's the best part. But if I weren't paleo, this is an amazing kind of meat...

They didn't know how to cook it and had to have a chef phone in instructions.

The preview leaves you hanging wondering how it finishes. Here's her report:
I can't say we followed his instructions perfectly, but it still turned out wonderfully! It was crispy and melted in your mouth with succulent flavor. We devoured it all within an hour. I think the method was very similar to the one used by Thomas Keller in Ad Hoc at Home.
Here's another video from the event:

My thoughts:
  • Mangalitsa is very forgiving. You can make mistakes preparing it and still have it turn out well.
  • There's never enough Mangalitsa. It can get ugly at the end, when there's only a little bit on the serving platter.
Thanks again to DeBragga for making it happen.

I'm thinking the next time they have a paleo meetup, I want them to have a bunch of Mangalitsa lardo to snack on.

The Crossing’s St. Louis Focaccia - Jim Fiala

Jim Fiala, previously mentioned here, sent me this flatbread recipe that uses lard.

Although tradtionally these sorts of breads were made with lard, people have substituted other fats over the years. Those other fats generally don't taste as good as Mangalitsa lard.

I'm putting this up here so that readers of the blog can try it out, try getting rid of the olive oil (something peasants would have sold instead of using themselves), etc.


7 Cups High Gluten Bread Flour
1 Cup Corn Meal
3 Cups Warm Tap Water
2 Ounces Dry Active Yeast
2 Ounces Mangalitsa Lard melted
1 Ounce Raw Honey
2 Tablespoons Minced Fresh Rosemary

½ Cups Diced Mangalitsa Guanciale, diced, sweated
2 ½ Cups Sliced Green Onions White half
Olive Oil
Mangalitsa Lard flavored w/ Sliced Garlic, Rosemary
Sea Salt
Grated Fresh Parmesan Cheese

1. Proof Yeast in small bowl with Lard, Honey and Water.
2. Mix Flour w/ Corn Meal, Salt and Rosemary.
3. When Yeast has proofed mix into flour.
4. Knead Dough for 2-3 minuted until smooth.
5. Proof Dough until doubled in size.
6. Split dough into 5 one-pound balls.
7. Use 5 ¼ sheet pans, add mixture of half extra virgin and seasoned lard.
8. Spread corn meal on sheet pan and oil until fairly think but not dry.
9. Use hands to spread each dough ball into rectangle size of sheet pan.
10. Place on top of corn meal.
11. Proof until double in size.
12. Use fingers to make indentations 1 inch apart through entire dough.
13. Add light amount of parmesan cheese.
14. Add light amount of guanciale.
15. Add ½ cup of green onions.
16. Drizzle with Olive oil and seasoned lard.
17. Add chili flakes to taste.
18. Season with sea salt.
19. Bake in a 400 degree oven until golden brown.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jimmy Fiala's Fish, Jowl Speck, Foods in Season Visit

Jimmy Fiala's fish, made with our jowl speck.

Jimmy Fiala, St. Louis restauranteur (in wikipedia no less!) - and major Mangalitsa enthusiast - sent me this photo of a fish greatly improved via our jowl speck. You can see Mike Sloan of Swiss Meat & Sausage Company holding a piece of jowl speck here:

Jimmy Fiala has requested that we just cured and dry some jowls, and forgo the smoking. That is, he wants guanciale, and not speck.

I want to oblige Jimmy. He's a great customer, and he says he'll test and release a Mangalitsa lard focaccia recipe - which is what I need.

I took a bunch of product to Foods in Season today, including a bunch of jowls and lardo. They'll start marketing those products to their customers. If you want to get our jowl speck, call 1-866-767-2464 and order some!

Selling this batch of jowl speck is a bit tricky becuase in the future, we'll be trimming the jowls more and removing the skin, and maybe even cutting them into small pieces, so that there's less sticker shock. It is tougher to sell a 4# cured jowl than a 1# jowl section.

The belly speck seems to be doing well. Customers are reordering. The best sign of this is that Foods in Season staff eat it. They are breaking Scarface's rule #2: don't get high on your own supply.

That's impressive too: they didn't grow up eating this stuff. They just tried it, really liked it and have been snacking on it.

