An Old Breed of Hungarian Pig Is Back in Favor

Now that succulent pork is back in fashion with chefs, the Mangalitsa — saved from near extinction on a farm here at the edge of Hungary’s bleak and barren Great Plain — are making a comeback. Most of those raised here are used to make ham and other cured meats in Spain. But Mangalitsas are also being raised at several farms inthe United States for chefs — like April Bloomfield at the Spotted Pig in Greenwich Village — who pay as much as 40 percent more for them than for Berkshires, another elite breed. On Wednesday Ms. Bloomfield served the belly and trotters with Agen prunes for $32. She said she sold all 35 portions by 9:30 p.m.. (She hopes to have more in two to three weeks.)

„When I tasted this pig…”

„When I tasted this pig,” Ms. Bloomfield said, „it took me back to my grandmother’s kitchen on a Sunday afternoon, windows steaming from the roasting pork in the oven. Back then pork tasted as it should: like a pig. This pork has that same authentic taste.” Devin Knell, executive sous-chef at the French Laundry, confits the belly of the Mangalitsa (pronounced MAHN-ga-leet-za); roasts the liver, kidneys, and chops, and poaches the saddle sous vide with a garlic mousse. „Unlike workaday pork,” Mr. Knell said, „Mangalitsa is marbled, and the fat dissolves on your tongue — it’s softer and creamier, akin to Wagyu beef.”

Mangalitsas were first bred

George Faison, an owner of the New York City specialty meats company DeBragga and Spitler, will start selling pork from Mangalitsas fattened on the West Coast to restaurants early this summer. He said the fat was luscious, more like that of duck than pork. Recalling an invitation-only tasting for chefs last fall, he said, „The belly meat was unctuous, but it was the loin meat that really impressed me.” Mosefund Farm in Branchville, N.J., sells Mangalitsa pork to restaurants, including the Spotted Pig, for $10 to $11 a pound, about $3 a pound more than what Berkshire pork costs. Ms. Bloomfield said Mosefund also sells a Mangalista/Berkshire crossbreed for $7.99 pound.
Mangalitsas were first bred for their lard on the Hungarian farms of Archduke Joseph in the 1830s. Many of those herds shrank with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. That decline quickened with the introduction of fast-growing white pigs and cheaper, higher quality vegetable oils after World War II.

Peter Toth, a „Hungarian animal geneticist”

But Peter Toth, a Hungarian animal geneticist, did not want this legacy of the Hapsburgs to be lost. He has worked to save them here on a farm with buildings made of whitewashed stone, with roofs of thick thatch. Dimly lighted wooden pens filled with straw shelter piglets and nursing sows from the cold. Breeding boars and sows live in pens open at one end, with a bitter wind blowing out of the Carpathian foothills just visible to the east.
Their feed is a mix of barley, wheat, wheat bran, alfalfa, even sunflower seeds, but unlike the feed on factory farms, little corn and nothing containing soy.
„When Communism collapsed,” Mr. Toth said during a tour of the farm, 100 miles east of Budapest, „the state farms that served as the last gene banks also collapsed. It was a total anarchy in the country. When I started to save Mangalitsas, to search for them in 1991, I found only 198 purebred pigs in the country. Sometimes, I would rescue the pigs right from the slaughterhouse.”

His company is: Olmos and Toth

Today his company, Olmos and Toth, in addition to maintaining breeding stock, fattens some 8,000 pigs and oversees the production of an additional 12,000 on farms in the surrounding regions. Because these pigs can cost 30 to 40 percent more to raise to maturity, Hungarians, who earn much less than most Europeans, use them mostly to make lard and cured sausages. „The Mangalitsa — many problems!” Mr. Toth said. „We must kill them at 140 kilos” — about 300 pounds — „to make sure that the marbling is maximized and the meat the best quality. If you kill it at 80 kilos” — 176 pounds, the size at which industrially produced pigs are slaughtered — „you won’t have marbled meat. You need time, more than one year, when a normal pig takes five months to raise.”

Problems, problems

„The second big problem,” he said, „is at the slaughterhouse: the carcass has only half of the quantity of meat and double the fat. So the Mangalitsa product we will have to sell, cured dried ham or fresh loin, always at two to three times more in price.” Also, Mangalitsas give birth to only 5 to 8 piglets instead of the 12 to 14 of more commonly raised breeds… Mr. Toth’s partner, Juan Vicente Olmos Llorente, who runs Monte Nevado in Spain, takes possession of every Mangalitsa ham, loin and shoulder produced on the farms. In Spain, the hams are finished and sold as jamón Mangalica, the most expensive going for $70 a pound, rivaling pata negra hams. Monte Nevado hopes to begin Internet sales of cured products in the United States in June at
There is already one American breeder of Mangalitsas, on the West Coast: Heath Putnam. His company, Wooly Pigs, based in Auburn, Wash., fattens the swine for sale but also sells neutered piglets for others to raise. Mr. Putnam started three years ago with 25 sows and boars he brought from Europe, before imports were restricted. He now produces about 1,200 piglets a year and has begun selling pork to chefs, wholesaling larger cuts for between $12 and $15 a pound.

Austrian organic farmer

Mr. Putnam recently had Christoph Wiesner, an Austrian organic farmer and breeder who hand-selected Putnam’s herd, give a butchering and curing workshop for chefs interested in traditional European methods. „When I opened the belly of the first pig,” Mr. Wiesner said, „you could see the chefs’ eyes getting big. ‘Oh, wow!’ they were saying. ‘Look at that fat!’ You could see they were already thinking what I can do with this part and that.”
The workshop took place on the five-acre farm of Keith Luce, the executive chef at the Herbfarm Restaurant outside Seattle. „Because it’s so great for curing,” Mr. Luce said, „we’re laying it down and curing the legs predominantly, making lardo, all the traditional things. It’s a true nose-to-tail experience with the Mangalitsa, and there’s not any part we’re not using.”

„We couldn’t control ourselves”

As well as curing, the restaurant has featured the meat on its tasting menu in a different form almost every night recently. „One night,” Mr. Luce continued, „it was the neck, sous vide 24 hours stuffed with dried plums and Armagnac and served with tenderloin. Then another we did the loin along with a three-day brined shoulder, cooked 24 hours sous vide, and belly 18 hours sous vide. We were laughing when we tasted it. We couldn’t control ourselves. The taste, the texture was so unbelievable.” Mangalitsa products may be too expensive for most local bistros, but Mr. Faison, the specialty meat company owner, said they should have a place on some menus. „We tell the chefs, you got to keep some magic on the menu, some fun,” he said, „because the people are coming in to escape whatever hell they’re facing out there.”

(The New York Times)

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