Mangalitsa pigs are causing a stir for their taste and their appearance
An old breed is causing a new sensation as woolly Mangalitsa pigs hit the U.S.
A new breed of pork is gaining popularity among American chefs, but its appearance might surprise you.
Often described as halfway between a pig and a sheep, the woolly Mangalitsa is the result of crossbreeding between a wild boar and a lard pig.
Born out of a 19th century experiment conducted in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Mangalitsa’s low-hanging body is shaped to the porcine standard, but is covered in long, wispy curls of white woolly hair.
While this animal may appear unappetizing to the eye, its meat is nothing short of delicious. After having been popularly enjoyed in Hungary for years, the fatty meat of this special pig is now arriving in the U.S., and for many pork enthusiasts it’s a must-try.
The Mangalitsa’s meat is described as being closer to beef than pork, owing to its marbled texture and 50 percent fat content.
Today the highest concentration of purebred Mangalitsa pigs can be found in Hungary, with the country claiming 50,000 out of the total 60,000 Mangalitsas that exist worldwide.
What Is Jamon Iberico and Why Is It So Expensive?
This rare ham has a big price tag — and for good reason.
There are many cuts of pork fit for a fine charcuterie board (or charcuterie house). There&aposs soppressata or salami. Maybe some capocollo (better known to Sopranos fans as "gabagool") or prosciutto, depending on the mood. But if you&aposre really trying to impress a pork aficionado with your spread, there&aposs only one choice: Jamón Ibérico.
Hailed as the crème de la crème of ham, Jamón Ibérico draws rave reviews and commands high prices. But what makes it worthy of such a high price? Read on to understand where it comes from, how it&aposs made, and how big of a loan you&aposll have to take out to buy some.
Meet the Mangalitsa, the Hairy Pig That’s the Kobe Beef of Pork
We talk to a breeder and importer about this wild and wooly breed that's become a favorite with farmers and eaters.
Modern Farmer: So, let’s say I’m going to get into Mangalitsa pigs. What are the selling points?
Wilhelm Kohl: Well, first of all, the flavor is unbeatable. It’s the Kobe beef of pork. If you’re familiar with pigs, you’ll know that most pigs in the last 50 years have been bred to have virtually no fat, but be mostly lean meat. One of the advertising points was ‘The other white meat.’ But it turns out when you breed the fat out of the pig, it becomes tasteless. So people are starting to look for pork that tastes better, that tastes like real meat. And you can only do that with fat and marbling, so that’s what we’re offering.
In addition, a lot of people would like to have pigs that are not raised in a factory-type environment. You know, free-range, outdoors, they have a decent life. The Mangalitsa pigs are great for that — they like to forage, dig for grubs, they don’t wait around for you to feed them. So they’re the perfect pig for what people want at this moment.
Mangalitsa pigs in the snow.
MF: Can you leave them alone, or do you still need to have feed them?
WK: Well, it depends on the area you’re in. It’s in your interest to feed them some additional material, but if you’ve got got some forested land, they’ll eat anything: black walnuts, chestnuts, horse chestnuts, acorns. We recommend that people supplement their pastured pigs with maybe barley or wheat. But not corn or soybean, because it can taint the beautiful white fat, which you don’t want. When you’re raising premium quality pigs, you want to feed them a premium quality product.
People are starting to look for pork that tastes better, that tastes like real meat. And you can only do that with fat and marbling.
MF: Obviously the striking thing about the pigs is their hair. Is that a selling point? Can people do anything with the hair?
WK: There are some experiments to use the hair, but it is quite coarse and it hasn’t been used in the past. A lot of people also like their pigs to sort of be pets. And there’s nothing cuter in the world than a little blonde or red-haired Mangalitsa. So, yes, that is a selling point — it’s the unique eye appeal of the animal. If you treat them nicely, they’ll become as tame as dogs — they’ll follow you, play with you.
Though, don’t misunderstand me, we don’t recommend that people buy them for that.
The marbled meat of a Mangalitsa pig. (Photo courtesy MØsefund Farm/Sung Anderson)
MF: These aren’t pets, but livestock.
WK: Yes, these are livestock, but some people seem to use them as pets as well.
MF: If I’m considering getting one, what do I need to raise a Mangalitsa successfully?
