Obsessive Compulsive

I’ve mentioned my Mangalitza pigs a fair few times on the blog and on twitter. There’s only three of them but I’m really quite obsessed. I’m becoming some kind of uber-geek on pig raising. My bedtime reading of late tends to be papers on protein conversion in feed and optimum diets for hard fats.

As a family we’ve raised pigs for generations, we can trace our ancestry on the farm back centuries so I’m guessing I can lay claim to coming from generations of curers, albeit home curers.

This past year has been one of the most incredible ever. I’ve travelled Europe and North America looking at various stock, breeding, diets and methods of production. At times I’ve found it hard getting to sleep at night with all these new bits of knowledge brewing in my head. I’m now at the point where I can disseminate and set a plan of what’s to come.

One thing my forefathers didn’t have was an understanding of meat science, they understood farming but they didn’t always have the benefit of understanding how the methods they used in raising their animals affected the end cured product. However, more often than not they were on the right track, as my current feed regime isn’t hugely different from what my grandfather used in the 1950’s.

I’m already evangelical about the Mangalitza and that’s months before we even tuck into our first test pigs. I’ve taken the slow route to test these, buying them young and keeping them for a minimum of 18 months before slaughter. Plenty of people have suggested that I should just jump in and invest in a herd, but I’ve stuck to the original plan. I could have gone out and bought an 18 month animal to test with, but had I done that I’d have had no guarantee of how the animal had been raised, no understanding of the nature of the breed, their characteristics and the way that they grow and build muscle and fat. However, it’s a pretty cautious route buying just three animals, as it pretty much means that I won’t have my own pigs ready for production for another two years. There’s a great little article by Revival Meats about the importance of diet. I just hope that my ‘old world’ methods will produce pork similar to this.

There will be other pigs, the Mangalitza after all is a lard pig, so I’ll be marrying the product with another breed. I currently use pork from the Burry Herd of pedigree Welsh Pigs, it’s proved to be a consistently good product but ultimately I’d like to have my own stock to produce from. Whether it’ll be a commercial or rare breed I’m not quite sure yet, that’s a decision to be made over Christmas.

However, with regards to the Mangalitza, there is a degree of trepidation – the Mangalitza products that I’ve tasted have been vastly different, some poor, some good and some were just incredible. Similarly, having spoken to charcutiers from across the globe, they’ve all had mixed opinions on the quality of the pork and of the cured product. From personal experiences with the product I do wonder whether these discrepancies are all largely down to the way that the pigs were fed and raised. As a nation of ‘super lean’ pork eaters I  doubt whether there is a market in the UK for fresh Mangalitza pork other than in high end restaurants?

I’m investing my time in Mangalitza to make the best quality charcuterie possible, I just hope that the public will see that same value. At Borough Market recently I heard someone balk at the cost of Iberico Ham, it cost in the region of £175/kg. It’s expensive, yes, but it was a 32 month dried ham – from craddle to plate you’re looking at a minimum of 44 months – how many other food products are there with that level of investment?

I’m heartened to see that the Mangalitza market in the UK is about to get a kick start. Lardo, a new restaurant set to open in the New Year has enlisted the help of Graham Waddington (formerly of Trealy Farm) to produce some of their charcuterie. As far as I’m concerned, the more of us producing quality pork, and quality charcuterie the better. I’ll be keeping an eye on their development, and I can’t wait to try their products!!!

Back to the grind

I’ve been home nearly two weeks now, but it’s only this week that I’ve got back to the grindstone. We had some friends staying with us last week, so it was a blur of cooking and evenings out.

First bit of charcuterie action was on Saturday. I was up at 5am to feed the pigs, though they were snoring happily at that time, but I had an early train to London to catch. I was headed to Charcuterie & Company at the South Bank – twenty or so stalls selling a variety of charcuterie and a demo tent. It was a little quiet when I arrived (just as it opened) but by lunchtime it was heaving, and it was great to see charcuterie being sold to such an enthusiastic crowd. I apologise now for the quality of my pictures, in the rush to catch the train I forgot my camera and had to rely on my crappy old iPhone.

First stop of the day was the demo tent to see Marc Frederic make up a batch of salami. Marc’s been a great help to me over the past few months and we’ve had a couple of great chats on the phone – it was great to finally meet him in the flesh. Fans of charcuterie should check out his blog, and he’s got a book out this Christmas, it’d make a great stocking filler! BUY IT!

There were a couple of interesting British Charcuterie makers selling at the site – Forest Pig had some great air dried ham, and Cannon and Cannon were there too representing a number of British makers. The British product that really stood out for me was a cooked ham by John Doig from Moons Green in Kent. I also had a chance to try some old favourites from Trealy Farm. There were a fair few stalls there selling European charcuterie, I had a very tasty beef chorizo, and some excellent speck, however, my favourite item of the day has to be the air dried ham I had from Reiners Fine Food – it was a relatively young ham (18months if memory serves) but it had the most delicious light sweetness and incredible marbling through the meat.

Stuffed to the gills with free tasters I took a stroll along the South Bank towards Borough Market. Although I’m up in London often, it’s rare that I get time to venture to Borough. It must be close to six years since I was there last; it was a cold crisp Christmas Eve morning and I was stunned at the crowds out buying their turkeys and veg. My God, that was nothing compared to the crowds there on Saturday. The queues for the ready to eat food stalls numbered 30+ people and everywhere seemed to be doing a roaring trade. I couldn’t see any dedicated British Charcuterie stalls, but I’ve since heard that Cannon and Cannon will have a stall there from next month, excellent news!

Before heading home, I went to meet up with my new web developer. Gosh, doesn’t that sound good, I have my own web developer! Excellent meeting, I’m a little more savy now on what I can get built, it’s down to me to get it all sorted now! Hoping to have something launched in the New Year.