Choosing your pork. Crossbred, Berkshire or Mangalica ?

The otherworldly Mangalica (or Mangalitsa) pig is a fascinating creature and a fantastic eat for those who only want the very best. Fatty and marbled, the meat has a brilliant hint of nuts. Truly the best pork in the world.

The Mangalica pig looks awkward and ancient at the same time, with its woolly coat. It never really adapted to living indoors and looks and behaves more like its wild boar ancestors than like the crossbred pigs they use in commercial farms. It is a charming pig with a friendly disposition.

Berks and Mangas eating pumpkins

Its unique qualities come at a price. Mangalica pigs are rare gems that grow incredibly slowly, and they are much less prolific than garden variety pigs. Rumour has it that their fat is incredibly healthy. It is different for sure.


The Berkshire pig is our all-time favorite. It is a perfect compromise between the Mangalica and crossbred pigs. Tastes great, marbles beautifully, with lower pH and short muscle fibers. While not a commercial breed at all, Berkshires are a little less rare and more prolific than Mangalicas. They grow a little faster and dress out quite a lot better than Mangalicas. They are only a little bit more expensive than crossbred pigs, but the taste is already so much better.

Crossbred pige with Duroc influence

Crossbred pigs (Duroc x Landrace x Yorkshire) are bred to perform. And perform they do. They perform as well when raised outside under good circumstances. And they are ubiquitous as they are meant for big commercial farms. Raising them outside, without feeding them industrial by-products does help the quality along a little bit. The meat is lean and there is little marbling. But leanness has advantages too. Most people prefer their bacon a little meatier…

There are other heritage breeds, and we tried some – like Large Black, Large White, Hampshire, Duroc, and Tamworth – in the past. We learnt that we do not want to raise heritage pigs that do not improve meat quality. Unfortunately, tiny genetic pools, haphazard crossbreeding and – let us face it – amateurish farmers, do not do many favors to heritage pigs in general.

Tamworth pigs in the woods

Of course, there are many heritage breeds that we have never tried – but like to try. If you are breeding purebred Hereford, Meishan, or Mulefoot pigs, let us know!

But, let us face it. All we can really think of while writing these lines, is the truly amazing and delicate taste of Mangalica pork.

Berkshire chops

Pastured pork

Raising pigs on pasture is not complicated. All you need is some fencing, shade, feed and a steady, fresh water supply, right?
Right. Until you realize that pigs will destroy pastures at a rapid pace, especially after a rain. That is not the time to take pictures or to get some fresh air! You end up with what we call mud lot pigs. Mud lot pigs are smelly and disgusting, harm the environment (you need plants to use up the manure!), are more disease prone, and probably not too happy.
So you implement pasture rotations to move the pigs to clean land after every rain. Now supplying abundant, clean, fresh water is no longer so easy. They just will not drink enough stale, day old water out of an IBC or hot water from a pipe. You just lost lots of growth, and your pigs may seem happy, but they are in fact…rather thirsty. You had your water tested, right?

Maybe your pigs are growing unevenly, because you do not have enough water points or enough feed points so the boss-pig will hog the water or feed source. Maybe your pigs are wasting 20-40% of the feed you give them, because you do not have a feeder. Such waste is economically and environmentally unacceptable.
Then, it gets really hot in the summer and your shade huts prove inadequate, so you decide to take the pigs to the woods. It is hard to set up fencing in the woods. The undergrowth is not as dense as the thatch in an old field, so the pigs destroy your soil in no time, causing pollution. That is why raising pigs in the woods is illegal in Quebec (REA). The pigs seem happy now, but when you were fixing the fence you were devoured by deer flies. They drove you nuts! The pigs do not seem to mind…
Guess what. Spring and fall are muddy every year, and in the winter, even though your pigs still seem happy out in -30 degree weather, they surely will not grow. We tried it: it takes more than 10 pounds of feed to grow one pound of liveweight at -25C. It is madness whether you look at it from an economic, environmental or animal welfare point of view.
Raising pigs outside this way is not so easy and rarely improves animal welfare or limits environmental impact, and unless clients can be persuaded to pay crazy prices, it rarely pays the bills.

So we got rid of our preconceptions and rethought the model completely. Why would we insist that the pigs are always out? Why not start from what pigs need rather than from our own infatuation with raising pigs on pasture? Why not let the pigs choose? Our pigs can go outside whenever they want, but we accept that they sometimes prefer to stay inside.
Once you start to really listen to the pigs, everything will fall into place. If you do it right, pigs raised on pasture can grow at the same pace as their conventional counterparts, will taste better, will be happier, will not cause environmental harm, and will not cost much more to raise, so you can sell them at a reasonable price.

If you really listen to the pigs, raising pigs on pasture is not that difficult.
The real challenges lie in the maternity, where the piglets are born. ‘Seasonal farmers’ just buy conventional piglets, fatten them on pasture (or in a mud lot), tell a pretty story (almost organic!) and cash in the big bucks.
To really change the system, we need to reinvent the maternity too. But that is another story altogether!

Roast X-mas chicken with gravy and pork and merguez stuffing.

This recipe is inspired from Gordon Ramsay’s Christmas turkey. We tried it a few times, and we like it better without the apricots. And we like chicken better than turkey! Here are the three parts!


