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.
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).