Bringing Home the Bacon: Sustainable Pork Farming in Arizona

fineswine

By Allison Bishop

In late 2012, Perry and Brenda Hunsaker were looking for something new to help supplement income on their in-laws’ dairy farm. Both especially passionate about food, the couple were drawn to the idea of raising quality meat they could sell to local restaurants.

A Google search for Wagyu Cattle, one of the most sought-after cattle breeds producing a high-end cut of meat, led to unlikely results: Mangalitsa pigs, an Austro-Hungarian pig breed dubbed the Wagyu or Kobe beef of pork.

While Perry Hunsaker had raised domestic pig breeds for show, he was initially resistant. “I wasn’t really interested in being a pig farmer,” he explained. A few months later, however, the couple brought home six Mangalitsa sows and three boars, and AZ Fine Swine was born.

The Mangalitsa breed first thrived in Austria and Hungary from 1830 to World War I. Under communist rule, Mangalitsas were phased out in favor of breeds that matured faster and produced leaner cuts of meat. At the fall of the Berlin Wall, the breed was nearly extinct until a Hungarian geneticist set out to restore the succulent breed. U.S. farms have only housed Mangalitsas within the last decade.

Aside from their spirally, woolly hair (which can bear resemblance to the curly coif of Little Orphan Annie), the Mangalitsas are most unique because of their fatty, marbled meat. Part of that is genetics, but it’s also due to diet.

Most industrial-bred pigs, descendents of Berkshire, Duroc, Hampshire and other breeds, produce leaner cuts of meat. These pigs are typically fed diets heavy in corn and soy, which fast-track pigs to a size ready for harvesting. Typically, that happens around six months old.

But the AZ Fine Swine Mangalitsas, who dine on a blend of organic garbanzo beans and spent grains from local breweries, aren’t considered ready for harvest until around a year old when the pigs reach 250 to 300 pounds. That diet, coupled with genetics and maturity, produce a much more succulent and robust flavor that Brenda Hunsaker describes as buttery, comparable to a ribeye steak.

And this taste has captured the attention of some elite Arizona restaurants. The cuts are a staple on menus at Quiessence at the Farm, Wilderness Brewery, and Binkley’s in Cave Creek, and the rendered fat from the pigs is a key ingredient for Benny Blanco’s tortillas in Gilbert.

What inspires the Hunsakers the most is the sustainability of the process: by-product from local breweries help nourish the pigs, and restaurants butcher and use every part of the pig. “It’s important to us that nothing goes to waste,” said Brenda.

In the future, the Hunsakers plan to make the process even more sustainable. The couple already has dairy goats on the farm, but their aspiration is to begin making goat cheese and adding the whey to the pigs’ feed. According to Brenda, the whey is not only nutritious, but will make the meat even more tender.

For now, they continue to sell pigs based on restaurant requests, as well as weekly appearances at the farmers markets in Gilbert and Singh Farms in Scottsdale where customers can buy bacon, sausage, chops and other cuts.


For more information, visit azfineswine.com.

Allison Bishop is a freelance writer and public relations professional currently based in Scottsdale. Her passion for sustainability is fueled by her childhood in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where many of her neighbors were multi-generational farmers or members of the Amish community.

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