Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wooly Pigs Bacon

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Last week Heath Putnam, the only breeder of Mangalitsa pigs on my side of the prime meridian, sent me three samples of smoked bacon to evaluate. I think he was also testing the ordering and delivery protocol for Foods in Season, a new eCommerce site that is set up to sell Mangalitsa pork and other products.

Before I weigh in on what I thought of these wonderful smoked bacon variants, I must tell you that my experience with Mangalitsa pork is so new that if I had my druthers I would only eat it minimally seasoned until I felt I truly understood what it is. I love smoked foods as much as anyone, but smoke -even as lightly applied as it was on this bacon- is a blanket that dampens subtler elements of taste and aroma that I want to know all about when I am learning the organoleptic qualities of a new food. (Wow! Does that ever sound effete! :-) So, since my previous experience of Mangalitsa pork was limited to a jowl I bought from Mosefund farm and turned into guanciale, I don't exactly bring a comprehensive understanding of this rare specimen of porcine pulchritudinousness to the tasting table.

That said, all three samples were delicious. The fat was exceptionally good. I've never tasted pork fat from any other pig that was anything like the fat I've had from Mangalitsa hogs.

I'm sure that much of the difference in taste and texture has to do with the way Heath feeds his stock, but I also think that breed has something to do with it. Most modern hogs have been bred to produce lots of muscle and relatively little extra and intramuscular fat (marbling). But Mangalitsa hogs are lard not meat hogs and loaded with fat or, put another way, the ratio of fat to muscle and connective tissue is very high. The lopsided fat to connective tissue ratio is apparent in the extramuscular fat that lays on top of, for example, the loin.

No matter what kind of hog is invoked, there is very little connective tissue running through the fat that sits on top of the loin. So fatback, as this fat is called, is always relatively tender. However, the fatback on the Mangalitsa loin meat that Heath used for this loin bacon has so much fat relative to connective tissue that raw, it is so tender that it is "buttery" and in most was similar to the texture of foie gras. In fact it is so luxurious, that I'm thinking about trimming off the fat from what's left of the loin bacon, whipping it up and serving it raw at a dinner party that I am hosting latter this week.

Cooked, the loin bacon is great, but eats more like conventional bacon from other breeds. Of course, if I sound slightly less than ecstatic, keep in mind that my criteria for judgment is pretty idiosyncratic and that when I cooked up this bacon for my friends at the farm they went gaga over the flavor of the fat. (Hmm. Gaga over loin fat? Is that a metaphor?)

As you can see from the above photo, the jowl bacon is curling up quite a bit as it cooks indicating the presence of a good deal more connective tissue. Same goes for the belly bacon, slightly more connective tissue (although not as much as the jowl) more curling as the fat liquefies and the connective tissue contracts.

At about $0.90 an ounce, this bacon is not going to be showing up next to a deuce over easy with whole wheat at the Mikonos Ultra- Aegean Diner any time soon. However, this bacon will sell very well to those who don't mind spending a few bucks to be intrigued by something from the outer edges of the gastrovelope.

Alright, then. Enough blogging for now. I'm going back to the kitchen to roast a couple of beef tenderloins for a holiday dinner. Ciao!


The Bad Yogi said...

Well, I jumped on it and ordered the bacon sampler ( and told them how I got there.)

Can't wait!

Thanks Bob. Always something interesting here.


Chef Schneller said...

I think the time has come to do an elite fatty pork tasting. A porcine smackdown of sorts! Mangalitsa vs Ossabaw vs Berkshire vs Tammworth! Can you image? A lard off!

Heath said...

You guys are so serious you've got me nervous.

I think the products are very tasty, particularly the jowl bacon.

This is only our second batch of Mangalitsa bacon. I expect we'll improve over the next few batches.

The products are available here:

I'm looking forward to meeting Bob and Chef Schneller at Mosefund's pig-killing classes.

Scotty said...

I'd be happy to be a Judge for that porcine smackdown!

Bob del Grosso said...

Tom (Schneller)
That is a brilliant idea. How about arranging something at CIA, perhaps thru the Gourmet Society?

Michael said...

Im in!! I will be there in a heart beat.

Courtney said...

Ordered the sampler (told them who sent me) and tried a lateral tasting for Christmas morning breakfast - what a treat! Compared it alongside the forest-raised fresh side I get here. All was fabulous, and I agree it would be even better if they offered some fresh side. I'll be blogging my take on it in the next couple of days. Thanks so much for the lead!

Bob del Grosso said...

CC me on the blog post when it's up. Please?

Michael said...


I can get you some fresh belly.