WK: You don’t need a hell of a lot. You need a piece of land big enough so they can forage and then put up electric fence and then maybe a little shelter for winter. Our pigs have never been inside — even this winter, which was horrific, they’ve never been inside. They don’t get any shots, they don’t get hormones, they are as natural as they come. They get all their minerals from the ground, and we rotate them through the pastures, let them tear up the ground, replant and then let them tear it up again.
MF: What’s the smallest number of pigs I can keep? These are social animals so I can’t keep just one, right?
WK: Most people buy two gilts and a boar from us, if they want to breed. We recommend at least one and one. They are a herding type animal, so they do stick together. There’s no fixed number — you can have 10 of them, they won’t injure themselves. Even the boars leave the sows alone when they give birth. They really are very easy animals to raise.
MF: About how many piglets will a sow give birth to?
WK: Well, in Europe, they say it’s about 5.7 piglets per litter. But here in the States — and I don’t understand the reason — it’s probably on average between 7 or 8. We’ve had as many as 12 and as few as 4. I don’t understand the difference, but that’s what it is.
MF: When you’re raising them for slaughter, about what age do you process them?
WK: We recommend about 15 months. That’s when they hit the perfect size. They’ll weigh around 280 to 300 pounds and have the perfect combination of meat and fat. You don’t want to feed them like crazy so they turn into all fat — they should be running around and digging and you’ll have to keep their rations limited so you get the right ratio of meat and fat.
But 15 months is about double what a normal pig does. Some people crossbred their pigs, for instance with Hampshire or Berkshire pigs, to get a faster growing pig with that nice fat.
MF: But you stick to pure-bred Mangalitsa only?
WK: Yes. Our business is built around selling purebred Mangalitsa pigs. We want to be a gene bank for all of America. We want to keep on importing new bloodlines, raise them here, and then sell the boars to breeders as they need new gene material.
MF: Because Mangalitsas have all that extra hair, do you need to worry about a warmer climate? It looks like they’re wearing sweaters.
WK: No, no concern. They’re being raised everywhere from Florida to California. They do great everywhere.
(All photos, except where noted, courtesy of Wilhelm Kohl or Wikimedia Commons.)
(Editor’s Note: In an earlier version of this article, a picture of marbled Mangalitsa meat was mistakenly identified as being courtesy of Wilhelm Kohl. This picture was courtesy of MØsefund Farm / Sung Anderson. We regret the error.)
Know Your Pork: Mangalica, Kurobuta, Berkshire and More
We get them in sizzling strips, crispy belly slabs a la siew yoke, sliced and dunked into shabu-shabu, breaded and fried into tonkatsu, and slow-roasted over charcoal and lychee wood char siew. But how much do we really know about the pork we're consuming?
Here's the lowdown on five of the tastiest.
Mangalica or Mangalitsa Pork
A pig wrapped in a woolly fleece might sound whimsical, but the curly-haired hog exists in the form of Mangalitsa pigs. And they produce a meat so delicious it's been hailed as the 'Kobe beef of pork.'
Mangalitsas were historically raised for lard and prized for their mellow, silky fat. Their popularity declined with the substitution of cheaper vegetable oils for lard, and the availability of hogs that were leaner, faster-maturing and less expensive, but also less flavourful. Purebred Mangalitsas nearly vanished until a Hungarian geneticist worked to revive the breed several years ago.
They're prized for their juiciness, flavour and tenderness. The meat of a Berkshire pig is pink-hued and heavily marbled. And its high fat content makes it ideal for long and high-temperature cooking.
Herds of the breed are still maintained in England by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust at Aldenham Country Park, Hertfordshire, and by the South of England Rare Breeds Centre in Kent. But due to cross-breeding, fewer than 300 pure Berkshire sows were known to exist. The pig is also bred in Japan's Kagoshima Prefecture, under the name Kagoshima Kurobuta but more on that later.
Jeju Island Black Pork
Across Korea, there are restaurants that are singularly devoted to samgyeopsal (pork belly), but on Jeju-do, there are restaurants that further refine and define their menu with huek dwaeji samgyeopsal, or black pig pork belly. This local heritage breed of pig bares a more definitive porky flavour as well as a good deal more fat.
In fact, the local black pig is held in such high regard that many restaurants serve the cuts of the pork with some strands of the ubiquitous black hair still visible to authenticate its origins. The hair don't deter the eater much since most of the black pork is served in Korean BBQ houses and will get charred to a crisp upon cooking.