I asked them if they had any of Rufus's ham, because I have yet to try it. They said it was all gone, another encouraging sign.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Salty Seattle

Photo by Salty Seattle

Salty Seattle has a Mangalitsa recipe on her blog with wonderful photos.

I can't believe how much work she went through to prepare the meal. I would have just cooked the meat sous vide and eaten it, or just roasted it.

I love spaetzle (the dumplings). Here's how it is pronounced in German, in case you are wondering.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It's Time to Cue "Dueling Banjos"

I just saw something about Mangalitsa hams from D'Artagnan. Theirs are boneless.

Meanwhile, DeBragga and Spitler sells something similar, made from our pigs by Johnston County Hams. So far, they are bone-in, like the ham pictured at top. They've also got cured shoulders.

I just got off the phone with Rufus, at Johnston County Hams. They are deboning some hams for DeBragga.

Cured Mangalitsa shoulder (by Johnston County Hams)
looks a bit like a banjo. Already mostly deboned.

We've got two marquee NYC distributors, each selling boneless Mangalitsa hams. The people running the two companies famously built a company together, stopped working together, and now they compete in the field of Mangalitsa hams.

Its time to cue "Dueling Banjos". Here's a Youtube clip from the movie "Deliverance", if you don't know what this refers to:

Wooly Pigs has total banjo supremacy.

Of course, if it ever comes down to "Dueling Banjos", we have, in the sense of air supremacy, total banjo supremacy.

Our pigs are raised in the rural parts of the USA, killed and cut at Swiss, Missouri (substantial shotguns and pickups demographic), moved to North Carolina by Witte Bros Transportation (all employess must have "Field & Stream" subscription or NRA membership) and cured in North Carolina (by a guy whose pre-teen kid has killed a dozen wild boar).

The trend continues even further, into our distributors, who sell the stuff to foodies and chefs:

Burt Reynolds in Deliverance.

While visiting Jerad, COO of Foods in Season, I saw a compound bow at his desk. It turns out that one of our major distributors is a bow hunter. Jerad has decades of bow-hunting experience, and he's been bow hunting since he was 11.

Bow hunting takes skill and patience. There's overlap with the shotguns and pickups demographic, of course, but a bow hunter is special, in the way that a Mangalitsa pig is an extreme sort of pig.

That got me thinking - George Faison, co-owner of DeBragga, is also a hunter.

It all reminds me of the "cold-chain" concept: our product passes from person to person and company to company before reaching its consumers:
An unbroken cold chain is an uninterrupted series of storage and distribution activities which maintain a given temperature range. It is used to help extend and ensure the shelf life of products such as fresh agricultural produce, frozen food, photographic film, chemicals and pharmaceutical drugs.

... A cold chain can be managed by a quality management system. It should be analyzed, measured, controlled, documented, and validated. The food industry uses the process of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point, HACCP, as a useful tool.
We have an unbroken banjo chain. If we had to validate it, we could. I don't understand the implications or importance (if any) of this; but as of today, this is the structure of the western hemisphere's tiny Mangalitsa industry.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

American Meat Cutters and Mangalitsa; "Artisan" Butchers

Cured Mangalitsa Shoulder - made in USA.

I was talking with Rufus Brown today about his hams and shoulders.

Rufus said one worker turning hams into ham slices wasn't careful enough. He cut away too much fat, instead of just cutting away the outer skin.

Mangalitsa Ham from Europe

Look at that ham. If you start cutting away the fat, there won't be much left.

Rufus pointed out that the fat on these hams tastes incredible. It is as good or better than the meat. Given what it takes to make fat that good, I hate to have it go to waste.

Rufus mentioned that he had to keep telling the worker to be careful with the fat, and to slow down. On their regular hogs, there's not much fat, and it is viewed as waste. The goal is to get it off the ham, especially on certain products like spiral sliced hams.

In contrast, the fat on Mangalitsa hams is valuable. That's unlike anything else they make. Rufus's experience reminded me of my problems getting fatback harvested properly.

The continual battle that Mangalitsa producers face is that nobody - the meat cutter, processor, retailer or even the final customer treats the Mangalitsa fat with enough respect.

E.g. you tell a meat processor you want slabs of fat taken off the hog, as shown here. Instead, what you get is a bag of nearly worthless fat scraps. You explain what you want again, and repeat the whole process, including the disappointment.

