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!!!

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Obsessive Compulsive

  1. Bravo on your care to both the breed and your own business model. Right now jumping two feet in may not be a smartest move in the long run. Even though too much research can be an excuse to never really move forward I don’t think the same can be said in regards to raising quality animals that produce quality food products. Though I don’t raise the pigs we get our lard from I have had enough talks with, and education from, Heath Putnam, to know that Mangalitsas are a particularly moody bunch and require particular care. Hopefully this will not be the breed’s downfall on the road to larger acceptance and production.

    As for price? I think the time has passed for the production and consumption of crap products that we can all scarf down gluttonously due to their very cheapness. The planet, our bodies and the market need to find a better balance where large amounts of protein consumption may very well have to take a back seat to more produce intake. A way of eating where a high quality slice of protein can play a regular role in daily meals when it’s not about eating two pork chops vs one at a sitting. Hopefully the breed popularity will grow, along with the knowledge that not all animal fats are ultimately detrimental to ones health (the brain needs dietary fat to function!) so prices will eventually come down a bit more. In the end it would be lovely to see Mangalitsa gain it’s place as a staple meat vs a special occasion (ie rare) treat.

  2. “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. ”

    Keep it slow and keep your knowledge and control of the animals (and charcuterie) as complete as possible. It is so easy to feel rushed, but what you’re doing is the best (only?) way to really understand how every variable plays out. Thanks for this really nice post Iltud. If you can afford to take things this slowly and methodically right now, you’re going to have an amazing product. All the best. –David

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s