Delivering flavour and texture like no other – delicate, nutty, with a melt-in-your-mouth marbling – the Black Iberian Pig, is more commonly known by its Serrano name of Pata Negra. It looks dramatically different from the domestic pigs we're used to. With black hair, almost slender-looking legs and big floppy ears, Pata Negra from South-Western Spain is the last of its kind.
It is an indigenous, free-roaming link to the European wild boar. Pata Negra forages the forest floors of the region's dehesas, or Mediterranean oak woodlands, feasting on wild thyme, rosemary, mushrooms, and most significantly, acorns. This ancient and natural diet coupled with Pata Negra's genetic ability to store fat inside of, not just around muscle tissue, produces a uniquely tender, rich, rosy meat that's almost beefy in flavour.
Pork is a prominent part of both Kagoshima to this day, which is why it is not surprising to hear that Kagoshima is the leading producer of pork and that the Kagoshima kurobuta (black pig) is one of the country's most highly regarded variety. But as mentioned earlier, the origins of the kurobuta pork can be traced back to the black British Berkshires. The English royals were said to have kept a herd of the black Berkshires at the Castle of Windsor, and some of these pigs were brought to Japan by British diplomats as a gift in the 19th century. However, modern Kagoshima kurobuta is a typically hybrid of the British or American Berkshire and domestic black pigs.
Mangalitsa Pork — Iron Chef America Ingredients
On a recent visit to Budapest, the capital of Hungary, I was lucky enough to enjoy a terrific meal at a restaurant called Bock Bisztro, which served many dishes made from Mangalitsa pork. Although I had eaten the meat of this particular breed of pig before and knew just how delicious and fully flavored it could be, this was the first time I noticed how incredibly versatile it is. The meal easily rates as one of my best in recent years.
I hope that watching the Iron Chef's work with this magnificent beast in Kitchen Stadium will inspire you to go in search of this alternative to traditional pork breeds, either in the restaurants of some of the nation’s top chefs or in your own kitchens.
Mangalitsa pigs, or as they are known in their native Hungary, Mangalica pigs, are a breed of hog that is renowned for their deeply flavored meat and for their high fat content. The name Mangalica literally means “hog with a lot of lard.” They are sometimes also known as “wooly pigs” because of the curly haired fleece that covers their body.
The Mangalitsa pig is genetically very similar to the Iberian pigs of Western Spain that produce the famous Jamon Iberico. And like their cousins, the Mangalitsa pig is renowned for the quality of the fat that it produces, which is low in saturates and high in oleic acid. This comes from the feed given to the animals, which primarily consists of wheat and acorns.
The pigs were first bred in the early the part of the 19th century at the request of Archduke Joseph of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So prized was the meat that it was only supplied to the royal family.
The meat remained popular until the 20th century when the demands of the new communist government meant that attention was turned to the farming of leaner animals that produced more meat more rapidly. The Mangalitsa pig almost died out, but recent efforts to revive its popularity have proved highly successful and Hungarian farmers now produce more than 60,000 animals a year.
Until fairly recently, the delicious meat and fat from Mangalitsa pigs was pretty much a Hungarian secret. In the last five years, however, the pigs have begun to be bred both in the United Kingdom and in the United States, and Mangalitsa pork has recently begun to appear on the menus of such esteemed restaurants as Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry and Iron Chef Mark Forgione’s Restaurant Marc Forgione.
Many people, when first presented with a cut of Mangalitsa pork will often confuse it with a piece of beef, because of its dark color and rich marbling.
Traditionally, the meat was slow-cooked in stews or used to make sausages and hams. The creamy fat was whipped and mixed with salt, spices and even crisp fried onions to make a topping for crunchy bread.
Bacon made from the belly of the Mangalitsa pig is quite easy to make and particularly delicious. If you can purchase strips of the air-cured hams, they are excellent wrapped around monkfish tail or thick halibut steaks to be pan-seared and then finished in the oven.
The shoulder cuts can be slow-cooked and work particularly well when served with dried fruits such as prunes soaked in brandy, and while the ribs don’t have a lot of meat on them, they work well with an Asian-style glaze.
Make sure not to waste the fat. Many restaurants in Hungary will just serve slices of this delicacy as a dish on its own with just a sprinkling of sea salt to add taste and texture. Because of its high content of unsaturated fat, the slices will begin to melt as you place them on your tongue, releasing an incredible flavor across your mouth like pork candy.
Given that Mangalitsa pork is such a recent arrival to U.S. shores, it is highly unlikely that you will find it in any supermarket or even any gourmet stores, although it is now becoming available at a few of the best farmers' markets on the East and West Coasts.