Here is the video for visuals:
1 lb ground pork
salt and pepper
1 large apple, grated
(in the original recipe there were apricots)
about a handful of pistachio nuts, shelled and roughly chopped
zest of 1 lemon
a handfull of chopped parsley
olive oil
a lot of fresh sage leaves
2 merguez sausages

Mix ground pork, grated apple, pistachios, zest and parsley together. Add salt and pepper, On a large sheet of aluminum, drizzle olive oil and arrange the sage leaves right side down so they stick to the oil and overlap in two rows so they form a rectangle of sorts the length of 1.5 to two merguez sausages placed end to end. Season. Spread half of the pork mixture onto the leaves, run your finger down the middle to make a groove for the sausages. Place sausages in groove and cover with remaining pork. Wrap foil around the stuffing, twisting ends to seal. Roll package to get a tight and even log shape. IF making ahead, refrigerate at this stage. Place in a baking dish and bake in a preheated oven at 400 F for about 40 minutes. Leave to rest for 10 minutes before slicing to serve.


Here is the video in case you need visual cues.
1 chicken (or Turkey, but we prefer chicken)
salt and pepper
2 onions, peeled and halved
2 lemons
3 garlic cloves crushed
small bunch of parsley chopped
375 gr unsalted butter at room temp.
1 tbsp olive oil
3 bay leaves
bacon slices

Preheat oven to 430 F. Prepare herb butter by mixing butter with salt and pepper,  parsley, zest of 2 lemons, juice of 1 lemon, crushed garlic, olive oil and parsley. Set aside.
Season chicken cavity, stuff with onions, 1 lemon cut in two and bay leaves. Loosen skin on the breast with your hands, being gentle so as not to tear. Do the same with the thighs. Stuff half the butter mixture between the skin and meat and gently massage the butter into hard to reach areas. Place bird in roasting tray (not glass!) breast side up. Spread rest of butter onto bird, season with salt and pepper then drizzle a bit of olive oil. If preparing ahead, cover with foil and refrigerate.

Roast turkey in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Take bird out of oven, and place bacon strips over breast. Lower heat to 360 F and cook until done (use thermometer! it avoids errors), they say 30 minutes per kg, but it always takes more time here! When done, remove from oven, let chicken rest under foil. Remove parson’s nose (the butt) and wings for the gravy. Remove lemon and onion from cavity for gravy and bacon from breast!


This has got to be the best tasting gravy I have ever eaten. here is a link to the youtube video in case you need visual cues.

3 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 fresh tomatoes chopped
1 cup apple cider (I never have this in house so I end up using leftover pear wine someone once gifted us)
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup walnuts chopped

Drain the roasting pan juices and reserve. Heat up roasting pan on the stove and add all the stuff you took from the roasted chicken- chopped up bacon, chopped up lemon and onion. Add 2 sprigs of rosemary and tomatoes. Sauté for 2 minutes. Add wings and parson’s nose to pan and stir. Pour in cider and bring to a boil, scraping the browned bits on bottom of pan. Reduce by half then add reserved juices. Reduce once more by half. Crush everything with a potato masher to bring out their juices. Pour in chicken broth, bring to a boil and add remaining rosemary. In your gravy boat, place walnuts. Strain gravy into boat and serve.

Bon appetit!

Why raise Berkshire pigs on pasture?

The Berkshire breed is known for marbling and the pH and juiciness of the meat.

Berkshire chops

Compared to other heritage breeds, whose claims to fame are… rather inventive, most of our clients say they had no idea what pork was supposed to taste like, before they tried our Berkshire.

That is certainly true for some cuts, but there is definitely a place for crossbred pigs on our farm as well. Our crossbred Duroc pigs are leaner… and cheaper.

We used to raise Tamworth pigs, but eating quality was mediocre to say the least

Unfortunately, Berkshires aren’t great mothers, and they do not have a lot of babies. So raising them is quite a lot more expensive, especially if one elects to follow humane methods of raising pigs from birth to plate.

We find that raising pigs on pasture is easy and it has only a small impact on taste, costs, animal welfare, the environmental etc. That is, if it is done well.

Raising Berkshire pigs on pasture

For us, doing it right does not mean forcing the animals to be outside rain or shine, year round. It means giving the animals a choice. So we have to ensure a good environment inside as well.

The harder part, and where the more sustainability gains can be achieved, is in the maternity, where ‘natural’ and ‘humane’ do not always go hand-in-hand, and where diseases are usually rampant. On our farm, Berkshire pigs are raised under the best possible humane conditions, without antibiotics, from the day they are born. This is not some vague promise. Our ‘humane Berkshire’ maternity costs are four times higher than for those for a conventional pig. No wonder our pigs are a little more expensive.

Biyearly blood test indicate that our herd is exempt of all major pig diseases and we enforce strict biosecurity measures to keep it that way.

And the hardest part of course is genetics. There is probably more variation within breeds than among breeds, in terms of meat quality and efficiency. Efficiency is important because it limits waste and thus saves the environment and the farm finances. So, for us, it is certainly not enough to raise Berkshires. We want to raise the best Berkshires, and this implies artificial insemination and matching breeding pairs based on DNA samples.