Somewhere along the lines, our entire food system has been corrupted. Marketing ploys have been masked as nutritional enhancements, foods have been shoved down our throats by corporations that know they can make their product the fastest and for the least amount of money. To hell with sustainability, forget the environment, and fuck what we might be doing to the health of our population.
Bright packaging! Catchy slogans! Celebrity endorsements! What the fuck have we done? Why has eating gotten so far away from the joy of cooking, of being fed, of sitting and sipping wine and sharing in this gastronomical pleasure?
Chris Andersen was so blown away by the beauty of the pure, rich food culture in Spain and in particular, charmed by the magical taste of the jamón Iberico, that when he came back he couldn’t stop talking about it. It was like nothing he’d ever had before and in describing this to his friends, tried to find it in the states so they could taste for themselves. “I’ll admit that living in New York made me I assume I can get anything anywhere at anytime.” He was shocked to learn that this type of ham could not be imported into the US. Which, instead of discouraging him or washing away that good taste in his mouth, it gave him an idea; he’d simply make the jamón himself. “I’m not a farmer, but I can raise a damn pig.”
And it was out of this initial arrogance and admitted ignorance, that has now led the investment banker to another venture raising, farming Austro-Hungarian pigs in New Jersey.
After a lot of gastronomic research that, among other things, had him on the ground in Spain eating acorns with the Pata Negra pigs, he learned that these revered beasts require about 2.5 acres and two micro-climates just to raise one pig. So he started to sniff out other options. Which is how he came across the Mangalitsa, or “pig 3.0” as he calls it. These pigs have a higher fat content and thus produced an even richer ham than the pata negra pig. In the 1990s he went to Austria to find them and learned that only about 200-300 remained, most of which were in zoos because it was too expensive to raise, and with a much higher fat content than regular pigs, it was even more difficult to do sell to a fat-phobic market.
Chris saw this as a challenge. He became the main progenitor of Mangalitsa in the US. Others had brought these animals to the US, but they had long been cross-breeding their animals with other pigs to make leaner animals that were more desirable. “Everyone was so concerned about making pork the other white meat,” he said with disgust. “We’ve essentially changed the integrity of the animal.” His pigs look more like sheep, with thick wooly coats. And he’s determined to maintain a pure blood stock of this animals (which now number over 5000) in order to keep producing the most pure, palatable pork that most people didn’t even know existed.
Just one taste of the revered jamón Iberico led Chris to not only learn to farm but also to be an outspoken critic of mindless USDA regulations and fighter to regain the minds and stomachs of our culture from the grips of corporations and their intentional misinformation. It exposed him to so many of the corruption in our food industry and how far we’ve come from the beauty of pure, unadulterated taste. And so his mission is to change that. To bring us back to real farming, to pure taste. To teach Americans that it isn’t fat that’s making us fat, a point he punctuates with the fact that Americans used to use lard as their primary source of fat, back when heart disease, diabetes, and obesity were nearly non-existent. By getting back to pure, real food these human-made complications fade away. Oh, yeah, and the flavor is fucking phenomenal.
I was able to get a taste of his ambitious venture last Monday night in the private dining room atop the Avena in Midtown. A 5-course pork-forward meal imagined by acclaimed chef Roberto Deiaco made me quickly understand why we need to reverse our understanding of fat in our diet. Delicate dishes that were rich in fat left me satisfied but not overwhelmed, as Chris constantly preaches. “Eat a piece of that lard and then run your tongue over the roof of your mouth. There’s no greasy residue left; that’s because the fat in the mangalitsa melts at a temperature that’s below your body temperature, so it doesn’t stay in your body; it won’t clog your arteries.” and it tastes like pure magic. Along with the stunning charcuterie spread, we had a pork tartare and medium-rare on-bone pork chop. “The last confirmed case of trichinosis reported in the US was in the 1930s… We need to stop cooking all of the taste out of our pork.” It doesn’t hurt that he is blindly confident that this bloodline is clean and pure and certainly disease-free. They also introduced a first-ever dry-aged pork, a process usually reserved for beef, that produced a delicate almost bacon-like steak and left me wondering why this has never been done before.
My meal ended with a double espresso and interview with founder Chris Andersen whose personality and passion matched the bold and memorable flavors in every dish. I left satisfied and tipsy and whirling with respect and understanding for this mission, to make Americans break through this fat-phobia and actually understand the foods they are consuming; with the hope that small farmers with big dreams and real products can put a dent in the over-corporatized food system, and feeling that while this all seemed a little crazy, Spanish jamón just does that to people.