The best opportunity to purchase Mangalitsa pork to prepare in your own kitchen is online there are now a number of farmers who will ship direct to your door. Check out Mosefund Farm in New Jersey and Heath Putnam Farms in Washington state. Their websites also carry some information about which restaurants purchase their product.
It may seem like a lot of work to find a piece of meat, but I guarantee you that once you have taken your first bite from a piece of Mangalitsa pork, you will agree it was well worth the effort.
Cinta Senese, Breed of Pig Almost Lost Forever
Don’t you think it’s very sad when you hear a particular breed of animal or a species of plant has almost run into extinction, and even more terrible, when there’s no chance of revival? One particular breed of pig, the Cinta (meaning belt) Senese (of Siena) had almost been lost forever.
Originating in Tuscany from around the areas of Siena, Montemaggio, Casole, Monteriggioni, Poggibonsi and Sovicille, it is believed that this ancient hardy breed was more than likely bred in Roman times, although the earliest acknowledgements found are dating from the Middle Ages. Within Siena’s Town Hall, the Palazzo Comunale, one can find a room named Sala della Pace that boasts a painting entitled ‘Effects of Good Government in the Country’ by artist Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1338). Here you can certainly see that the pig shown with a farmer is without doubt a Cinta Senese. Free-range pig farming was of great significance, and if you happened to own an area of forest, you may have been considered wealthy because you either kept your own herd of pigs, or you received an income from renting out your land to other swineherds. The income received would either have been a type of tax depending on the amount of acorns eaten, or a full 10th of the production derived from the pigs.
The food provided by the pig was never wasted, not even the eyes apparently, and the bacon fat (or lard), was an essential everyday kitchen ingredient. The popular method of storing the meat was to cut the pig in half lengthways, and once cleaned, the meat was salted. A term given to one half was ‘mezena’.
Up and into the 1950’s many people owned one or more Cinta Senese for their meat, especially those who had unproductive land that was suitable for the hardy pigs to roam freely. The decline of the Cinta Senese was attributed to a couple of factors: a Large White, that needed to be kept for a much shorter period than the Cinta Senese before butchering, was introduced to Italy from the UK. This species also provided leaner meat, along with a quicker, larger production of meat. This event coincided with the increased demand for less fatty pork meat, just like that of the Large White. However, it was found that the Large White could not adapt to the same wild or semi-wild farming and terrain that the Cinta Senese was so familiar with. This led to a successful crossbreed between the two, that produced the Grigio Senese (Senese Grey), which then threatened the Tuscan Maremmana and Cappuccia breeds. Fortunately, in the year 2000, a voluntary Consortium was established in Siena, today known as Consorzio di tutela del Suino Cinto Toscano (Consortium for the defence of Suino Cinto Toscano). Products are given a tag confirming their origin, that is, a Protected Designation of Origin, which means the animal from which the produce is derived was born raised and slaughtered in Tuscany.
The number of Cinta Senese breeders over recent years have greatly increased and one of these breeders, Fabio Pinzo, welcomed Lucia Norrito and her Slow Food Tour on a visit, and I went along. Fabio’s passion for the environment and permaculture, (harmonising the land’s ecological systems with the needs of man without chemicals), eventually led him to starting up his own organic Cinta Senese farm in 1992 on the rugged slopes of Monte Amiata a dormant volcano in southern Italy, with perfect conditions for these little beasts. (Permaculture gained recognition in the 1960’s by an Austrian farmer Sepp Holzer who had practiced the systematic method. A decade later, Australians David Holmgren and Bill Mollison scientifically develop the methods further. We met up with Fabio at Pigelleto, (the name is purely coincidental and has nothing to do with pigs) a fascinating natural reserve deep in the heart of Monte Amiata. From there, we continued our mini-bus journey deeper into the woods and arrived at what seemed to be an almost secret location. The mini-bus’ engine was switched off and we were plunged into absolute tranquillity and stillness. Of course we could hear birds and the first nearby sounds of snuffling on the ground. It was mid October, we were quite high up, and a little rain had fallen the previous night turning the ground fairly muddy in places, but we really didn’t care much. Mud is good for you isn’t it?