This has happened to me several times with 3 different processors now, and at least twice to a Texas producer.

The processor simply can't understand the instructions, because they aren't like any instructions they've heard before. You have to show them how to do it right.

My solution to the processing problem was to have European experts - at tremendous expense - train an award-winning American processor to cut pigs the best way possible.

As a result, Swiss Meat and Sausage is able to do seam butchery techniques, producing cuts like what you'd get in Austria and Spain. They are, to my knowledge, the only USDA-inspected slaughter and processing facility doing this. Nobody else can get you a bunch of paletas like the one shown above.*

Of course, if you can't produce that raw cut, you can't produce the cured product shown up at top. That's too bad - because those are really valuable, while picnic shoulders are typically only fit for grinding. You probably don't know what one looks like because so few want to buy them.

I really didn't understand anything about this until last January, when I learned about cutting up pigs. Now I'm sorry I ever got pigs cut any other way.

Given how little attention I've given the topic, and given the huge differences in cutout value, unless someone can produce a paleta, I figure they haven't given the topic of pig cutting much attention. These part-time butchers cut up pigs better than most rockstar butchers you've heard of.

If someone considers himself a butcher (better yet, an "artisan" butcher), but can't make a paleta (or something more valuable), I'm going to guess the guy is ignorant and probably lazy.

If this sounds harsh, look at it this way: the job of a pig butcher is to make money cutting up pigs. If he produces a paleta, one can cure it, roast it or grind it. A paleta looks a lot better as a roast than a picnic, so it sells for more. If he produces a picnic, he's lucky if he can sell it as a roast. It is almost certainly headed to the grinder, which ruins the bottom line, making him less of a butcher.

This is obvious stuff; I learned it quickly enough. My education and experience did not include anything related to pigs or butchery. I didn't know anything about this topic a few years ago.

Of course, I had the benefit of learning from a guy who is really good - and generous enough to teach others. But that doesn't excuse everybody else - especially the people putting themselves out there as expert pig-cutters.

Here's my tip for novices who want to evaluate a butcher, to see how good he is:
  • see how much trim he produces
  • see how much meat he leaves on the bones
Those are things you can observe. They tell you a lot about the skill of the butcher. E.g. watch this guy. Then watch this guy. Who makes more trim? Who leaves more meat on the bone?

One final thing: reflecting on the topic of who is America's best "artisan" butcher, there's an interesting situation. Heath Putnam Farms produces the best pigs, but it doesn't process them. Swiss Meat cuts our pigs up into parts. The people who process the pigs are in North Carolina, or spread across the USA's most esteemed kitchens (thanks to Foods in Season). There really isn't a single butcher in that system. There's no one person you can point to. E.g. Rufus and his team at Johnston County Hams produce the best hams - but they aren't butchers in the sense of turning whole pigs into things.

Given what makes hams and other cured products taste good, it is entirely possible that America's best "artisan" butcher - the guy best at taking entire pigs and turning them into products - cannot produce a ham as good as the ones that Rufus makes. The quality of the raw material is too important.

* Mosefund has sent its pigs from New Jersey to Swiss, Missouri to get them processed - because there was no better option in between.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Restrictions and Optimization

Goats failing at replacing pigs.
Photo by Shawn Baldwin for New York Times

There's a dispute going on related to pigs and vaccines.

As explained here, Saudi authorities are requiring pilgrims get vaccinated against meningitis. Meningitis is a very serious medical emergency. Currently, all available meningitis vaccines are produced via enzymes derived from pigs.

Muslims who refuse to use pig-derived vaccines have to wait to make their pilgrimage until a pig-free vaccine is available or the authorities change their minds.

Optimization: the more you constrain things, the less optimal your potential solutions are. If you constrain things too much, there may not even be a solution.

This vaccine case reminds me of the Egyptians, who slaughtered all thier pigs. Now that collecting food waste is unprofitable, they've got disease and vermin problems, and have to watch goats fail at doing a pig's job.

In general, if one makes restrictions, one has only fewer options. E.g. insist on never-frozen Mangalitsa and you may not get much. Insist on certified organic Mangalitsa and you won't get any (unless someone lies to you, and then you aren't really getting it anyway). Insist on dairy over pig products and you'll eat more saturated fat.

