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Hog Heaven

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Jamón ibérico of Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona

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I just read an interesting article that really brings home how responsible animal welfare practices not only benefit the animals but people too.

First of all – a happy animal apparently makes its meat taste better and there is some science to back it up.  The story begins on a Spanish pig farm in the southwestern province of Andalucia.  A certain black Iberian breed is used to produce the finest Jamón Ibérico, an air-dried ham that is a delicious Spanish delicacy

The pigs on this farm are allowed to live the way pigs like to live – running in the fields of grass, wallowing in mud with pleasure, i.e. in pig heaven.

Not all Ibérico pigs live free in the Spanish countryside. Most Jamón Ibérico is made from Ibérico pigs who live normal pig lives eating corn and other feed. It is still an excellent ham, benefiting from the noble lineage of the Ibérico pig. But for the ultimate ham, you must add ‘bellota’, or acorns. As an indication of the difference, Jamón Ibérico de Bellota can cost twice as much as a normal Ibérico ham. So there are two main types of Ibérico ham: there is Jamón Ibérico , and then there is Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, or acorn fed. If they are lucky enough to be destined for Bellota status, the Ibérico pigs finish their lives on the dehesa, in small family clans, until their day of “sacrifice” arrives. Dehesa is a type of wooded pastureland found in the Iberian peninsula, used for the grazing of livestock,

The key ingredient in their diets is the feeding of acorns from the holm oak. All this running around feasting, especially during the acorn season, does more than make for a well rounded, happy pig. It makes for exquisitely marbled raw material, packed with natural antioxidants – a key ingredient for extended curing of the ham. The acorns from the holm oak gives the meat a rich flavor and lots of oleic acid (a monounsaturated fat) plus omega-3 fatty acids.

Another reason why the “happy” life contributes to the flavor of meat has to do with muscle glycogen.   Research shows that when animals are less stressed during transport and eventual slaughter, the meat has a lower pH and the muscle glycogen remains in the muscle.  The glycogen then converts to lactic acid and that maintains the texture, flavor and appetizing color of the meat.

When animals are subjected to manhandling, fighting in the pens, and bad stunning techniques,  the stress and fright causes the muscle glycogen to rapidly break down, causing the meat to lighten in color, become tasteless and therefore, is often discarded.  This causes the U.S. pork industry $275 million in losses every year.

Just another reason to search out locally-grown meats and protest against factory farming abuses as well as injecting the animals with hormones and antibiotics that may ultimately affect our health

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