During our stroll towards the area of the Cinta Senese, we were privileged to meet a little group of another breed, the Maremmana, completely black in colour. These were just 3 months old and learning to socialise in a group without the mothers. They’d dare themselves to get close to the fence, and then run away! We were astonished to hear that there are only three breeders in the whole of Italy for the Maremmana pigs, one of them right here on Monte Amiata. Pulling ourselves away from these comical black piglets, we approached the area of the Cinta Senese, all of them aged at around eighteen months. And what magnificent free-range pigs they are. They were routing and snuffling around, telling each other off, and basically having a great time in and around oak trees. They love searching out acorns and roots to munch, on as well as being fed organic barley and orzo maize once a day. The quality of the cereal is important and Fabio will only obtain this from a grower he is familiar with. Eight kilo’s of orzo maize produces 1 kilo of meat, in comparison to ‘closed-in’ pigs requiring just five kilo’s to produce the same quantity of meat. This therefore reflects in the cost of the much leaner Cinta Senese meat that can be up to three times as much. Being allowed to roam and given a much looser rein, they’re not building up toxins, and their fat is a “healthy” one, rich in unsaturated fats, omega 3 and omega 6. Only a homeopathic vet is used, and where other pig breeders use iron supplements, Fabio will not.
Fabio keeps the female for up to 8 years during which she can have up to 3 pregnancies over a period of 2 years producing an average of 6 piglets. (Compared to and average of 14 piglets for pigs in captivity). Once the piglets are born, a member of the Provincial Administration of Siena calls to inspect them and decide whether the piglets are a good example of Cinta Senese and whether they will be used for reproduction or for meat. For example, if a piglet has that perfect pinkish/white belt, whereas its snout and hooves are black, he will tag the piglet’s ear with a complete or whole ‘ear-ring’. The other piglets will have a half or broken ‘ear-ring’ and will be reared for meat.
At around twenty months in age, they reach around 130K in weight (pink pigs at around 7 months weigh in at around 180K) and therefore between now and December around ten to fifteen of his Cinta Senese are due to be taken to an organic slaughter house not far away in Viterbo, Lazio. The slaughter is dealt with quickly by electric shock.
Pleasingly, in these recent years, there is no shortage of Cinta Senese products, which can be purchased from delicatessens within Tuscany’s provinces of Siena, Grosseto and Florence. The authentic products will have a label “Suino Cinto Toscano D.O.P attached. The pork meat is rich and of high quality, the Salami being very popular as well as the lard, pancetta, bacon, other cured meats, sausages, capocollo, and shoulder and thigh ham.
It was time to leave the happy free-range pigs and return to our awaiting mini-bus, transporting us back to the natural reserve’s headquarters. Once we’d overcome the laughter of washing muddy feet, we made our way to the reserve’s rustic dining area where delicious aromas were drifting from the kitchens. Here was our opportunity to sample Cinta Senese in its finest form. We started with a bruschetta with lard (bacon fat) and pancetta as well as cured slices of ham (prosciutto crudo). This was followed with a glorious, piping hot dish of pork cooked in a tomato and bean sauce. Of course this was accompanied with red wine and/or water, finishing with crostata (tart) and coffee.
If you desire the convenience of having pork in your freezer, then a half hog share is a great option! Every couple months we sell hogs by the half. The deadline to reserve a half hog for this round is April 19th, 2019 for pick-up from our warehouse in late April/early May. Contact orders @ pennscorner.com if you are interested in a half hog share! A $200 deposit (check or card) will be required to reserve your order and the rest can be paid upon pickup.
About the Hogs:
Logan Family Farms and Pleasant Valley Swine raise a heritage breed of hog called Berkshire, which is one of the oldest breeds of pig and can be traced back over 350 years! The meat from this breed is very high quality and is valued all around the world by restaurants and consumers alike.
Jonas Schwartz of Pleasant Valley Swine's hogs:
- Are kept on organic pasture and in an uncaged barn.
- Get most of their food from grazing the pasture, and are supplemented with GMO-free local grains.
- If you've already ordered pork from Clarion River Organics on our online Farm Stands, then you've tried Jonas&rsquo pork!
Logan Family Farm hogs are:
- Kept on organic pasture and in an uncaged barn.
- Fed with home grown feeds no added antibiotics, hormones or growth stimulants.
- Grown at their own pace.
- Harvested under USDA Inspection, at a local USDA Inspected Facility, with no added tenderizers or additives in the pork.
