Host Marked & Kulinarisk Rosenfeldt

Day two, and I’m quickly clocking up some serious miles. The landscape is pretty much the same so far, wide stretches of arable land, a few small wooded areas, lakes, rivers, sea and lots of windmills. I’m impressed by the amount of arable land that I’ve seen, the only other crop of note is the odd pocket of maize, grazing land is kept to a minimum. With so much cereal, there’s no wonder the Danish produce so many pigs!IMG_0022First stop was Krogagergard, an Organic Farm close to Ringsted in central Zealand. I’d chosen to visit them for a few reasons… we’re not Organic Farmers ourselves, I would love to be. We try our hardest to make the best quality produce available, but we also want to be reasonably priced. We’re competitive on supermarket prices on our fresh meat, sausage and bacons and I’m often told that we’re too cheap. Were we to make the leap to Organic we’d have to pass that cost of production onto the customer, which would ultimately narrow our market.

While researching for this trip, it was quite obvious that Danish pork producers fell into two categories – intensive or niche, and that niche often meant that producers are both extensive and organic. In the UK, it’s a far more complicated mix of production methods but what was apparent from my conversations today, is that the Danish are far more in touch with their methods of production. Ask most small pig farmers or smallholders what they feed their animals and they’d probably answer that it was bought from a mill or feed merchant ready mixed. They might know the percentage of protein but that’s probably it. Most sources of protein in animal feeds in the UK today derives from genetically modified soya from North and South America. The majority of pork on our supermarket shelves, on our butchers counters and in our farmers markets has been fed GM soya. Not so the Farmers Markets in Denmark.

IMG_9944There was a reason why I was visiting Krogagergard today, the first weekend in September is the ‘Organic Harvest Market‘. It’s an annual event where organic farms throw their doors gates open and welcome in visitors to see their farms. I parked up in a freshly cut barley field, and wandered into the farm courtyard, hand drawn signs noted the times of the hourly ‘Tractor Visits’, talks that were taking place and events that were happening through the day. An ad hoc playground from barley straw bales had been built nearby for the kids and local food producers were busy setting up their stalls for the day.IMG_9981I headed to see Kirsten one of the owners at the on-farm shop and butchery first before taking a wider farm tour. It was an extensive shop, with a range of organic produce, with dry goods, frozen meat and vegetables from the farm. The processing unit sat directly behind the retail counter, and was a similar size to Mineslund with a piston stuffer, bowl chopper, mincers, vacuum packer and small smokehouse. The choice of produce was similar to what I’d seen yesterday, it was extensive once more, and I was truly impressed with the work that had gone into all the products. I had a taste of their salami, and a rolled cured and cooked belly (which was the standout product for me).

IMG_9966Everything I’ve seen so far has been dearer than UK prices, but I hadn’t realised that everything in Denmark was liable to VAT of 25%. With that taken into account, the +VAT price is pretty close to the UK norm, cheaper if anything considering it’s Organic produce.

IMG_9988The whole farm was open for you to wander, I don’t think this would ever happen in the UK. One shed was filled with machinery, tools, grain mills and assorted bits of equipment. I was in absolute heaven, but it was a ‘health and safety nightmare’. That said, it was obvious that things had been tidied, brushed down and made presentable for the day, but there was no doubt that this was a working farm. This wasn’t a smallholding, or a hobby farm for a pair of Good Lifers, this place saw a lot of hard work.

IMG_0011As the tractor tour was full (the google translation from their website reads ‘pulled torture’) and I didn’t want to deny one of the kids a ride, so a group of us stragglers wandered after the tractor to the outlying areas of the farm. I finally saw my first pigs of the trip! Yay!

IMG_0021Their pigs are kept outdoors throughout the year unless the weather is atrocious and are fed a mixed ration of cereals grown on the farm with peas as their protein source. Breed doesn’t seem that important, as there was diversity of genes in the pigs. They were Danish Landrace but either they’d been crossed sometime in the past or had a modern cross as their ears weren’t to breed standard. Cattle are kept both indoors and outdoors, though their pens were empty today for the visit.

After a full morning of wandering, chatting and nosing in all the sheds I made a move south. I had plenty of time to ponder what I’d seen that morning. Another meat business set in the midst of nowhere that was seemingly doing very well. It crossed my mind for a brief minute, should we have a farm shop of our own?

