Mangalitsa, Ossabaw . . . .sounds like some exotic bird species. Really they’re pig varieties that were recently raised in a breed-feed trial done by Live Culture Company. Started by the former Executive Director of Slow Food Nation, Anya Fernald, in 2008, Live Culture Company is a consulting company that supports the development of viable, thriving food businesses that produce artisan, sustainable and quality food.
In this latest project a total of 65 Mangalitsa, Ossabaw, Berkshire, and Mangalitsa/Berkshire crosses were fattened up at Shasta Valley Farms in Gazelle, California on varying combinations of apples, tritcale, almonds, and acorns. The goal was to see which breed-feed combination would make the best-tasting meat raised on that piece of land. The idea of infusing flavor into live meat takes me back Les Blank’s 1979 film Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers, where Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse restaurant, is shown feeding heads of garlic to a sow, only so she could pass her garlic milk onto her suckling piglets — a testament to the old adage, “You are what you eat.”
Forty of the pigs were slaughtered and those in the know were given the opportunity to purchase shares, each of which included smoked bacon, loin chops, and a heap of sausages. Shares were picked up at a day-long event held at Blue Bottle Coffee Company’s roastery in Oakland, where additional pig parts were sold to the public – heads, back fat, lard, trotters, not to mention the better-than-butter lardo (salt-cured lard). Frozen lardo can be sliced thin and eaten on slices of baguette —a sublime melt-in-your-mouth experience that leaves you wanting more. Fresh grilled sausage sandwiches and samples of the lardo made this a tasty event in a piggy sort of way.
So who won the breed-feed trial? “Our general conclusions were that the age of the animals and the size of the animals had as much to do with their value as the breed,” says project coordinator, David Gumbiner.“ We also found that the Crosses (Berk/Manga) were the best, because they retained a lot of the positive characteristics of the heritage fat, but grew faster and more reliably, like the Berkshires. Also, they were deemed excellent for charcuterie.”
Pork fans from all over came to get a share of the best pig that money can’t buy. “The response to this event was overwhelming,” says Gumbiner. “There’s a huge interest in farm-direct pork. People want to know where their meat is coming from.” Avid home cooks and hobbyist sausage makers alike could not pass up this opportunity and walked away with pounds of fat back slung over their shoulders, as visions of salami danced in their heads.