Kevin Sippel Pancetta - Italian Wine Merchants

Kevin Sippel sent this photo of his pancetta to DeBragga, our NYC distributor.

As I explained to George Faison, DeBragga COO, I love selling a product that people are so enthusiastic about.

Selling at the farmers' market in Seattle, it is routine that the most hardcore customers buy raw material, process it like Kevin and then come back with product to share, because they are proud of what they've done and happy that we made it possible.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Free Mangalitsa in NYC

NYC paleos - they eat a lot of meat, fat and veggies.
Photo by Tony Cenicola - by way of New York Times.

There a paleo dinner in NYC, as covered here, by the organizer, Melissa McEwen (seen in above photo). With the help of DeBragga, our New York Distributor, Heath Putnam Farms (bka* "Wooly Pigs") is donating Mangalitsa pork to the event.

Here's a New York Times article about them - it communicates how healthy and animal-fat friendly they are:

The caveman lifestyle, in Mr. Durant’s interpretation, involves eating large quantities of meat and then fasting between meals to approximate the lean times that his distant ancestors faced between hunts. Vegetables and fruit are fine, but he avoids foods like bread that were unavailable before the invention of agriculture...

Perhaps he'll roast and eat that leg, and then fast for a while. If he cured it, he could eat it in slices, like these Mangalitsa products, instead of having to eat it all at once.

John Durant - a lot of paleos look like this.
Photo by Béatrice de Géa - by way of New York Times.

Over the years, I have noticed that pretty much everyone wants a free sample of Mangalitsa. They've heard it is the best and they know it is rare. Even if they don't ever intend to buy - as that would require changing their purchasing habits - they want to try.

Similarly, a lot of people have heard that Wagyu beef is the best. They want to try it, even if they won't buy it again.

Hence, as a rule, I don't give out free samples.

However, in the course of selling in Seattle, I've met paleos and Weston A Price foundation members. Here's what I've noticed:
  • They are healthy! They look healthier than 99% of the people I meet. You couldn't pick better poster children for our pigs, given how fat-prone they are. Look at the photos of them above! Then look at a photos of vegetarians, for comparison.
  • They are fat-friendly. If some young, polite well-dressed people come up at the farmers market and ask for a tub of lard, they are probably paleos or Weston A Price Foundation members. The foodie paleos might want the Speck or the lardo - in any case, they want what we've got: super-high quality animal fat.
  • They are generally conscientious, polite and well-educated.
  • They share information with others about food and what's good.
  • They are informed about food, fat composition and quality. They care about what we do.
A lot of people might complain that a Mangalitsa belly (even a free one) is too fatty. I know that these people won't. A lot of people might think that we are skimping by giving them a tub of lard (instead of a case of tenderloins) - but these people won't.

Hence Wooly Pigs (via DeBragga) is happy to donate some stuff to NYC paleos. My only real request was that attendees know what they are eating and that DeBragga can get them more.

* bka = better known as

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pig Breeder Chat

I talked with Pig Breeder #1 about various things today.

He's very conscientious. Approximately 15 weeks a year, he's watching pig sex every 12 hours, because when sows might be in heat, he heat checks them every 12 hours and potentially breeds them.

Breeding means running a boar in with them to see if they'll stand to get bred. He runs the boar out when he's done.* He watches to see if the sow stands, and assuming she does, if the boar mounts her, hooks up and stays hooked up long enough to fill her with semen.

If he didn't watch, all he'd know is that he's not producing the pigs he should be producing. By watching, he knows if the sow is the problem or if the boar is the problem.

Boars can fail many ways. E.g. if he won't work the sow, mount her, or get his penis in the sow's vagina, or if he can't keep it there, that's his fault.

Sadly, you can have a boar that on paper should be good (e.g. out of good-performing parents, out of a big litter, pick of the litter), but still have him fail as a boar. If your job involves watching failed pig sex many weeks a year, you get irritated with the problem animals, and it is easy to decide to cull them.

Anyway, I asked him about the case of the killer Mangalitsa. He said, about the boars, you:

  • train them to stay away
  • keep your eye on them at all times
  • never trust them

I asked if he'd had a close call. He said he had. One young boar ran up really fast and jammed its snout in his crotch, leaving a muck stain right where his genitals sit. It was a young boar that wasn't trained to stay back. Had the boar wanted to, it could have bit his genitals clean off, right through the clothing.