IMG_0026My afternoon was spent at Culinary Rosenfeldt a food festival being held in the grand setting of the grounds of the Rosenfeldt Estate. It was by accident that I ended up here – I’d contacted Jette of Kaersgaard and was hoping to visit their farm. However, my timing didn’t work so she suggested that I visit them at the festival. In the end it worked out extremely well as I managed to meet some other producers I’d been emailing too.

IMG_0070Before I tracked down Jette and her partner Lars, the first thing I spotted was a deer carcass hanging. The pic above was taken towards the end of the day, I couldn’t get near at the beginning, such was the interest. Avert your eyes if you’re a little squeamish, there’s more gore to come. Other than the hot dog stand the longest queue of the day was for the free tasters of haunch that were cooking on the open fire (utterly delicious though a little tough). The stand and demo was being organised by Danmarks Jaegerforbund (The Danish Hunters Assocciation). I’d missed the cull, but the hunter from the organisation was doing an excellent job of cutting the loins when I arrived. As I ventured back to the stand through the afternoon, there was less and less to be seen, and there were just a few bones hanging towards the end. I’m not a big fan of guns, they scare me (as do chainsaws), I was always much more in favour of hunting with my grandfather with wire traps, but I’m sure even they are outlawed nowadays. We have ‘Game Fairs’ in the UK, but hunting isn’t seen as a mainstream pastime with us. For my grandfather and my great uncles, hunting was a way of putting food on the table. If I look at old family diarys, amongst the notes on the weather, the state of the harvest and market prices are notes referring to their tallies at hunting. IMG_0046

Too much? Well, the throngs of people at the festival didn’t think so. I’m pretty sure few (if any) vegans and vegetarians read this blog, but I do think it’s utterly important for people to know where their food comes from.

IMG_0074And so, to Kaersgard, I had an incredible welcome by Jette and Lars on their stall. I know how distracting it can be when someone wants to talk to you on a stall while you’re trying to market and sell your products. Luckily for me, there was an almighty downpour which moved most people into one of the ancient barns (built 1777) while the clouds passed. IMG_0125They run a mixed farm – cattle, pigs, goats and poultry. I tried some of their delicious duck rillette, I wished I had known that my room for the night had a kitchenette as I would have bought some duck confit to bring with me too for supper. Like all the other meat producers that I spoke with at the festival they didn’t produce their own products – they reared the animals but the production was done by the slaughterhouse or by a local butcher. It’s much the same in the UK, most producers at markets and festivals make a small portion of their products and have the majority done for them by others. We’re slightly different in that we have our feet set firmly in both camps. We rear our own, buy meat from trusted suppliers and produce all our products that we sell (we also make sausages and cure bacons and hams for smallholders who have their own pigs).IMG_0081

The beauty of being a punter at a food market is watching how others sell their products – not necessarily the sales technique but how products are displayed. One big difference from the UK was the predominance of frozen product, I bought a frozen smoked chicken breast from Dalbakkegaard (no photo, as it’s in my belly), as were the products from Kirkenhojens Limousine who served me up an outstanding emulsified beef sausage. Although frozen, products were simply packaged, cleanly labelled and easy to see in display freezer and it didn’t seem to be a problem for customers. We sell our gluten and preservative free sausages frozen and it’s never really been an issue, it’s the marketing of them that’s always been a problem as they melt as soon as we put them out on display.

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We recently bought ourselves a new display fridge after our small table-top fridge died. It’s much cleaner and more well presented than what we had before, but it’s a bugger to move about. I loved the trailer that Kaersgard had – it was like a burger van but without sides – they even had additional freezer storage, handwash facilites and cooking space. A completely self contained unit. I’d love to have something like that, but markets and events discourage the use of trailers, or they cost a huge amount more for a pitch. IMG_0039I missed out on the hot dogs, by the time I got to queue they’d sold out. A real pity, as the ‘pit master’ for the day was a right character. Second choice was a salami sandwich topped with a spicy mustard coleslaw. Like any market that I’m at trading, I spent a fair amount of cash at the festival – apples, pears, sweets, coffee, juice, smoked chicken and I have to mention an awesome smoked lamb chorizo I bought from Thorlin. I’m not generally a big fan of air dried lamb due to the rancidity of the fats, but this hit the spot. It was also in a natural casing, only the second product that I’d seen, the other being a beer stick by another producer at the festival.

IMG_0141When I finally made it back to the hire car, I was parked in a near empty field. I know I can talk, but I’d outdone myself today.

