Have you seen the little piggies crawling in the dirt?

Bonus point if you get the band and album from which this song was taken.

Never mind the piggies though, because it occurred to me, over the weekend, that I rarely see any animals in the fields in Latvia. I think I remember seeing a dairy herd somewhere on the road to Limbazi, but that is it; no pigs, no beef, no lamb or geese. So where does all the meat and dairy produce come from. If it is imported and then sold as Latvian, that is illegal and unethical and if all livestock are kept in barns then that is akin to factory farming which surprises me about the Latvians and their closeness to nature. I would be grateful for any answers to this question.

Whilst on the subject of food, why can’t I buy a good beef steak at the butchers or some nice shellfish like mussels and scallops at the market in Riga. Very disappointing

 

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39 Responses to Have you seen the little piggies crawling in the dirt?

  1. Reinis says:

    Might be that you just haven’t encountered any yet. As you said, there’s plenty of dairy herds. I myself spend my summers (with the exception of this one) in my countryside where we have a small dairy herd, once the cows don’t produce enough milk anymore, we send them off to butchers. Saying that, there are plenty of farmers who produce their livestock for the sole purpose of meat distribution, however, these farms are usually placed a bit more on the outskirts of civilization. You kinda have to know what you’re looking for if you want to find one of those. Then there are mass distributors such as Ķekavas vistas which don’t bring the best reputation in their quality nor housing for their livestock.

    And about the steaks, you can get a pretty decent one if you know where to look. To be honest, I’ve never managed to find a decent steak in UK, always have to roast it to make it edible, although, it might be the same case that I am not aware on where to look for a good one.

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    • aedoxsey says:

      You’re right, it’s just knowing where to look. Any suggestions?

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      • baibabruuka says:

        I was about to say the same thing. You need to know where to look.
        As for shellfish, I recall seeing some in markets in Riga (Central one and others), not sure for now, as I haven’t lived in Riga for two years now. You might want to visit some of the seaside cities for that, like Ventspils, Jurmala, Liepaja and all of the little seaside villages up the coast, both – the gulf and the open sea.

        And I guess it all comes down to what we are used to, I still can’t cook my food as good here in the UK (by taste) as I could from Latvian products.

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  2. Kārlis says:

    You just haven’t seen them. Of course, some are kept in barns (AFAIK pigs and chicken are kept exclusively in barns), but not all of them.

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  3. Zane B. says:

    Well, my explanation for this would be that not many farms are based near the big roads, usually farms are hidden deeper in the countryside.
    There are quite many small farms that produce meat and dairy products and are “eco” or “biological” and they deliver their products to bigger processor or directly to restaurants/food chains. You just have to know where to look.

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  4. andrisbb says:

    Pigs usually are kept in barns and believe me, you will notice a not very pleasant smell when come closer than 10 km from it 🙂 that is why local people are not very happy when somebody want to build one and push them away to remote places like this one in Laubere http://citalaubere.lv/597-sia–lauberes-bekons–maina-nosaukumu-no-uznemuma-valdes-atbrivo-armandu-jaunzaru/
    I think Latvians do not eat lamb as much British so it is very rare to somewhere sheep. This could be because of long and cold winter all animals are mostly kept in barns.

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  5. Richard Doxsey says:

    It’s by the Beatles from the White Album. It’s the song that inspired Charles Manson to commit the Tate murders !!

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  6. Expat Eye says:

    Yeah, I’ve noticed this too – so much land and so little being done with it. It’s difficult to find quality meat here, I think. A lot of it is incredibly fatty. As for the beef – http://www.globalmeatnews.com/Industry-Markets/Latvian-association-says-90-of-sold-beef-origin-is-unknown
    Not terribly comforting 😉

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    • aedoxsey says:

      Oh dear, slightly worrying

      Like

    • Spock says:

      I think you have too narrow a definition of what “quality” is. A product is of high quality when it meets the consumers expectations. Pork is much fattier here than what you may be used to (even though it has become leaner over the last 20 years) because the majority WANT (more) fat on their meat.