We also talked about a sow that's becoming a disappointment. She has big litters, but she's damaged her nipples, so she can only provide for five pigs at a time. She's ruined half her nipples, probably by snagging them on things or stepping on them.

The fact that she doesn't have all her nipples isn't the end of the world; when other sows have free nipples, he can move the extra pigs to them - but there have to be sows that have just given birth, or the pigs will die. This time around, she had nine pigs, but there wasn't anywhere to put the extra four pigs, so two of them died.

He's hoping to get some good gilts (females) out of her before culling her - but that process takes a long time, and it means that in the meanwhile, he's got to put up with her.

It is odd to talk to Pig Breeder #1 about this stuff. He's ridiculously familiar with the pigs, how many working nipples they've got, which boars don't like to work, etc. - but that's what is required to run pigs well.

* The boars like this system; they know that when he shows up and lets them out, it is time for them to work, which is what they live for.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Yet More on the Killer Mangalitsa

I saw something on a forum about the lethal Mangalitsa. Here it is:
A guy near my wife's family's vineyard was out at the pig pen yesterday. The 150 kilo mangalica male got out of the pen and was trying to get into the pen with the sows.

The owner tried to usher him back in per usual, whatever that means, and the pig went nuts and attacked, knocked him down, bit his legs and was going for the grown and belly areas. The owner fended him off but one of the bites, or maybe two, severed an artery in the thigh.
I remember reading about hippos in Africa, and it explained that you never want to get between the hippos and the water, nor between a hippo cow and her calf. If you do, you risk getting killed by a hippo.

With boars, you never want to get between them and the sows in heat. Like hippos, boars are aggressive, unpredictable and not afraid of you.

Boars have evolved to fight off competitors and breed sows. When the boar experiences the females in heat, he gets ready to fight and breed those sows. When the human gets in there to try to get the boar away from the sows, the boar may choose to fight instead of yielding.

If this incident really involved a loose boar and some sows in heat, it isn't so surprising the guy got attacked. He just seems to have been particularly unlucky and got a lethal bite.

There's probably two other mitigating factors:

1) The boar probably was like family pet. The owner trusted it a bit too much. Had the boar just been yet another pig, he probably would have been more wary.

2) The owner didn't have a proper enclosure to keep the boar. Had the boar been on a bigger farm, it probably would have been better contained. That's because although is possible to run small number of pigs with flimsy facilities, you can't run a big farm that way.

More on the Killer Mangalitsa

Is this the killer Mangalitsa, or a stock photo?

When I read the Google translation of this Hungary news story, I get the feeling I'm reading about a beloved family pet that did something awful. It reminds me of the dog stories where some family's pet mauls somebody and various people say they didn't think the dog had it in him.

This is a stock photo. He's not a killer.

From the tone of that story, I get the feeling they aren't in any hurry to kill the pig, so they'll probably turn him into szalonna, kolbasz, etc.

From my own experience, I'm all for eating the pig that bites you. I guess I'm just vengeful that way.

My own thought on this phenomenon - when you've got animals (or humans) capable of violence, but they normally abstain from violence, you really don't know where you stand.

How close were you to the animal or human going off? With an animal, they don't ever say, "I've had it up to here with you running me around like you're boss. Next time you do that, I'm going for your femoral aretery."

A human might tell you that; then again, maybe not. With a pig, you never know.

Johnston County Hams - Order them Online

Cured ham - order here.

Johnston County Hams has the cured hams and shoulders of our pigs on their website, available to order.

Cured shoulder - order here.

This is the first time you've been able to order products like these made in America.

It has taken a ridiculously long time and a lot work to get to this point.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Meatless Monday - a Great Day For Lard, Lardo and Bacon Grease

Chef Stockner formerly of Zum Weissen Rauchfangkehrer
with Mangalitsa lardo and whipped lard.

I've heard about a phenomenon, Meatless Monday. On Monday, the people participating don't eat meat.

People eschew meat for a variety of reasons. Some people avoid meat and dairy because they don't like supporting the exploitation of animals - but presumably, people taking such a principled approach would do it throughout the week and avoid all meat and dairy.