 

A French Jaunt

Amidst the intensity of paperwork I managed to escape to France for a few days for yet another meaty jaunt. I always think that if people invite you to something that you can turn them down once, but if you do it twice, you’ve probably lost that opportunity forever. So when Kate Hill invited me on a Charcuterie Road Trip last year (which I couldn’t attend) I was worried that I might not get another chance. When the second invite came, my bags were pretty much packed instantly. I’d met Kate Hill at the School of Artisan Food a while back when she hosted the Charcuter-ish event. She runs a culinary retreat in Gascony called Camont. It’s a stunning traditional limestone towered farmhouse set in a hectare of land along the side of the Garonne canal. Viewers of the Rick Stein ‘French Odyssey’ program will be more than familiar with her as she featured in the series and her kitchen provided a welcome home for Rick to cook in on more than one occasion.

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Kate’s kitchen, and yes, it does look like this.

Kate’s courses are renowned, and many of the people I met on my travels across North America had learnt their craft while passing through her kitchen. I’d heard near legendary stories about the Chapolards, a local farming family who provide whole supplychain pork and pork products – “from seed to sausage”. Although in modern farming terms they’re a relatively small farm the Chapolard brothers manage to support their families by growing their own crops (using co-op owned machinery), rearing their own animals (XL cochon!), slaughtering them at a co-op owned abattoir (which they part own), processing on-farm and then selling all their products directly to the public. Put simply, they’re an inspiration.

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Sadly, I wasn’t visiting to join in with the other charcuterie students at ‘Pig School’. However, we were heading off on a charcuterie road trip of the Basque Country. I joined Kiwi Kirsty Brown (check out her plog = pig-log), Adam Smith (of Cellars at Jasper Hill in Vermont), rockstar Chef John Blevins (of Lalime’s in Berkeley), his partner; butcher Analiesa Gosnell and London based Chef Ben MacAndrews. Like most trips I take a notepad with me, this time I filled the book and had to move onto the ipad, to save you on tomes of writing I’ll concentrate on a few choice nuggets from the trip…

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My favourite producer of the trip was Eric Ospital, he runs his family business Louis Ospital and in addition to own labelled products produces a speciality ham under the iBaiona label. These hams are sourced from animals from three family farms, fed a specific non-GM diet, reared to 180kg at a minimum of 11months. The hams are salted, equalised and put through a series of drying stages and aged for between 15 and 20 months. The production method differed slightly from the Italian methods that I’d seen. Drying temperatures were different, and the application of panne or pannage (the equivalent of Italian sugna) was very different and resulted in quite a different product. We were very fortunate to get to see Eric’s ‘ham house’ his ‘theatre of hams’ where they mature the last few months. It’s here that he entertains the cream of Michelin starred Chefs, diplomats, celebrities and those looking to invest in ‘ham futures’. Eric was sent by his father at a young age to work in Paris – his contemporaries from that time are now his customers. Eric’s parting words to me were ones of good luck for the 6 Nations decider between Wales and England, I have an inkling that it went some way towards the victory.

Sticking with the ham theme, we visited a stunning co-operative drying house. Similar to ham facilities in Italy that I’d seen they used much the same equipment to massage and salt the hams before leaving them to cure, equalise, ferment and dry. I started my business from a family history of ham production (which are essentially barn hams). The mode of production in Italy and France don’t differ all that much, it’s just that they mimmic what we used to do on a small scale seasonally so that the hams can be produced year-round. However, there is much more science to it than that, and these hams have a refinement that’s lacking in home-produced barn hams. I know of plenty of people who produce an occasional home-prosciutto, it’s a relatively simple process, but there’s no refinement or consistency to that product, it’s wholly down to natural environment – whether it’s the quality of the meat, the animals diet, the kill weight, fat composition or environmental effects such as humidity, temperature and natural moulds. The real skill is to understand how these hams are influenced by those differing elements and to choose a mode of production that produces the type of ham that you want to make.

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The other obvious realisation when you see a facility producing hams is that it’s a big operation. During my Italian trip last year to a machinery supplier I asked for basic costings for a ham system. €1m for an entry level facility, which puts ham production for me in the fairytail/aspiration business category. There are UK companies producing whole air dried hams but these are cottage businesses who often derive the mainstay of their turnover from other products. If you trawl the internet for modes of producing air dried hams it’s easy to find guidance on drying in single temperature and humidity chambers – it’s a mode of production, but to be truthful you’ll get a pretty bland and basic product if you do. You really need these more complicated systems that derive seasonality in the drying conditions both from temperature, humidity and also crucially airflow.

