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Ossabaw pigs

posted by Aaron Cohen   Aug 08, 2010

Jamon Iberico, the so-called “best ham in the world”, is made from a breed of pig that has been raised in Spain for 10,000 years. Fear of disease made it unavailable in the US until 2006, when one Spanish importer was finally approved. (An American company, La Quercia in Iowa, is also making waves, though purists will argue…)

In the 1500s, Spanish conquistadors exploring the new world would drop off pigs in the interest of creating a food source should they ever come back around that way again. These pigs were direct descendants of Iberian pigs, but as America settled, these pigs were passed over in favor of pigs easier to raise in captivity. Except for on Ossabaw Island, GA, where the breed remained mostly pure for 400 years. However, since pigs are about as destructive a breed as you can introduce into an ecosystem, Georgia has been working to cull the population on Ossabaw Island since 2000.

Thanks to the efforts of “hamthropologist” Peter Kaminsky, a few small farms in North Carolina are now raising Ossabaw pigs, and working to keep the breed alive. The Ossabaws suffer from insular dwarfism, making the pigs smaller, and low-grade diabetes caused by an advanced fat-storing tendency, but Kaminsky says the meat is a close approximation.