Hence, one presumes that the Meatless Monday followers are eating meat and dairy on non-Mondays, and just want to cut down on consumption. They aren't against raising and eating animals.

Meatless Monday appears to be human-centric. For example, Meatless Monday's homepage has human-health focused arguments. They talk about cancer, heart health, etc. I found nothing on their site against killing animals for food.

The fact that there's nothing on the Meatless Monday site against killing animals for food fits with the just-not-on-Monday approach of Meatless Monday.

Mulling it over more, I wondered, what is the Meatless Monday take on dairy products?

Dairy raises interesting ethical issues. For example, if you consume dairy products, you subsidize veal and ground beef, the byproducts of the dairy industry. When vegetarians buy cheese, even though they don't eat any beef, they make it a lot cheaper for others to eat beef and veal.

The dairy industry involves raising animals, which means impacts on water use, water quality, energy, fossil fuel use, etc. Dairies are resource-intensive, because to produce milk, cows need high quality feed like soybeans.

Interestingly, Meatless Monday approves of eating butter and cheese, and apparently, of dairy production in general.

That fits with them not being zealots. They don't say don't ever eat meat and dairy. They just say, "don't eat meat on Mondays. It is better for your body, because you'll eat less saturated fat."

Meatless Mondays is apparently about avoiding animal flesh, aka "meat". Butter and cheese are animal fats. Animal fats are OK on Meatless Monday.

So here's my advice for the Meatless Monday people. When you are cooking your Meatless Monday meal, and it includes butter or cheese, substitute Mangalitsa lard (for butter), Mangalitsa bacon grease (for butter) or Mangalitsa lardo (for cheese).

Lard, bacon grease and lardo are all animal fats, like butter and cheese. But they have more unsaturated fat, and as the Meatless Monday website says:
Recent data from a Harvard University study found that replacing saturated fat-rich foods (for example, meat and full fat dairy) with foods that are rich in polyunsaturated fat (for example, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds) reduces the risk of heart disease by 19%
Whoever wrote that ought to agree that if you can, you are better off avoiding butter and cheese, and sticking to lard and lardo, because they are lower in saturated fatty acids.

If you think Meatless Monday isn't OK with exploiting animals - something we obviously have to do to get the lard and lardo - think again. Meatless Monday is OK with dairy, and dairy necessarily involves exploiting animals.

Meatless Monday is not about "animal rights" - as evidenced by the fact that there's no animal rights rhetoric on the Meatless Monday site, and they support the consumption of dairy products.

Until Meatless Monday goes vegan, eschewing dairy in addition to meat, you should feel free to lard it up on your Meatless Mondays. Just take those Meatless Monday recipes calling for dairy and substitute Mangalitsa products like lard, lardo and bacon grease.

The Mangalitsa that Killed his Owner

A Mangalitsa killed his owner by biting him in the leg. This is the English-language story spreading across the web. As it explains:
The hog, a 140-150 kg Hungarian breed called a mangalitsa, sometimes known as a curly-coated pig, broke out of its pen and as the owner attempted to force it back inside, the animal bit its owner on the thigh, severing an artery, local wire service MTI reported.
If the killer-pig looked anything like this supposed Mangalitsa cross, it wouldn't surprise me that if he attacked someone, he'd kill him.

Although low, that fence probably keeps that pig in most of the time. The pig only climbs up for a good reason.

I found this German-language report from Austria about the incident. It it more informative, particularly about the use of the pig for food. Here's some of it, translated by Google:

This wild boar genetically close woolly pig is regarded as good-natured. Its meat is prized above all for its cholesterol poverty and is therefore an export hit. Among other things, a lot of Spanish Serrano ham from Hungarian Mangalitsa meat is produced.

Friday, August 6, 2010

St. Louis is now Mangalitsatown

If you like to eat Mangalitsa pork, in all its forms - meat, fat, bacon, speck, lard, etc. St. Louis is the place to be.

St. Louis, due to its proximity to Swiss Meat and Sausage Company, is now Mangalitsatown.

As Evan Benn explains in this article on the St. Louis Post Dispatch's website, there's a lot of chefs serving Mangalitsa pork. There's almost all (or maybe all) of Jimmy Fiala's restaurants (e.g. The Crossing), Josh Galliano's Monarch, Kevin Nashan's Sidney St. Cafe. There's underground dinners serving Mangalitsa ravioli, braised neck, belly, lardo, etc.