I’m sorry if I’m going ‘off on one’ on the subject of ham, but having travelled extensively now and tasted so many different products, you start to realise the complexity of flavours that can be produced based on regional variation. It’s not just the balance of salt and pork and whether it’s a punchy salty ham, or a meaty taste or something with delicate notes, but there’s subtitles in the inclusion of aromatics in the cure mixture, whether there’s pepper in the lard mixture that’s rubbed on, the nuttiness through the natural occurring moulds and even the effect of temperature on the fats. Creating the perfect ham will be a life long project for me. I’ve set myself a timeline of 10 yrs to get going. But considering it’s taken me two years to get to the point that I’m at now, that may be a foolhardy figure. After all, I don’t even have a decent sized facility yet for the production of all the other bits of lovely charcuterie that I want to produce. A case of cart before the horse? Perhaps, but everyone needs a dream.

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After visiting the ham house we headed to Pierre Orteiza, one of the five producers who owned the drying house. We were met by his extremely welcoming wife and had a stunning lunch in their restaurant/shop/processing space. Pierre was one of the leading producers instrumental in protecting the future of the local Basque pig. It’s an Iberian type pig, very different from the more developed ‘Celtic’ pigs that we have here in the UK and that are used for Italian commercial production. At one time the breed was down to 30 sows and 5 boars, but they’ve managed to turn the tide and have 200 breeding sows now and produce in excess of 2000 meat animals per year. In keeping with other Iberian pigs (such as the famed acorn fed Spanish and Portugese varieties) they’re undeveloped, slow growing animals, they have flatter hams, larger hooves, a slight saddleback and have a higher level of fat covering. Much the same as the Mangalitsa that we’ve reared they have a chemical composition to their fats that lends itself to longer ageing times than ‘Celtic’ breed pigs.

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Rearing systems differ greatly to more commercial production, animals farrow indoors or out, wean at 6-8weeks and are moved into groups of around 30-40 animals in individual ‘parks’ of hillside grass and woodland at 3 months. They’re moved every 3 months to new parks and the previous park is allowed to rest. Animals spend a minimum 12 months outdoors and are slaughtered between 15-18 months at high weights of 160kg. Traditionally pigs would have been finished seasonally in small groups outdoors in woodland feeding largely on chestnuts but the nature of continual modern production doesn’t allow for this.

Looking at modes of rearing abroad has really made me question our methods here in the UK. Whether it be a smallholder producing rare breed pork or an intensively reared producer rearing commodity pork, often composite feeds for both are identical, and animals invariably are reared to pork weight at around 60kg at a maximum age of 6-7 months. The ethos on the continent is much the same as what my grandfather would have done pre-war and pre-intensification (and what we still do) as we rear animals to 100kg for pork and 150kg for charcuterie. Pig breeders in the UK are always shocked when I mention these weights, I’ve yet to come across other producers who still rear to these traditional standards unless their old farming families raising two or three pigs for a seasonal kill. Modern pork weights of 60kg may produce fast pork, but it doesn’t provide flavour, well, not flavour like an 18month old animal where the meat is rich, dark red and developed. There’s a whole blog post to come on this subject I expect as I’ve already drafted a ‘pork credo’ for myself.

So, there’s a taste of my trip to France, and some ranting thrown in for good measure. Our grant application is drawing to a close so I expect I’ll have some more time to contribute to the blog and some other neglected aspects of the business from now on.

New Year… New Womble

That’s right, a late Christmas present arrived yesterday in the shape of Arthur the Boar, and sows Mango and Liza. Looking to start breeding from them in 2013. They’re happily ensconced in their new woodland, and I’m pretty sure their previous owners Martyn and Greta are pretty happy that they’ve got some space to roam in their new home. They are a little on the chubby side (I’m not one to talk) so we’ve already formulated a slimming diet for them ready for breeding. It took us nearly an hour to feed them this morning as a couple of neighbours caught site of us carrying some huge 4ft bolted carrots up to them, and wanted to say hello too.

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We hadn’t really planned on jumping in with some more Mangalitza quite so soon, but thanks to a series of happy events they’ve landed with us. I know it’s a little early to be talking bacon, but the reality is that these are for breeding and the ultimate result will be more piggies for meat. We’ve already had a little interest, so if anyone fancies a meat pig, some stock or some produce please let me know so that I can add you to the list and keep you up to date with what’s happening – we might be jumping the gun, but if all goes well the first male porkers will be ready Autumn/Winter 2013.

One day soon, this will be a butchery.

