Monday, July 8, 2013

pH and Heat = PSE Meat

Mangalitsa with slight PSE condition

Michael Clampffer, known for his superb Mangalitsa pigs and very fine cured products, asked me a question the other day. He had been experiencing a touch of PSE in a few of his pigs and was wondering why it was occurring. They were handled very well and did not travel far for slaughter. For those who don't know, PSE stands for Pale Soft and Exudative and is basically an imbalance in the pH level in the meat, making it a pale color and very watery, jello-like texture. Its cousin, RSE is basically the same thing but without the paleness (Red Soft Exudative). These conditions usually exist in over-lean pigs that are typical in a large production farm system and also where pigs might be stressed. The condition is also associated with the use of feed supplements such as Paylean but that is another article already discussed in this blog. Here is an article by Dr. Temple Grandin's on the subject
examples of pH values and related water loss
  So why were Michael's pigs, which are fat and happy, living in wallows and eating a varied diet basically free from stress, getting this condition? My suspicion is heat. Currently in the Northeast we are experiencing a heat wave caused by a blocking pattern known as a Bermuda High. Temperatures have been in the nineties everyday but that is only part of it. It is very humid as well. This can put a strain on the pigs but if they have cooling wallows, such as those found where these Mangalitsa are raised, they will be just fine. But the hot weather also puts a strain on refrigeration and this could result in the thickly fatted sides not getting chilled fast enough. I'm not sure of the temps at the slaughter house where Mike is taking his hogs but I do know that my days of owning a restaurant and dealing with walk-ins in summer were always challenging. If pork is not chilled rapidly, PSE can be the result.
  Another issue might be the conditions for the pigs while waiting in a holding pen. Most large hog plants have a sprinkler system that cools the pigs and keeps them from being agitated, which is another cause of PSE. Stress before slaughter is a major problem with pork quality. But Mangalitsa are not normally prone towards stress and the people handling them were all experienced. So maybe the walk-in is having trouble chilling rapidly due to the humidity, maybe the hogs are just a lot warmer before and during slaughter, but whatever the cause the real question is what to do with the lower quality meat.
 The large processors deal with PSE on a regular basis. About 10 to 40% of large farm hogs will result in various levels of PSE depending on the season and genetic background of the herd. So what do they do with all that lower quality pork? Here is a web site that gives ideas of what can be done.  This article discusses how processors can utilize PSE with some success. The use of phosphates to make the meat more palatable has been done to pork products for many years but for a small niche market high end producer like Michael, this is probably not an acceptable alternative. But the article also explains how if salted correctly PSE pork can be successfully aged and dried. It doesn't go into specifics and I think it would be up to the processor to figure out the subtle differences in recipe or drying techniques that would lead to a quality dry cured product.
  Another option is to make sausage. As long as the pork is not being used in a fragile dry cured sausage where water content is crucial, it can be used for most fresh or cooked sausage recipes, especially if mixed with non-PSE pork trimmings.