Josh Galliano is frying his chicken in Mangalitsa lard! Finally, a place where you can get some decent fried chicken.

Just look at this menu (PASSWORD IS "wooly pig")
amuse: mangalitsa lardo, peach, cantaloupe
mangalitsa and pear ravioli w/ gorgonzola, grilled herbed toast
local heirloom tomatoes, yellow doll watermelon, lemon basil
mangalitsa pork belly w/ tomatillo plum jelly and fennel slaw
Cucumber gazpacho, melon sorbet
braised mangalitsa neck, roasted corn flan, cherry tomatoes
jalapeno cornbread ice cream, vanilla cornbread cake and lavender infused honey
That's making me hungry!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Speck - Most Details Don't Matter

Foods in Season started sampling and selling our speck* to their chef customers. So far, everyone who got samples said they'd buy more. I've seen the same thing in Seattle; most chefs or foodies who eat the stuff want more. Mangalitsa experts like Bryce Lamb and The Herbfarm's staff think our speck is very good; those guys are very demanding and fussy, and they have a lot of personal experience processing Mangalitsa pork into cured products.

There's indications our speck will be a hit. In Seattle, a bunch of speck fans have convinced the manager of the Madison Valley branch of Bill the Butcher to stock it for them.

If you want to buy some and you don't live in Seattle, you can call 573-486-2086 and give your order to Pam.

Despite this being our first batch of speck, it probably is the best-tasting speck you can buy in the USA. It isn't unreasonable to think that; our processor wins awards for their other products, speck isn't all that different from their other products, and Mangalitsa pork typically beats all other pork on all organoleptic metrics.

Ham works the same. Hence, I'm confident that when people taste the Mangalitsa hams from Johnston County Hams, they'll rave about them. There's every reason to think they will be the best hams produced in the USA.

Speck (and ham) has fat, salt and meaty flavors. As the meat dries out, proteins break down, naturally producing flavor-enhancing chemicals.

Cured Mangalitsa tastes good enough that one can go through withdrawal, and some people become fiends.

Pigs fiend for sugar.

I noticed these experiences in myself on my first Mangalitsa-related trip in Austria. I've since seen these things in America, so I know at least some people can relate. The pigs gobbling the pears have that sort of primal reaction.

I'm not the only one who thinks Mangalitsa is special. A chef who has taught at the Culinary Institute of America, and who knows a lot about pork wrote me:
I'm afraid that you might be right after all and Mangalitsa pork is nonpareil -at least your's is.
I asked him to clarify, and he wrote (emphasis mine):
The impetus for my earlier comment came tonight while I was making dinner. I made a fritatta that employed lardo that I made from a jowl from a Mosefund pig. Of course, I sampled the fat while I was cutting it and at various stages while it rendered and could not help but compare it to other pork fat. Just like the fat from the bacon that you sent me the texture, taste and aroma was in every way superior to any other fat from a North American raised hog.

I recall a statement that you made a few months ago to the effect that Mangalitsa pork was intrinsically more flavorful than pork from other breeds and that this assertion had been proven" after a blind tasting. At the time I thought this claim was spurious at best and at least, bullshit. But now I'm starting to think that there might be something to it.
My understanding: he ate his cured jowl and had tremendous feelings of elation. He'd never had similar feelings from other cured jowls. Now he knows, in the most basic way possible, that Mangalitsa is superior. He's a convert.

If you put down a mixed plate of cured pork products in front of him, he'd know to eat the Mangalitsa products first. Pretty much anybody who has eaten a bunch of cured Mangalitsa products thinks the same. There's Mangalitsa, and then there's all that other stuff.

Now that we've got products and have shopped them to chefs, we're getting questions. E.g. what's the smoke? Do you use nitrites? Is the stuff organic? Free range?

As someone devoted to making the best-tasting stuff, I find these questions a little alienating. Heath Putnam Farms sells raw material (to some of the USA's most demanding consumers). We control the variables that determine quality, so our stuff tastes the best and makes the best cured products.

The details of our speck process don't matter much, and to the extent you focus on that stuff, you are missing the point: if you use our raw material and a different process, you'll probably make something tasty. If you use our process with inferior raw material, you'll make some inferior products.