So, rather than look back, what will 2013 hopefully bring? Well, the main goal is to get our new processing space built – initial plans were for 2011, but they slipped to 2012 and now it’s 2013. This is definitely our year to get going properly. We’re pinning our last hopes on the processing and marketing grant from the Welsh Government at the moment, so that we can build a future-proofed facility that’ll see us through a fair few years. In one year alone we’ve outgrown our tiny processing space in the house, and are producing at capacity so we’re desperate to move on up. If the grant fails, it’ll be a case of rolling up the sleeves and asking as many supporters as possible to lend a hand. It won’t be ideal, and our plans of upscaling will take a lot longer, and everything (as we’ve done so far) will be bought second hand or begged, stolen or borrowed. With the sun shining this morning, the windows and doors are open and a spring breeze is flowing through the house – pretty positive start I’d say.

We’re also looking to change a few things that we already do – we’re not quite looking to emulate the lean methodologies of Toyota but we need to change a few of our systems. Our Christmas profit has already been re-invested into another slicing machine, and hopefully we’ll be able to get a new scale/labeller sometime in the New Year.

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It’s a new start for another business too. My long suffering partner Liesel has made the brave leap and is in the process of establishing her own Letterpress. What’s Letterpress? Well, in its most traditional form it’s the use of moveable type (either lead or wooden block), which are inked and printed onto paper. It’s the traditional way of printing the written word. We’re both printing fiends to be honest. I think it all started for me, when I bought my first Egg Press card from Kate’s Paperie in New York nearly ten years ago now.  We both signed up to a series of summer courses at Swansea Print Workshop and had a taster of copper etching, photo etching, cyanotypes, screen printing and some wood block printing. Bitten by the bug we found a load of bits and bobs on Freecycle including an old Adana letterpress, sadly it had been left in a hedge by its previous owner. This is where I stalled but Liesel carried on her letterpress quest, bought herself two more Adana’s and has regularly headed off to the bright lights of London to attend courses at Central Saint Martins and London Print Workshop. Last year while I was on my meat galavant across the Pacific Northwest, Liesel took her own personal tour of the letterpress studios, stores and workshops of the area including a visit for us both to the Portland based studio of Egg Press.

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Our ‘Christmas break’ (and I use that in its loosest form) has seen us up-end our house once more. Friends, I know you’ve supported me over the past year, but please don’t expect to come and stay the night. We’ve turned the spare room into our own bedroom, and our former bedroom is now a fully functional studio with a nice space for a soon-to-be-purchased much larger press too. 2013 is pretty bloody exciting.

Mangalitza – a breakdown.

Warning – ‘meaty’ post ahead.

I promised another blog post before the New Year, but to be honest this little ramble isn’t what I’d had in mind. I never did write fully about my experiences with our three Mangalitza, so I guess now is as good a time as any. I’ve been spurred by three things: firstly I’ve been offered some in-pig breeding stock, secondly on Christmas Eve I spent a couple of hours reviewing both our farm holding costs for rearing (post feed increases) and our basic cutting/production costs (based on the data I’ve collected from various carcasses over the year) and thirdly I saw some fab pictures of Mangalitza yesterday on the Pitt Cue Co twitter feed.

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I had a happy relationship with our ‘Womble pigs’, they were quite out of the ordinary and all of our neighbouring farmers took a real interest in them. I initially thought that they’d see them as gimmicky but once I explained the reason why I was keeping them and the characteristics of the breed, I was quite surprised to see how interested people were in them. During the past two years I’ve lived a pretty intense Mangalitza existence, scouring the internet for information, reviewing academic papers, pouring through scientific analysis and meeting numerous breeders across more than one continent. I don’t do things by halves – people asked why I didn’t just start breeding, but I wanted to test the animals first before making that leap.

The culinary world in the US has a very strong appreciation for the breed, and prices for the animals (though they sound high) are pretty realistic. The norm that I saw last year was in the region of £12-£17 wholesale and up to £30 retail per kilo.

