Illtud 'Bob' Dunsford  -  A review of traditional native pig breeds and the processing of value added premium products

John Oldacre Foundation

My family have farmed in the Gwendraeth Valley, West Wales for over 300 years and for as long as parish records exist. In 2004 my partner Liesel and I moved to Felin y Glyn, our 67ha family farm and set about converting a redundant cowshed into a home. Although I had grown up within an agricultural family, my professional career started within the creative industries, initially within freelance photography and then the film industry working to attract film and television productions to Wales. Over the course of eight years I worked on well over 250 various productions acting as a liaison between land owners, local government and national organisations on a diverse breadth of projects ranging from a zombie feature with a budget of £45 to Hollywood productions such as Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Food had always been a passion, and the rich food memories born from my Grandmothers farmhouse cooking provided the platform for the diversification of the farm business. We drew inspiration from the family tradition of rearing heavy pigs for curing in the pre-refrigeration method, a tradition kept alive in many Carmarthenshire farmhouses and looked to expanding our curing repertoire to take in Southern European methods. In 2011 we established Charcutier Ltd a small charcuterie business specialising in heritage recipe British charcuterie and Southern European products such as salami and chorizo. Our mainstay of production is the native regional breed; the Pedigree Welsh pig, however we also have a small herd of the Austrian-Hungarian curly coated Mangalitsa pig, famed for its high quality lard.

Over the past four years I have travelled extensively researching whole-supplychain pork production. I studied a professional summer school at the Meat Laboratory, Iowa State University, USA and spent six weeks travelling the Pacific Northwest of North America thanks to a Hybu Cig Cymru Livestock Scholarship. Further research trips have included visits to Spain, France, Germany and Italy and a study tour to Denmark to review the pork industry. Lessons learnt in Denmark contributed to the conversion of a former calving shed into a fattening unit in 2014, which hopefully will provide the basis to a larger pig unit. As part of a Welsh Government Supplychain Efficiency project I work as a Consultant Project Manager for the Pedigree Welsh Pig Society on diverse projects such as an application for a EU Protected Food Name for Traditionally Reared Pedigree Welsh Pork, managing a back fat & weighing project to provide a BLUP for the breed, a growth trial with Harper Adams University and a DNA mapping of the breed with IBERS, Aberystwyth University.

  • Project Details

A review of traditional native pig breeds and the processing of value added products.

The rearing of native pig breeds differs greatly to hybridised pigs. They do not always lend themselves to intensive husbandry practices, are less efficient and generally have a propensity to lay down fat on an unrestricted diet. However, from an organoleptic perspective their qualities are far superior to commodity pork. Native pig breeds also hold the base genetics of modern pig hybridisation and are an important genetic pool for future breeding. The rearing, and processing of native pig breeds is often left to smallholders and small meat enterprises and rarely find themselves in a commercial context. However, there is profitability within niche rare breed/native pig production when used for value added products.

Charcuterie, both fermented and air dried, and more traditional charcuterie such as hams, pates and terrines are gaining shelf space in major retailers proving that there is a viable market for these products. However, the current quality of most British charcuterie producers is not yet comparable to the best in Europe. This is partly due to processing but also due to the quality of the raw ingredient; the pork. Pig breeds across Europe kept specifically for niche charcuterie production such as the Mangalitsa (Austria, Hungary), the Basque (France), the Swabian Hall (Germany) and the Iberian Pig (Spain and Portugal) differ greatly in their composition, confirmation, their husbandry methods, diets and breed standards to British native pigs.

Simialrly in the USA, native breed pigs such as the Ossabaw, Mulefoot, American Guinea Hog and Red Wattle have seen a revival in recent years and are being used in the production of high value products. Many European traditions have been distilled by American immigrants to produce a new breed of American Charcuterie - both as air dried salumi and as modern artisanal products such as franks and brats. There are also long established pork products such as country hams and southern BBQ which have their roots in folk food culture but have found themselves elevated in status in recent years.

The scholarship will concentrate on whole supplychain pork production globally, concentrating on native European, North American and Chinese pig breeds. The study will look at rearing methods, welfare standards, diet, finishing as well as processing and production of specialist meat products.