      We buy a whole pig from a farmer we know every quarter or so because they are leaner than most of the pork on offer and because they taste immeasurably better than the commercially grown stuff available through stores. We also buy extra for friends and several of them stopped buying because they considered it too lean.

      Your cardiologist may not agree, but the majority in LV would complain more if the cuts were leaner.

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      • aedoxsey says:

        Generally I have no complaint about the pork or chicken. I would however like to see more outdoor reared pork available as we have in the UK. I know by outdoor rearing we couldn’t meet the needs of all consumers but it would be an option. My main problem has been finding good quality, tender beef. The secret to tender beef is to hang it after slaughter. The best beef is hung for 21 days after slaughter allowing enzymes to break down the fibrous tissues in the meat. I sense, but I’m not claiming to be correct here, that in Latvia there is an opinion that the fresher the better. Fruit and veg yes, some meat no.

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      • Vents says:

        re Pork/Beef quality. Well, we are getting there, sloowly…. :/ imho.
        it’s all market (size, small so far), ability/willingness to pay the (higher) price and culinary tradition/knowledge level..
        I have discussed this w/a farmer I get my beef from,
        in his case it is a combination of all above factors (leading him to _not_ aging his beef so far).
        but then again say 10 y ago I couldn’t get the beef like he is supplying now at all…
        so never say never. I hope the demand will reach the critical mass soon, one fine day..
        take for example story of Desu Darbnica on Brivibas Str by former VEF factory / Saukas butchery in Adazi/Centraltirgus. it used to be somewhat elitist / expensive by local measures, but over the years the business has thrived. They do quality product. people get used to this 🙂

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      • aedoxsey says:

        I agree, it’s all about price and demand.

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      • Expat Eye says:

        Ha, OK – give the people what they want I guess!

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  7. Lily says:

    First, thank you for a great blog!
    As for the steak, I think that in Latvia steak is not very popular. I myself have only started eating more steak since living in UK. I remember when I was little if my mum cooked steak it would be very well done. The idea of it being any different was insane. So maybe people find it boring and dry because they haven’t had the right experience with it. Same with shellfish, not very popular. But I’m sure that times and tastes are changing. Maybe scallops just haven’t reached Latvia yet! I’d say that maybe there aren’t enough cookery programmes on TV that would offer people ideas for new foods, but saying that I am so out of touch with media in Latvia that I can’t really offer any proof of that.

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  8. Agree with the rest of the commentators.. You just haven’t seen the herds.. You should go and see the real Latvian countryside – more obscure, further off of the main roads. Latvians like privacy, most farmhouses are a located away from everyone’s view and quite understandably cattle occupy the fields nearest to the farms. Roadside land is mainly used for crops. Latvia is more than self-sufficient as far as dairy products are concerned. Rest assured and do buy with confidence what you can find in the farmers markets – I’m more than certain it is local produce..

    As for quality beef: it’s just not in our culture.. Like Reinis rightly pointed out – historically the butchers have been getting their hands solely on the old animals – no more good for milking hence best of beef we’ve been having for years was mince.. Like our most famous TV celebrity chef Mārtiņš Rītiņš once said: UK know 15 different cuts of beef; Latvians do 2: front and back.. Too true.. We’re not familiar with quality pedigree beef. And even if we were an average Latvian punter wouldn’t be able to afford it.. We eat a lot of pork and have been for centuries.. I think it is going to change with time – we do travel, become less provincial, widen our horizons – also more sophisticated as far as food is concerned – it does take time though and you can’t wipe out all the decades when the ‘Animal Farm Pigs’ in Moscow used to dictate what we’re going to eat.. Exactly the same with good seafood – very niche market due to our background and expensive, low shelf-life stock which most likely give the sellers more headache than return.. But perhaps niche in the market – heads up all the entrepreneurs! 😉

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    • aedoxsey says:

      Thanks for your contribution to my Latvian cultural education. I thinks its important to understand the heritage of the people I live and work with. I have travelled regularly to the Latgale region, not too far from the Byelorussian border, so I suspect I will have to explore the area beyond Cesis if I want to see farm animals. Perhaps I should put my entrepreneurs hat on. Thanks once again, hope you’re enjoying the blog.

