In addition to processing Pedigree Welsh pigs, we’ve been rearing our own Mangalitza. If you look back along the blog you’ll see a variety of posts dedicated to this wooly pig. This Monday saw the culmination of over a years work, when our first animal ‘Princess Bubblegum’ went for slaughter. These are our test pigs, fed very specific diets to maximise the marbling in the meat and to get the purest cleanest fats possible. The breed is a bit of an oddity, both within the rearing world and within the processing world. It’s very much a niche product. Its slow growth rates doesn’t suit commercial pig rearing and its high fat content doesn’t lend itself to commercial processing. So, why did I decide to give them a go? Well, it’s to do with fat – it’s claimed that the quality and composition of the fat is far higher than that of more modern developed breeds. With a higher level of monounsaturated fat it’s ideally suited for cured products (as the fat doesn’t succumb to rancidity quite so quickly). The fat also has a far better balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids, making it comparable to seed oils.
I’ve sampled a number of Mangalitza produce prior to the processing our own, and if I’m perfectly honest some have been outstanding, others have been mediocre at best. This was to be a real gamble. So, how did it pan out? It’s early days to be honest, the animal has been butchered, cuts have gone into cure, others have been cooked and a few choice items are in our freezer for the coming year. Results are mixed, and there’s a long while until everything is tested but we’re on the path to seeing what the possibilities are with the breed.
For those with a real interest from a butchery perspective, here’s a breakdown of what I learnt (though this is just one pig though). It’s fat, even on quarter rations of feed these animals seem to lay on fat just by breathing fresh air. I was expecting a fat animal, but this is crazy fat. They’re very agile athletic animals, and my three have been loose in 7 acres of woodland, so they’ve had plenty of running about. I was expecting reasonable sized muscles, but there’s really very little meat. Considering their weight, I was surprised they could stand up. The eye of the loin was the size of a tenderloin, the tenderloin was a thin snake of a thing. Bone structure is pretty compact. The largest of the meat cuts was by far the collar (as delicious as it was for Sunday lunch I wish I’d reserved it to make coppa). The caul was about the biggest I’ve ever seen, the liver was rich, heart was pretty average but the lungs were a little on the tough side.
When I cut the pig, all I could do was shake my head in surprise at the amount of fat. I really wasn’t expecting quite so much. In terms of marbling, there really wasn’t as much as I had hoped for (it was present, just not abundantly). However, when it came to cooking, I found the meat was far more tender and juicy because of that added marbling. From a taste perspective, the meat is darker and more mature (because of its age) but also has a very delicate and clean porky flavour (it’s pretty refined and understated). I’m really looking forward to trying the first of the bacon, as that’ll be one of the main tests for me. Excess backfat has been bagged ready to be used in a range of dishes – black pudding and salami are the two on the list for this coming week.
The real success for me was the lard. I harvested about four times as much flare fat from this animal as I would have from a Pedigree Welsh of the same weight. It took a fair while longer to render than usual but it produced the whitest creamiest lard that I’ve ever made. When I was a child one of my favourite meals would be bacon, eggs and fried potatoes – my grandmother had a heavy cast iron frying pan which was filled with white animal fat which would be used time and time again. Bacon, eggs and potatoes were all cooked in this pan – I always opted for the smaller and sweeter Bantam eggs, a thick salty slice of bacon and beautifully browned crispy potatoes. Fried potatoes were the first test for my newly rendered Manga-Lard – dry, crisp and lightly porky they evoked those intense food memories of my childhood. I can’t emphasise enough how clean tasting the fat was, there’s none of that claggy fatty feel to the top of your mouth, none of the greasiness of oil, it’s really an excellent fat to cook with.
The verdict? I feel quite privileged to have had a chance to process this animal. There’s always a sense of majesty when you deal with larger animals. The meat is definitely tasty, rich and moist – the problem is there isn’t much of it. The fat is incredible, the problem is there’s lots of it. I’ll wait on the cured produce over the coming weeks and months before making an educated decision. However, the main question is, is there a market for such a fatty animal in the UK? We’re so geared towards super lean meat, and we have this ridiculous aversion to animal fats, can the small band of UK Mangalitza producers really change our attitudes to pork?