That's why I appreciate chefs like Paul Liebrandt, and distributors like De Bragga. When our product was all frozen and quite expensive (like the Iberico imported from Spain), they didn't mind. What matters to them is that our stuff makes dishes that taste the best.

When people ask about the recipe, I'm reminded that I don't have it handy, and nobody else has it handy either. We aren't safeguarding it, so if there's a fire, we might easily lose it. However, as a practical matter, if we lost the recipe for our speck today, it wouldn't matter - because the raw material is what matters.

Similarly, I can remember asking the Wiesner's for their speck recipe. They didn't know the details. They just told me to read this book, because they took it from there.

Anyway, our customers are asking for the recipe, so I've asked our processor to get it. I ought to have it in a few days, and I'll post it.

* When I say "Speck", I mean that in the Austrian sense. "Speck" is a German word that means "bacon", aka "cured and smoked pork".

Producers in South-Tyrol, annexed by Italy in 1918, make and sell a lot of what Austrians call "Schinkenspeck" (ham). It gets marketed all over Italy, apparently under the name "speck". Many Americans who've eaten stuff called "speck" have had the Italian stuff, and associate the word with the Italian meaning.

This creates confusion. The speck we sell would be called "Bauchspeck" (belly) and "Godaspeck" (jowl) in Austria. It is very fatty. Here's what Schinkenspeck from meat-type pigs looks like:

Obviously our speck is totally different. While Schinkenspeck is almost all lean, our Bauchspeck is almost all fat. If you want a relatively lean cured Mangalitsa product, the ham and shoulder is what you want.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mangalitsa Videos

I found these videos on YouTube:

Report on some small Mangalitsa producers associated with Slow Food.

That first video has neat footage from a small farm. I like how they are clear that we need to eat the Mangalitsa pigs, or else. They make the "healthy fat" argument. I think Mangalitsa fat probably is healthier than other pig fat (as it is more monounsaturated) - but it is a lot easier to get people to pay a premium for the tastiest stuff (which Mangalitsa is).

They've got one-pig trailers.

Mangalits sow moves the piglets out of the way.

Mangalitsa sow gets up instead of crushing her runty piglet under her giant fat ass.

This shows some of the "big" guys. Peter Toth, the guy responsible for saving the various Mangalitsa breeds, is on camera a lot.

That last video doesn't give you the warm and fuzzy feelings that the first video does, but a company like Olmos es Toth is big enough to preserve a breed, while the small farmers in the first video don't have the resources to do it. The presentation here explains the symbiotic relationship between big and small Mangalitsa producers.

Pigs are Always the Star

"Cattle Seller" mentions The Madison Club and By George Farm.

As the article explains:

Currently, the operation is home to 10 boer goats, 25 lambs, a half-dozen Mangalitsa pigs and flocks of Muscovy ducks, meat geese and laying hens.

Excitement is obvious for all of the livestock, but the hogs have created the most buzz for Fox.

“As far as I know, these are the only Mangalitsas in Wisconsin,” Fox says with pride.

The breed, descendants from Hungarian wild hogs, is unlike other livestock found in the swine industry. With long, wooly hair, the dark hogs have an abundance of lard when butchered. A delicacy, the organically-produced pork is set to be used in the menu for an upcoming chef’s award dinner in November.

But before they hit the dinner table, the hogs have already made an impact on the restaurant. Unused produce and table scraps are the main diet for the livestock as buckets of the waste are brought to them daily.

“We add some corn and soy, but the restaurant supplies most of the pigs’ diets,” he beams. “We figured it out, and about 19,000 pounds of waste per year are fed to the animals. That would normally all be thrown in the garbage.”
Mangalitsa pigs are always the star. They are smart, cool-looking and very easy to take care of.

I've written about The Madison Club and their farmers before, and about feeding pigs food waste. Pigs are better at eating waste than chickens, cows, goats, ducks, etc. -- plus, it is the most sustainable way to raise animals. In the case of Egypt, the pigs provided a useful public health service, something we take for granted now.

I should mention, it is still possible to produce excellent pork from garbage-fed animals - just make sure to switch the pigs to a proper finishing diet before killing them, so that you still wind up with the best fat. If you don't switch the pigs to the right diet, it is possible to produce awful pork.