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  9. June says:

    As people from islands we have been spoiled in terms of seafood. It’s really hard to find any fresh fish here – it’s all either smoked or frozen. I’ve never seen shellfish other than cooked, frozen prawns. As for beef, it’s just not that popular in terms of taste and is relatively expensive, so there’s no demand for it. Its even harder to get lamb. Still working on getting an answer to your main question, though – where are all those pigs?

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  10. Renāte says:

    Actually, in Vidzeme, especially around Limbaži there are lot of sheep livestock farmers. And, as somebody mentioned, it is true that farms usually are located deeper in the countryside, not so close to main roads, where the estates are a lot cheaper. Don’t know about steaks, but good lamb, rabbit, poultry is available at Sidrabjēri. Quite expensive, but of quality, made by locals. There is a shop at Riga Plaza.
    The problem with steaks may be because beef-cattle farmers mostly export production or provide it to high-class restaurants because sector is not so well developed that they could offer same amount, same quality carcasses all year round, market for steaks is not so well developed yet and customer can’t afford to pay price that would make enough profit or would be equal to investment, because mostly they make biological or organic production.
    And dairy farms mostly use indoor technologies, keeping animals in barns, with exception of heifers, young stock or smaller and more traditional farms. Some farms pasture also non-lactating cows, depends on their opinion about animal welfare or traditions.

    About learning Latvian (mentioned in another post), I would recommend http://valoda.lv/Metodika_pieaugusajiem/View_all_products especially “Palīgā!” they had wonderful old-school videos made with humor, our family liked it. I’m not sure if they’re available.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rWPOJbdEY8 also made for learning language, not sure if it’s any good.
    In case if you need online dictionary, use this: http://letonika.lv/groups/default.aspx?g=2 (it really is the best, contains also terminology of different kind).

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    • aedoxsey says:

      Thanks for all the information. I’ll let you know how I get on with the meat and the Language courses. Pleased to see that people are reading my blog in detail. Many thanks for your contribution.

      Like

  11. Juune says:

    Yeah, as somebody said already, the cultural background is more like this: raise cows for milk, sheep for wool, and pigs for meat, probably that’s why beef [or lamb] is not that popular.
    As for the [hidden] livestock, our country house is in the Limbaži vicinity, and our closest neighbors actually have a pretty big livestock of cattle that they raise for meat. Last I heard they sell them to some German customers.
    On the way to our house I’ve seen livestock of sheep and cattle, and, again as somebody suggested already, it’s away from main roads. Which probably is not bad, because there’s less pollution from traffic.
    No idea about the mussels and scallops. I think fish in general is quite popular, though.

    Like

    • aedoxsey says:

      Interesting observation about the livestock in the Limbazi region as we are likely to be moving there in the not to distant future. Thanks for there comment, hope you are enjoying the blog.

      Like

    • Spock says:

      I think the aversion to beef may have arisen in Soviet times. Maybe because pork reaches maturity more quickly and has a better return, feed to weight gain wise (?).

      Having played (I think I was) Gusts in Blaumanis play “Pazudušais dēls” (The Prodigal Son) I remember an exchange between two characters. The upshot was, pork was considered everyday ho-hum fare while beef (and salt) were high end, not for daily consumption items.

      By the same token, Ulmanis stated a wish that everybody could afford white bread at least on Sunday. What people send their relatives abroad or miss most when travelling is authentic dark rye bread. Customs and references change.

