The Christmas Ham: The Herbfarm Restaurant Celebrates the Mangalitsa

The pig is not the most glamorous animal. But the exotically named Austrian Mangalitsas of Woodinville, Washington's Herbfarm have become an irreplaceable addition behind the scenes since their arrival in the summer of 2008. Their role, which they carry out with aplomb, is to help proprietors Ron Zimmerman and Carrie Van Dyck close the loop on the restaurant-cum-farm’s use of resources, eating the home-grown plant-scraps and returning their nutrients to the soil.

The majority of Herbfarm’s ingredients are grown on their five-acre farm two miles down the road—hauled to the kitchen on the back of a mountain bike just hours before they’re served—or in the herb garden in front of the restaurant. No food products, or wines for that matter, enter the Herbfarm kitchen if they can’t be grown or raised in the Pacific Northwest. Executive Chef Keith Luce feels fortunate to be working with such ingredients. “You can manipulate food to make it taste great,” he says, “but you can never make it taste as great as if you’re starting with a product that has been harvested minutes or hours from the time you consume it. You cannot replicate that freshness.”

And in the spirit of giving back whatever the restaurant takes, all food preparation scraps and leftovers, to the tune of four full garbage bins a week, make their way back to the soil via the pig who consumes and redistributes the nutrients at an efficiency rate few recycling facilities could compete with.

Herbfarm farmer Bill Vingelen says that their Mangalitsas are an integral part of the farm. “We feed them vitamin and antioxidant rich food scraps from the restaurant and extra herbs and vegetables from the farm,” says Vingelen, “and they in turn leave valuable nutrients in the form of manure.” Not only that, but Vingelen notes that the team of four to six pigs work the land, rooting and turning the soil. Each season, Vingelen moves the pig pen to another patch on the farm and they get at replenishing the soil from which a new batch of crops are grown.

After their recycling tenure on the farm, the Mangalitsas become a savory ingredient in the kitchen. The heirloom pig is prized for its decadent fat content and succulent flavor and an entire evenings menu is devoted to the animals, with plates ranging from “Crostini topped with Whipped Mangalitsa Pig Lardo and Parsley” to “Mangalitsa Pig Loin served with Chestnut Spaetzle and Prune-Glazed Roasted Vegetables” with bacon-oatmeal ice cream for dessert.

For the Christmas meal, however, the menu is somewhat less baroque: an appetizer of Scrambled Eggs With Native Caviar, for an entrée Pork Shoulder Braised in Milk With Garlic and Hearty Herbs and Pears Poached in Syrah as dessert. You don’t need to find a Mangalitsa for your ham, but seek out pigs raised on local farms with access to the outdoors through the listings at Local Harvest.

Photo credit: Gregory Luke Smith


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