Few of the breeders that I met in the UK at the beginning of my journey are still breeding. High feed prices coupled by a difficult commercial carcass to sell makes the Mangalitza a very challenging beast. Having blogged and gained a few column inches about rearing Mangalitza myself, I get a call about every two weeks from a prospective breeder, or a fresh faced smallholder asking me for advice. This is my experience, you can make up your own mind…

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I’ll start with the carcass – when you’ve got it on the block, it’ll be unlike any other pig you’ve cut. The muscle structure is far closer to a wild boar – large pronounced shoulders, small loins and leg muscles. Regardless of whether you have fat or lean Mangalitza you’ll probably wonder how they have enough muscle structure to stand up let alone root and run about the place. The tenderloin from a 100kg Mangalitza looks like a tenderloin from a 40kg traditional pig. As for meat quality, age has a definite influence. At 12 months although a deep red, it’s still an undeveloped meat. At 18 months, it’s claret red, rich and developed. I was a little disappointed with the marbling/intra-muscular fat – I’m probably spoilt as I’ve had a couple of Pedigree Welsh recently from older bloodlines that have had fantastic marbling. With any animal, it’s a combination – a balance of the right feed at the right time and the genetic characteristics of a particular bloodline. I really don’t know whether we have the right lines here in the UK to get the type of carcass that I’ve seen abroad and would dearly want to rear myself.

Now comes the challenging part: the fat. I’ve often been told by breeders that it’s not commercially viable as it’s too fatty an animal, so they try and cross-breed the animal or change the diet to reduce the level of fat. If you try and mess with the breed it won’t be a Mangalitza anymore. It’s a lard type animal, so it’s going to be fat. There’s two ways of looking at it – you can treat the animal in the same way as you would a more traditional pig and cost it on the % of usable meat or you find a use for all the fat, and make the animal work for you. This is my problem with the breed, it’s not a straightforward pig, and there needs to be a lot of work to try and get a decent carcass balance from the animal. I hate waste so we’ve had to experiment with a few different things to use up all the spare backfat we had from our three pigs – we still have around 12kg left in the freezer. As for the reality – although I’d seen carcasses, I’d never cut a Mangalitza myself, I was expecting fat but I wasn’t really expecting the levels of backfat that I had on my biggest animal. At 128kg deadweight, the amount of 80VL usable meat was around 30%, the leanest of our animals at 88kg deadweight had around 48%. Since cutting my Mangalitza I’ve seen carcasses from other producers with as little as 20% usable meat.

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The fat is pretty special, it’s definitely not the same as a more traditional breed. You don’t need to get the fat analysed to tell you that, if you’re used to cutting, you’ll see that the fat looks and feels different. It’s pure, stark white fat. The streaky bacon I made from the first animal transported my father back to his childhood – although I get comments all the time about my bacon being ‘proper’, ‘old fashioned’ and ‘like it used to be’, this was definitely different to any modern or traditional breed that I’ve used. The rendered lard was creamy, and again pure white. Although the fat is cleaner in taste I did find myself feeling a little queasy having polished off a plate of fried potatoes – it’s rich, and a real indulgence. However, when it comes to producing something like salami, the meat is incredible but the fat is too soft, it needs to be cured prior to drying or it’ll just ooze soft fats once dried. I have to say the salami I made was quite possible the best that I ever have. So yes, from that perspective I’d like to make more.

Pretty positive so far I guess, now for some comments on rearing… they root, I know pigs root but we’ve never had pigs that root like these. They turned a grassy woodland into a quagmire in a matter of days. Although they were handled regularly they became far more feral than other breeds, reverting to nest building (cauldrons, but I prefer to think of them as dens) and were quite aggressive later in life (I have a mark on my upper thigh to attest to this). They’re highly intelligent, and they tested both our fences and my patience to an extreme degree, breaking out regularly even though they had nearly seven acres of woodland to roam and trash. The plus point, as a slow growing animal they really don’t eat in such a voracious manner as modern pigs. At a quarter ration they were very healthy, and to be honest they would have put on fat just on fresh air.

If I were a hobbyist, and I know (by their own admission) that some of the breeders in the UK are, or a smallholder rearing animals for a steady stock of freezer meat I’d be happy with them as a breed. However, as I’m a farmer and a processor I do have to think of them realistically from a business perspective. There is a profit to be made as a farmer or smallholder rearing these animals as long as they’re sold as stock or as whole carcass; at 18 months I think a fair price would be in the region of £2.50-£3.50/kg for a carcass deadweight (in the region of 100kg). Many traditional breeders won’t have an interest as they’d much prefer to rear a 60kg pig in 26 weeks at £2+/kg, so in effect you’d make more money rearing more animals in a shorter time.

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Where the Mangalitza becomes a tricky animal is processing. I’m back to that question of fat. If we were a nation of fat lovers, and we are not, there wouldn’t be any problem. If I were a butcher, in theory I could break the animal into cuts and sell it with a deep covering of back-fat passing that cost directly onto the customer. When processing you’re using different balances of meat to fat i.e. 80/20, so it’s far more precise. Whole carcass utilisation is quite rare in processing, the modern tradition is to buy in boxed cuts ready prepared or to buy in trim to a specific visual lean. With the Mangalitza we don’t have that luxury – no commercial processor would be interested in dealing with such a costly animal.