- Treated humanely by all who handle them, and bred onsite for genetic traits that amplify the quality of the pork and the welfare of the animal
The price of your hog share is based on the weight of the hog after harvesting. The price will be about $3.98/lb for the hanging weight of the hog. The total cost can vary depending on the type of cuts you request. Most of the halves have a hanging weight between 125 and 150 pounds, so you could expect to pay around $537 total (the average price for a 135 lb side). Please note that the hanging weight is not the final weight after cutting. You can expect to receive about 75% of the hanging weight. If you have a preference for the size of your hog, please let us know. A $200 deposit will be required upon placing your order, and the rest can be paid in full upon pickup. We accept card or check.
Pick-up from our warehouse (Penn&rsquos Corner Farm Alliance in Upper Lawrenceville at 150 54th Street, Pittsburgh PA 15201) in late April/early May.
Click here to put down your $200 deposit today! Deposits can be made online from Mondays at 1pm through Fridays at 12pm, during the Farm Stand order period. If you are paying by check you can mail it to Penn's Corner Farm Alliance at 150 54th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15201.
We will then reach out with a form for you to indicate what cuts you prefer. Or, complete that today by filling out the Hog Cut Preference Sheet form linked here !
The side can be cut to your liking, but a standard side includes:
- one ham (about 15-20 lbs but can be cut in half or quartered upon request, cured and smoked) *can be uncured upon request
- 8-10 lbs of bacon (cured and smoked in 1 lb packages) *can be uncured upon request
- two loin roasts (about 3-4 lbs each) and chops
- 1 shoulder (split into two roasts and steaks)
- spare ribs (split into 4 sections)
- 5-10 lbs of sausage or ground pork (in 1 lb packages)
- Sausage is available in bulk 1# packages, or customers can request cased rope sausage or breakfast sausage in a variety of seasonings. Seasonings available are: Salt and Pepper, Maple, Sweet Italian, and Hot Italian. Please note there is an additional charge for seasonings, and you can only chose one flavor of sausage OR ground pork
- The pork fat is available upon request, as well as the tongue, liver, bones and heart.
- The ham and bacon can be uncured upon request.
All cuts will be vacuum sealed or wrapped and frozen after butchering.
Having trouble deciding?
Check out this helpful article from Modern Farmer about pork cuts, including what part of the pig they come from, and how to cook them! Contact [email protected] if you are interested or would like to learn more information. We look forward to hearing from you!
Click Here to read some helpful FAQs about your hog share.
Here is a helpful article about pork cuts, including what part of the pig they come from, and how to cook them!
KDKA did a news feature on these Hilltop Farm hogs and Penn's Corner! Click here to check it out! Also check out what other Penn's Corner customers have to say about their experience ordering a hog:
"We just finished our last one and these Hilltop Farm hogs are the best pork we have had!" -Jane
"We got the hog share last year and it was by far the best pork we've ever had!! I even rendered the lard and used it for cooking. The hams were truly the tastiest EVER!" - Veronica
The Epicurious Blog
I&aposm certainly not new to pork, as I grew up in a South Louisiana enclave where I had no recollection of early childhood vegetables that weren&apost cooked in pork fat, or vegetables that didn&apost at least taste like smokey bacon.
Grandmother kept an old French Market Coffee tin on the stove, which served as the go-to fat for just about all her cooking needs. I, like her, just simply add the morning&aposs rendered bacon drippings to the can and consequently, when the need arises to whip up a batch of red beans and rice (or anything else for that matter), I reach for the most flavorful fat in the house.
Surprisingly enough, being that I came from a place with a connection to its pork--through bacon, tasso, ham, andouille, chaurice, pigs ears, pickled pigs lips, jowls, and tails--we knew very little about the actual breeds we ate. It wasn&apost until they ruined our pork that we even began to take notice.
The pig of my youth meant a celebration, a cochon de lait. Some of my favorite childhood food memories surround the slaughter and cooking of the suckling pig for holidays, christenings, or football championships.
Yet, during the decades that separate my childhood and now, the pig became demonized. Pig was bad, and pork was even worse. We Americans cast aside our pigs of old in an effort to create the healthy pig, the "other white meat" pig. And whatever breeding couldn&apost produce, we figured out a way to produce what we wanted in factories. Diets of protein pellets and no space to move produced the other white meat, that ultimately became even unhealthier due to the types of fat produced by these sedentary beasts.
