January has been all about Mangalitza pigs. The month started off with the processing of 10 of the last 14 from the original group for a customer. It turned out to be more complicated than anticipated and turned into a full week process. At the end of it we had no big pigs on the place. Along the way, we discovered DeVries Meats of Coopersville, MI, who did an excellent processing job.
The next project was delivering the pigs to Oliviero Colmignoli of Fiorucci Foods in Virginia. Mark drove down with Marc Santucci to deliver the meat and meet the buyer. Oliviero will be making the hams into proscuitto ham, checking the acorn finished Mangalitza against standard hog house hams. It was quite an experience to see a large processing operation like that. They produce many, many finished hams a week, with large rooms dedicated to each step in the process.
Mark had a few days home, then we took off for New Jersey to be part of the second Pigstock 2010 class. Micheal Clampferr of Mosefund Farm sponsored it. We enjoyed seeing Christof and Isabel Weisner, the Austrian gurus of raising and processing Mangalitza pigs. They employ low tech methods with an eye to doing lower volume but the highest quality work possible. They do as stress-free a kill as possible, with on-farm scald/scrape/and cleaning. As we worked through the weekend, they showed us the carcass signs of stress and the results in the finished product. We utilized all parts of the animal, sampling things like fried brains (not too bad), spleen (excellent!), heart, a few liver dishes, head cheese, and blood sausage. Christof taught us seam butchery to process the carcass into usable pieces. This method leaves muscle groups intact for better quality curing. The fat is so generous on these pigs, that we learned to process that as well, letting no good morsal go to waste. The students ranged from home interests to culinary instructors to professional processors (I got to meet Oliviero, for example). It will be interesting to see where the information goes as people carry it back to their own enterprises.
Once home again, we had a few days to catch up on our regular work and to prep for our own little version of “pigstock.” This past Friday we invited all comers to an introduction to the Mangalitza. Chef Eric Patterson of Cook’s House in Traverse City prepared a tasty pork soup. We enjoyed winter vegetables (locally grown) roasted in lard and spices. These were complimented with sourdough bread by Brian Williams from the Blue Heron Cafe in Cadillac served with whipped lard. Mark gave a tour of the Mangalitza operation, talking about the hogs and the hows and whys of the way we raise them. He stressed how the method of raising an animal is key to the end product, so the outdoor living, root digging pigs we raise have
superior meat and fat qualities to offer an enterprising chef/charcuterist. He then took them inside (no one objected to that!) and broke down a half a hog we’d saved out so everyone could see how seam butchery was done and he could demonstrate how a mature, properly finished Mangalitsa carcass differs from a standard hog. Chef Ted Cizma had broken down a roasting hog last summer, so he was able to add observations along the way. Then we ate. That was the best way to make the point that the properly cared for Mangalitsa is superior in quality for the chef that is prepared to make the most of it. The meat has a depth of flavor that can’t be beat. The fat is the king, though. Chef Eric helped me create a wonderful vegetable dish, but the lard and local, organic cream carried the day. The whipped lard was creamy, light and “clean.” It had flavor that was wonderfully complimentary to the sourdough bread–not overwhelming and heavy like corn finished lard is. David Eger of Earthy Delights took some fantastic photos. My favorite is the one of Keith observing Mark’s work. The little apple is clearly not far from the tree! Thanks to Dave Hovest of Cherry Capital Foods for promoting this event.
We took Saturday off as a family day–the kids deserved a reward for pitching in for the month to make all this happen. It wouldn’t have worked if they hadn’t done extra chores, babysat little ones, cleaned in the shop and house, painted, etc. Today, Sunday, I’m going to try my hand at making lardo, headcheese, pork stock. I’m not sure what Mark has planned for the rest of the meat, but we’ll find out.