Rather than complicate the matter with all the variables, I’m treating the Mangalitza as I would a more traditional pig and costing it on its percentage of usable meat. The cost of production ranges between £8.32/kg and £14.33/kg depending on age/weight and % usable meat. That’s the price for de-rinded, trimmed, de-boned cuts, ready to be processed as sausages, bacon or charcuterie and includes the cost of rearing, transport, slaughter, delivery and cutting. If I compare that to a high welfare reared traditional rare breed and Pedigree animal (say a Welsh, Tamworth or Saddleback) I’d be looking at an equivalent price of between £3.04/kg and £3.93/kg. Now some will argue that those figures are cheap, and I know plenty of smallholders who wouldn’t sell me a whole carcass for less than £3.50/kg (let alone one that includes transport, kill and cut in the price) but if I compare that to commercial intensively reared pork I’d be looking at a shocking sub £2.50/kg price for deboned joints.

With all the will in the world, and with blinded passion, you really do need a customer that’s willing to pay a fair price for the product in order for it to pay its way. During my short journey with the animals I’ve come across breeders that have dedicated years of their lives to rearing these animals who haven’t turned a profit, and are barely breaking even. We have a few packets of bacon and a couple ‘Womble burgers’ left to sell, and we’ll probably have broken even once they’re all sold. Salami tests are done, there are a few tweaks to be done but we’re pretty happy. Two batches of whole muscle cured pieces have been salted, fermented, cased, strung and have been drying happily for a few months – there’s some time yet before they’ll all be ready for taste testing, but we’re very happy with the results to date.

I don’t want to sound as if money is everything, it’s not, but it remains to be seen whether the Mangalitza will be a mainstay of our curing plans for years to come. From a farming perspective and from a business perspective we’re not in a position that we can treat the animals as a hobby. Whether there is a commercial future for the Mangalitza in the UK remains to be seen but for now, we’re going to persevere, and try our best to keep our ‘Womble’ products on the menu.

On Sausages

There’s a potential rant coming your way. I’ve spent my Sunday morning making about 30kg of sausages, three varieties – a traditional, a Cumberland style and a French(much like a Toulouse). I always find that sausage making reminds me of my younger days as a photographer, in particular working in the darkroom. Some days the prints are fantastic, they’re perfect and everything seems to go your way. Other days feel as if you’ve dedicated your whole day without accomplishing anything. Today was a good day. Throughout the whole morning I can count the number of times I swore at casings splitting on one hand. That’s not always true when it comes to using sheeps casings as they’re a much more delicate beast than the hog casings I was using today.

I find sausage making quite methodical and it gives me time to think (it’s the motorway driving of the meat world) and I’ve been thinking a lot recently about sausages in particular. They’re seen as a cheap staple of British life, the humble banger, but what do we know about what goes into to them? I’ll start with what I use – for the most part it’s trimmed shoulder, and when I say trimmed I mean I remove all the bones, rind, glands, the really soft fats, the sinew and the majority of the intra-muscular soft fats. Only the good bits remain- that leaves a mix of about 80% lean meat and 20% fat. Some like a slightly fattier sausage and add a little belly. I always go by eye, if the mix needs some more fat, then I add a little more, whether it’s some spare back fat or some belly. As always fat = flavour.

Each sausage flavour we produce is from our own recipe. Often they’re based on traditional regional recipes that we’ve honed. We don’t use rusk, we make 100% gluten free sausages. It’s taken us a long time to play with various recipes and techniques to get to the point that we’re at. For the most part, our sausages taste different to what’s generally on the market. We use older pigs, so the meat is more developed, stronger tasting, like what pork should taste like. As we don’t use rusk, which I find has a taste of its very own, the pork flavour comes through stronger. We also don’t use any preservatives, no binders or emulsifiers – we’re not preaching that these are bad things, it’s just that we think we can make a pretty decent sausage without them. We’re not ruling out using some of them in the future either.

I was on a sausage course recently that had been organised by the Wales and Border Counties Pig Breeders Association. Even though I produce sausages commercially, I always feel I can learn from other practitioners and it was good to see that both the tutors had their own idiosyncrasies when it came to their individual products. I also welcome the chance to meet any new breeders, it’s important for producers to get to know the network of people who are out there rearing pigs. Some may only be fattening three or four weaners, but those breeders could be producing the best quality pork available.