During these bad pig years in America, I traveled away to make a formal apprenticeship in the mountainous town of the Hochschwarzwald near the Swiss border. It was my time spent at the Romantik Hotel Spielweg that reintroduced me to pigs--good pigs. Pigs that were fed a good diet, and pigs that were kept in pristine conditions, and consequently, pigs that produced good fat and an abundance of it. These pigs looked different and acted different. They had style! They were long-haired with personality, quite friendly! These were the types of pigs you&aposd want to associate with. These were the ancient breed known as Wollschwein.
Each apprentice carried the responsibility of caring for the pigs: feeding, cleaning and tidying up the spacious "pig pens." It was all part of the day&aposs work. Each month, a pig would be harvested and transformed into luscious bacon, hams, blood sausages, liver sausages, head cheese, and everything else that your taste buds could revel in. Not only did the pigs give us all this charcuterie but it also gave us the most lovely family-meals ever.
As years would pass, the status of the American swine would rise again, this time to the point of deity for the millennial generation. They had never known the pig or religion, or at least not the real ones, and this is cause for celebration for them. So much so that this generation now tattoos pigs, pig parts, pig products, and pig names on themselves in an unprecedented fashion, as if a new animal had been discovered. They show off the latest artist&aposs rendering of a heritage breed hog across their upper buttocks, lower forearm, hairy leg or hairless chest. Good pigs are now found everywhere! Everywhere besides where&aposd you expect them: the store.
We began raising Berkshire hogs several years ago, feeding them spent barley left over from our brewing program, along with a supplemented diet of green vegetable trimmings that we acquired in each kitchen, as we did in Germany. This produced some of the finest pork I&aposve ever had. For years, I had been content with my Berkshires, until Ashley and Dave Matthews told me about Heath Putnam who breeds woolly pigs (aka Mangalitsas). They had met him through the farmers market in Seattle.
The Matthews insisted I give the Mangalitsas a try, and try I did. Curious as to how they would adjust to our heat and humidity of South Louisiana, I began with just a dozen hogs. Not only did they adjust to their subtropical environment, but also thrived. A diet of milled black-eyed peas, barley, and rice bran, as well as the supplement feeding of various green trimmings and spent barley made the meat and the fat succulent and delicious.
All of what we raise ourselves is used, converting the hams into country ham and the bellies into bacon. The other parts are used for a combination of charcuterie and roasting meats. All said and done, nothing is spared, and all that it yields is then divided up and distributed among our restaurants. We don&apost have the capability to produce all that we consume so we leave it up to Heath to do the rest.
Selling us the off cuts and through Johnson County Country hams, we have Mangalitsa bacon and cured hams at our fingertips as we need them. I&aposm proud to continue the delicious traditions of my youth and pass on the teachings of my time in Germany right in my own farm and in our restaurants.
A New Pork Recipe Site
One of our members sent us a successfully tested recipe for pork belly cooked in potatoes and milk which she found at Olive Magazine. Sure looks like a good source for our products, and the pork belly in milk and potatoes sounds delicious. Thank you, Juliet!
Speaking of pork, Here’s a refrain on our porkers and why they produce so many great eating experiences. When we decided to learn how to raise good pork, we first researched why commercial pork was so lacking in taste. We learned that not only was the modern diet and living conditions shockingly lacking. But it went beyond that. Industry production had focused almost exclusively on one breed, the Yorkshire, and bred them to produce lean meat during the ridiculous era where all fat was bad (how did that work out for us? Huge mistake).
So we knew we wanted to 1) grow pastured pork and 2) any breed except the Yorkshire. We discovered two breeds that dated back many centuries in England and the early American colonies, the Berkshire and the Duroc. These 2 breeds competed in 9 blind international taste tests and placed first and second in every case. They also fared poorly in caged industrial houses - they simply rejected the idea and died in those cages, causing Big Food to go away from these breeds - fortuitously for ourselves and the pigs!
And that is the short version of why JVF pork tastes so darned good!
Which Pig: Find Your Next Pig Thing
Our guide to finding the perfect porcine pal, whether for companionship or lardo.
It’s important to know what you’re getting into, though. Pigs, says heritage breeder Jenny Blaney, can be “totally destructive. They can wreck 200 acres overnight, but they are gregarious, chatty, smart, a joy. God had a sense of humor when he made pigs, and you have to have a sense of humor when you own them.”