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      • aedoxsey says:

        I think you are definitely correct about the popularity of pork. Even the Soviets were capitalists, looking for a quick return rather than long term investments

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  12. ding says:

    Lamb is considered.. not quite a delicatese, rather something not many people like. It really isn’t as much a matter of price as it is of taste.
    We used to keep sheep for wool. I clearly remember hearing “how could anyone eat LAMB? They’re babies!” and about half of my family would refuse to eat mutton – it “stinks”, it’s “not tasty”. So there.

    What I do suggest however is forest meat. Get in touch with some hunters, when the hunting season is open you maaaaybe can get some of that – if you’re lucky (it gets eaten/sold rather quickly). The forest meat is FAR less fatty, too.

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    • aedoxsey says:

      Interesting, Inta remembers the unpleasant smell of lamb/mutton cooking and how the at would stick to her lips. Yet in the UK lamb is her favourite meat. Thanks or your contribution.

      Like

  13. Vents says:

    Hi, just a quick comment here. (from local self confessed foodie person)
    The easiest part is seafood. As it’s all imported, most of fish and 100% seafood, it’s not necessarily cheap. That and the fact food culture during Soviet times was gradually reduced to nearly non existent does not help above mentioned foods to become all too popular overnight.
    On a subject of buying those foods – the expensive route is Stockmann, Sky, MC^2/Gastronomie. more affordable is indeed Centraltirgus.
    For fish I’d go to Centraltirgus and just buy what’s there.
    for frozen seafood I’d go to companies importing it, that’s if you are prepared to buy bit more than for one meal. say 3 kg of shrimp/prawns instead of 1/2 kg pack…
    imho all (or almost all) the seafood is imported frozen to Latvia anyway, just properly defrosted before selling it in supermarkets/markets.. :/
    On a subj of beef/lamb/rabbit/good quality poultry/game meat.
    This is where me a a local can see definite and huge progress over last 15 years or so.
    These days imho one can ‘source’ decent known (good/’organic’) quality beef / lamb other meats.
    a general comment is I haven’t bought (almost) any meat in supermarkets for best part of 5 years.
    here’s how..
    re beef, for more than 3 years now I am buying all my beef direct from a farmer rearing beef for meat only (Charolais in his case) He is slaughtering an animal every 2 weeks on average, one just must order upfront the cuts/qty and you get it delivered to your doorstep essentially.
    (same farmer is selling rabbit and quail (birds and eggs))
    re lamb – I typically buy 2-3 half carcases every autumn (Octomer/Nov?), carve it up and freeze.
    again, I get my lamb directly from farm, skinned and all, takes like 40min-1h per half a lamb?
    poultry – Centraltirgus is a good source for me, there are couple of reliable stalls there, for free range chicken, pheasant, duck/geese/turkey.

    re more beef I know there are other farmers dealing with other sorts of beef and distributing their meat in somewhat similar manner. (I am itching to try out some of those as Charolais is too lean for many dishes :/)

    there is much to add,
    if anything of interest for you or you would like to get some of mentioned contacts – pls email me off blog.

    Cheers,

    Vents

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  14. Vents says:

    a short comment re ‘bad smell’ and all of lamb in former days of USSR.
    My theory is the lamb back then was mostly (if not only) grown for wool, not meat,
    hence (mostly) old animals were slaughtered,
    hence bad smell and tough meat… :/
    Ah, ‘pleasures’ of USSR… 😦

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  15. Madara says:

    Check this link, http://www.gardumuti.lv/vietas/latvijas-steiku-klubs.html, give them a call.
    There are fantastic people at “Mazdzērvītes”, they know practically everything about steaks from animal breeding till cooking and serving…
    Arrange a visit, it will be worth your while. And – its not very far from Limbaži 🙂

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  16. Patricia says:

    Well, at first I saw this blog today on latvians news delfi.lv Read some articles and then some how maneged to get here 🙂 About the beef/pork – it’s better if you buy it from well known farmer who is recommended by some one, but in Latvia quite popular also is deer meat. My family at winter mostly eats only that, hehe.

    p.s. Animals are a lot in Latvia, but usually they aren’t next to road (especially near to highway)

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