Here comes the grumble… predominantly (and I’m not tarring everyone with this brush), the sausages produced by your local butchers, farm shops and small holders come from a packet mix. They either buy in a complete mix or a seasoning mix and then add their own level of rusk and water. What’s wrong with that? Well I’m not having a go at what’s in the sausage, it’s just that it produces a culture of sausage mediocrity. It also makes the practitioner lazy – recipes, and skills that have been retained for generations are lost as soon as someone takes the easy route of opening a packet. I’m not advocating that every small producer gets a degree in meat science, it’d just be nice that they knew the function of the e-numbers on their labelling.

I’m not one for awards, we don’t really enter our products for them, I much prefer to hear good feedback and have returning customers. It does however annoy me when I see a producer gaining an award for a sausage that I well know has come from a standard packet mix. They may have added a handful of their own seasoning to sex-up their sausage, but in the end, the functionality of the product, the binding, the texture, the fat retention comes from the science of the packet mix, and not the maker.

For that very reason I hold an amount of respect for producers such as Walls and Richmond. I don’t try and make a product like theirs, but the science of creating a perfectly emulsified product and at a cost that’s affordable to those on a low income is commendable.

I’d love to hear your take on the banger, so please do leave a comment.

Finding a second perfect pig…

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?

Finding the perfect pig…

Aside

I returned home a few days ago with a van full of butchery equipment, another high street butcher has closed and I was there picking the carcass of knives, hooks and trays like a vulture. Although I was pretty chuffed with my haul (and a wooden block and some stainless steel tables were to follow), I drove home in silence, there was no radio blaring, I didn’t hum a happy tune or sing to myself. I felt pretty bad to be honest. I don’t know the full ins and outs of the business in question – whether it was the right site, whether it was staff problems, whether they’d expanded to soon but it’s a horrid thing seeing a business come to an end.

I’ve had some troubles these past few weeks myself – the breeder that I’ve been sourcing my animals from has decided to concentrate solely on breeding, rather than rearing animals to a slaughter weight. I understand perfectly, it’s a question of economics. And to be truthful, it’s probably the very best thing for him to do. He’s an incredible breeder and he knows his animals so well. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can still source some of his pork, though they’ll be ‘finished’ on other farms rather than his. I’m glad it’s happened now, while I’m still a small company, cutting only a few animals per month. When I amended my business plan recently, the one big glaring warning that I’d had from the consultant was the fact that I had one sole pork supplier.

So, the wheels are in motion to look at new ways of sourcing my pork. I spent around six months last year visiting breeders, trying and testing their pork to get the perfect results. I decided in the end to be true to our regional breed of pigs: The Pedigree Welsh. When I’m selling my product, when I tell the customer that it’s from a ‘Welsh Pig’ they often just assume that it’s local, not that it’s a specific breed. Even though the Welsh is extremely well suited to more commercial production, it isn’t a very well known breed. Sow numbers are low, and it’s classed as ‘At Risk’ by the Rare Breed Survival Trust. My biggest problem as a producer is the type of pig that I’m looking for – there are specific weight ranges for pigs for use in different products. Pigs killed for pork in the UK are usually around 50-65kg deadweight, for bacon they’re around 65-100kg mark (though these aren’t by any means definitive weights). On the continent, pigs for charcuterie production are well over 150kg. Finding pigs at higher weights in the UK is very difficult, unless you buy from large scale rearing units producing hybrid pigs for the more commercial markets.

There isn’t really a huge market for these higher weight pigs in the UK. We prefer the younger more tender flavoured pork from smaller animals. Continental pork is older, a little tougher but has darker more flavourful meat. With high feed costs, breeders would also rather have a higher turnover of small animals than to keep animals on their farm for over nine months of age – it’s a case of economics. Having chosen to stick with one breed, and a rare breed at that, I’m limited by the numbers of animals that are available. I intend to persevere with the Pedigree Welsh, I’m hoping to meet with one of the senior members of the Welsh Pig Society this week to see if I can set up a collective of breeders who can finish pigs to the weights that I’d like. When I was in the US last year I was extremely impressed by the number of Community Supported Agriculture schemes that were around. I’m essentially looking to establish a similar scheme for the Welsh Pig.

I do have one other option, if I can’t find the right finisher I’ll have to change my own path slightly and look to rearing all my own animals. It’s a big step to both rear and process. But perhaps, in the end, it might be the only answer.