Make a note: if you’re close to Bedford or any of the local farmers’s markets in the area, then make some time to buy your meat from Kevin of Morgan Pell meats; enthusiastic, knowledgable and good, good meat.
This beautifully written piece highlights the problem endemic in the American approach to industrial farming. An approach that we’ve, more and more, chosen to adopt here. And one that, with the advent of The Orange Stain (aka Trump) over there and May and her insane Brexit death-dance here, is going to be an increasing cause of danger to us all.
The writer, James Rebanks, is a sheep farmer in the North of England; this piece was an op-ed in the NYT recently talking about America and a trip he made through Kentucky, but his warning is one that applies to all non-factory farming, non-industrialised combine farmers i.e. the vast majority of them around the world.
It ties in with earlier pieces I’d written on women (or the lack of) in farming, cooking & butchery which I’m sure is at least partly down to the omni-present stench of too much testosterone, the whole macho, rock-star, tattooed to the whazoo, ‘tough man doing tough stuff with hot hunks of meat’ thing *; a really bad approach if you hope in any way to encourage women to bring their skills and passion and knowledge into this area. And that’s a huge, huge waste of a vast pool of talent and enthusiasm.
*[ Yeah, yeah, yeah; guilty as charged, I know].
Setup by the inimitable Kate Hill (photo below), her group aims to rectify these shortcomings and, since 2011 they’ve brought on and trained over 1,000 women. Her aims and ethos are encapsulated in this short sentence
“To inspire, instruct and initiate a sisterhood of farmers, butchers, cooks and teachers, giving voice to women working with food animals and meat” Kate Hill, Founder Grrls Meat Camp
All credit to her, her “graduates” and the work they’re now doing around the world. If you’re a woman reading my blog, this looks like a great group to get involved with, both to further your skills and just have some fun and all without having men ‘explaining’ things to you.
She’s another one of those over-achievers (‘teacher, coach, cook, mentor and author, with more than 40 years of experience in the food industry’) who both amaze me with how much they manage to do and exhaust me when considering even attempting to emulate just a small portion of it; she also runs charcuterie classes from her Gascony farm. The results look stunning…
Children use this as an insult in the playground but, let’s be honest here, the best tasting pigs are indeed the ones carrying a large amount of fat over their bones. And I know you can partly make up for — and thus disguise — the lack of this necessary fat with, perhaps the addition of some herbs & spices but that’s a cop-out; trying to overcome the inadequacy of the meat you start with. Fat is it, as we’ve seen so many times before, so this post will take chin-dripping pleasure in covering a couple more of that type of wonderful older breed from around Europe.
First is the Turopolje…
Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA
…a beautiful looking animal with black spots on a white or grey skin. Another of the autochthonous breeds, it’s believed to be the result of crossing the Siska pig — a breed that subsequently spread throughout the entire Balkan peninsula — with the Krskopoljski, from neighbouring Slovenia. It’s a bit of a mongrel if truth be told, but then many of these lovely breeds are and are none the worse for that. They’ve traditionally been raised on the flood plains (as well as forests) and have even been observed diving for mussels to supplement their diet.
Like all of the other breeds I talk about here on this site, the mid-20th Century fashion for lean meat — and the concomitant rise of intensive pig farming — means it’s now very rarely found, even in the region of Turopolje, Croatia from where it originates, and is considered to be on the endangered list although it’s thankfully been preserved in some Austrian & German zoos and its numbers are slowly, slowly increasing.
And then there’s the Buntes Bentheimer Schwein also known, slightly less tongue twistingly, as the Bentheim Black Pied….
…a native breed, renowned for their back fat, often more than 10cm. deep, they also declined — almost to extinction — until this slide was halted in the early part of the 21st Century. The wonderfully named Association For The Preservation Of The Colourful Bentheimer Pig (Verein zur Erhaltung des Bunten Bentheimer Schweines e. V.) was founded by Rudolf Bühler and was later helped by the admission of the breed, during 2005, into the Slow Food Foundation’ international “Ark of Taste”.
He, a long term breeder of the Bentheim Black Pied, and his organisation in turn re-established a nationwide herd book to record the extant stock in Germany and went on to setup a coordinated breeding program (plus of course a rather successful modern ‘marketing strategy’ ¹), so the long-term future of this “piggy bank” seems much more secure.
Finally this fatty, fatty, fatty threesome is completed by the Swabian-Hall swine.
It originated in (and the PGO status now demands that it can only come from) Schwäbisch Hall in Baden-Württemberg, Germany where it had been introduced around 1820 by the English King George III (of dual nationality) who — like many a breeder before him — aiming to increase the fat content, imported Japanese 眉山 Meishan * pigs to crossbreed with the native German Landrace.
It proved popular; so much so that by 1959 the breed totalled 90% of all the pigs in Baden-Württemberg. But again, as in the rest of Europe, tastes changed, fatty pigs fell out of f(l)avour and their numbers fell precipitously; so much so that, by 1984, there were only seven breeding sows and two boars left. Luckily, a few breeders kept the faith and demand for its great meat, dark and strong flavoured, from enthusiasts and the subsequent granting of PGO status means that there are now around 1,500 breeding sows.
* NOTE: to be honest, I think you’ll agree that the Meishan actually looks like it was the precursor of the Turopolje and not the Swabian-Hall? This is a breeding pair from the US. What do you think?
But all of them are hugely good to eat. Because of the fat. Because. Of. The. Fat.
This final shot of Mangalica in Austria dates from 1924. Someone entitled this “thin men, fat pigs”…
Finally, finally I have no idea how or where I came across this document which I found recently in my ~/Downloads folder, but it’s just such a fun piece of history; the ANSI code drawn up for a Dry Martini, dating from 1974. Use it wisely, use it well, use it often.