With a lifespan of at least 10 years, a pet pig is a big commitment. Outdoor pigs need a nice dry place to sleep, like a strawfilled shed or doghouse. Indoor pigs need comfortable, soft bedding – large crates or dog beds work well. As natural herd animals, pigs like company, so much so that pig owners report it’s often easier to keep two pigs than just one. And your pigs will need space to exercise. The major problems with pigs of all kinds, says Dr. John Carr, a veterinarian specializing in pigs, is that “the adults are generally overfed.” In other words, don’t let your porker become a porker.
Regardless of breed, feed your pigs specialized feed and supplement their diet with vegetarian kitchen scraps or produce from your yard. Read on for more tips on finding the right porcine pal for you.
Vietnamese Potbellied Pig
Hobby hog farmers will attest to the friendliness of pigs of all stripes (and spots), but Vietnamese potbellied pigs make the best indoor pets. In contrast to many full-sized hogs, which can tip the scales at 600 to 1,500 pounds, adult potbellieds average just 120 pounds – which is still plenty for an animal that’s smart enough to open the refrigerator door. Living with pet pigs will require childproofing your home, and potbellieds are a bit like toddlers: They are by turns snuggly, aggressive, intelligent and stubborn. While pigs and cats may become close friends and even bedmates, dogs are natural pig predators and therefore not generally compatible with potbellieds.
Potbellied-sized kunekune pet pigs are friendly and outgoing: “They are great backyard pets,” says Susan Armstrong-Magidson, president of the Pig Placement Network, which finds new homes for pet pigs. Unscrupulous dealers may advertise “micro-pigs” or “teacup pigs,” but these are simply piglets that will eventually outweigh a middle-school bully.
Saddleback (left) and Gloucestershire Old Spots (right)
For generations, European truffle hunters have trained female pigs to seek out the prized wild fungi, whose scent resembles a sexual pheromone in male pigs. Once the search is complete, separating a sow from her truffle is a tricky business, so these days truffle dogs are more common. Any breed will do, but saddlebacks are known for their grazing ability, and Gloucestershire Old Spots are particularly adorable, with their lop ears suggesting an eye on the ground.
Tamworth and Large Black
Pigs raised for bacon are usually slaughtered at around 6 months old, if you can bear it. And in a bacon contest, Tamworth and Large Black pigs are usually the winners. Both grow relatively slowly, which produces fine-grained ribbons of fat laced into the meat of the belly. If you’re planning to raise pigs for bacon, be ready for the messy business of slaughter. If you’re wanting to sell your meat, or are feeling squeamish, find a USDA-certified slaughterhouse near you.
Berkshire (not pictured) and Oxford Sandy and Black
Berkshire pigs (often marketed as kurobuta) have gained a reputation for flavorful, marbled pork. Genetically related, both Oxford Sandy and Black and Berkshire pigs offer delectable pork and bacon, plus excellent temperaments, making them perfect for first timers interested in raising pigs for meat and company (though pigs raised for pork are also slaughtered around the 6-month mark).
Lardo With Asparagus
Raising pigs offers many rewards, but making wildly flavorful lardo, or cured pork backfat, may be the greatest. For this simple cure, you’ll need cheesecloth, a nonreactive baking dish and string.
1/2 pound kosher salt
8 tablespoons (4 oz) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (1 oz) pink curing salt #13
1/2-pound skinless pork backfat, in a single slab
1 bunch (about 1 oz) fresh rosemary
1/4 cup black peppercorns
1 bunch asparagus
Extra-virgin olive oil
1. Combine kosher salt, sugar and curing salt. Coat the bottom of dish with 1/3 of cure mixture, place backfat on top and sprinkle in rest of cure. Arrange rosemary and peppercorns across backfat.
2. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, pressing down to eliminate access to air. Cover tightly again with aluminum foil. Weight pork down with plates and refrigerate. Keep refrigerated for about 2 weeks, flipping backfat every other day. The salt cure is complete when lardo feels firm and inflexible throughout.
3. Rinse in cool water and pat dry. Wrap in a double layer of cheesecloth and poke small hole in one corner. Loop string through hole and hang to dry in a cool (about 60 F), dark place for about 3 weeks.
4. Light spoils fat, so store lardo in plastic wrap covered with aluminum foil. To serve, lay asparagus on baking sheet and broil until it softens, about 5 minutes. Cover with very thin slices of lardo. Drizzle with olive oil to taste.
Behind the Scenes of Pork Photography
Photographer Richard Bailey takes us behind the scenes of shooting the cover model for our Spring 2014 issue — one very noisy pig named Tallulah.