Peter Kaminsky was kind enough to comment on some pig issues in a post below and I’ll post his comment here because they address meaningful issues; it also gives me a chance to offer a couple pix and mention his delightful book, Perfect Pig: Encounters with Remarkable Swine and Some Great Ways To Cook Them, a love letter to hogdom, says Publisher’s Weekly.

Here’s Peter with some three-month-old Ossabaw pigs, pigs that are genetic descendents of Iberian hogs, on Caw Caw Creek Farm, St. Matthews, South Carolina.

And here is the Iberico hog, grazing in its natural habitat, Andalucia, just south of Extremadura, Spain.  An Iberico producer has recently completed a US certified facility that will allow the company to sell Iberico ham in the United States.  The hams cure for at least a year, so we’ve still got some waiting to do.

The reason this is good news is that ham aficionados believe Iberico ham, because of the abundance and quality of its intramuscular fat, is the best in the world. One of the reasons for this is that the pigs are finished on acorns. So Peter was particularly interested to know that the Ohio pigs I’m picking up tomorrow also are durocs that had their fill of acorns.  At least one of their hams will be dry cured–will let you know next year how it turned out!

Here are Peter’s comments in response to questions:

before i get to some of the points that have been discussed—i am a journalist, not a meat scientist, but i think I did find out a lot about pigs while researching my book, Pig Perfect.

all pigs (at least all pigs on the eurasian landmass) are the same species, sus scrofa. the iberico breed is, essentially, the same domesticated animal that was found all over europe. in the eighteenth century certain asian breeds were introduced into the european gene pool (selected for quick maturing, docile nature, etc). the resulting mix and match and more mix and match gives us the  breeds we have today.

berkshires—newly popular in the USA–have shorter muscle fibers than some other breeds, or at least that is what i have been told by one leading meat scientist. this means that even with little fat, they are tender. having said that, i prefer fat (see below).

durocs—named for a new jersey racehorse of the nineteenth century–are said to contain a lot of iberico dna. the farmer’s hybrid, favored by niman ranch, has a lot of duroc in its genetics

as for acorns. all pigs everywhere love them. some acorns have a lot of tannin and just as people will do, pigs will reach a point where they won’t eat more tannin because it is bitter and bitter is nature’s way of saying "toxic" .

the encina or white oak in spain has been selected for sweetness. red oak and holm oak also are among the pig’s favorite food but are usually more tannic so, given a choice, they’ll go for white oak.

in the united states, pigs roamed the forests of the southeastern united states for two hundred years before the introduction of exclusively farm-raised corn-fed hogs. those forests were largely what ecologists call "oak park savannah"

pigs finished on acorns—as they are in spain—have fat that is about 55% monounsatured and another 10-15% polyunsatured. so eat lots of lard and lipitor and you will live to 112 (at which time they will still be re-running Seinfeld).


8 Wonderful responses to “Perfect Pig”

  • BobdG

    That was interesting. What I’m getting is that the pigs eat a mixture of acorns that are low to high in bitter compounds some or all of which are tannins. In either case they will only eat as much of them as they can stand without gagging.
    As for there being any acorn nasties in the final product the situation looks good. My understanding is that tannic acids are mostly water soluble so they are most likely excreted by the pigs in what is known in the scientific community as “pig piss” and not retained in fatty tissue.

    The net-net appears to be that the acorns are mostly not unique (processed or bred for low toxicity) and will not impart much, if any, bitterness to the meat.

  • ruhlman

    vernon, it could be, peter would know, hope he weighs in.

    i got an email today from Miguel Ullibarri, who is part of a group introducing Iberico here:

    “Embutidos Fermin, the first producer of ibérico ham authorized to export to the US, is one of the member companies of our Consortium, Real Ibérico, created 10 years ago to promote ibérico ham out of Spain.

    “Fermin’s ibérico ham will finally be available in the US around May 2007 and its top quality, Bellota (acorn), will be available around August of 2008.”

  • Tags

    It’s funny how opening one door often leads to another door. I probably wouldn’t have read Pig Perfect if I hadn’t read Charcuterie with its discussion of feeding pigs. Then, I would never have read another 2 great books, Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma or Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery. There must be a term for when you get a vicarious thrill from reading about people getting a vicarious thrill from watching a pig eat. Sy Montgomery is a vegetarian and her husband Howard Mansfield is Jewish, so this unlikely story of a runt pig outliving his healthy siblings by about 13 years has destiny written all over it.

    And did you know that pigs kill more people than sharks? I didn’t until I read GGP.

  • Annie Newman

    The fact is, I think those pigs had their reasons. Whereas with sharks it’s probably just because they didn’t have anything better to do.

  • peter Kaminsky

    bob dg asked in the bigorre hogs are ibericos. they are. france like spain, once produced a lot of these hogs. factory farming and barnyard breeds swamped these indigenous animals and they were down to their last 86 creatures where frederico bonomelli–who also produces a lot of bayonne ham—decided to bring france back into the iberico picture. when i visited him a few years ago there were 3,000 ibericos in france. his company is salaison des pyrenees and it is on the web

  • Chuck Talbott

    My name is Chuck Talbott and I was the researcher accomplice in Peter Kaminsky’s search for the perfect pig. I am still actively testing genetic resources and alternative diets that fit niche market application for sustaining small farms. Last month I harvested 12 hogs that consumed mast from 17 acres of predominately oak-hickory woodlands on my farm in Mason Co. WV. This study was funded in part by USDA SARE, WVU and WV Extension. The WV forester who surveyed and assessed our woodlands for the study remarked that 2006 was the best year for mast he had seen in 20 years. I was excited about our project and asked Fed Ex to schlep a belly to Brooklyn for Peter to try. This pork is the best I have ever had; the fat feels like lanolin and tastes unique. You still can experience this landmark pork from 2006. I have 4.79 lbs of 2006 mast fed belly (processed and vacuumed sealed at USDA Ecofriendly Farms) in my freezer for the philanthropist and pork connoisseur; I will start the bidding at $1000 plus overnight shipping. 100% of the proceeds will go to nonprofits Heifer Project International and The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Ask Peter Kaminsky if he thinks your final offer is justified.

    Good luck!

    Chuck Talbott
    Sustainable Integrated Systems Specialist