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The Mangalitsa Pig

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The Cookbook “The Mangalitsa Pig – Royalty is coming to America” is now available. Read this excerpt from the introduction by Wilhelm W. Kohl:

I stared in disbelief at what looked like a practical joke: a pig covered in wool. I was in Sebersdorf, a tiny Austrian village near Graz, the capitol of Styria. My friend pointed at the strange beast – “I don’t know what breed they are, but they’re the best damn pig I ever tasted,” he said.

That was how I met the Mangalitsa.

Back then I knew little about pigs. I knew they were the most popular meat in Europe. As an Austrian I also knew that cooking with lard tastes infinitely better than butter, olive oil, or just about anything else. I learned my love of lard from my Austrian mother, who never skimped on it in her home cooking, which is still the best food I’ve ever tasted.

This is what went through my mind as I stared at the wooly pig in front of me. Little did I know that the first Mangalitsa pig had already arrived in the United States.

In 2007 Heath Putnam, a Seattle-based entrepreneur, was the first person to import Mangalitsa pigs from Austria. Putnam wanted a tastier pork, and the Mangalitsa did not disappoint.

Unlike most gene-tweaked American pigs, the Mangalitsa’s genetics have remained untouched since the breed’s creation in 1833, when some unknown genius first bred the Mangalitsa for an Archduke in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The Mangalitsa was bred to produce two things; exquisitely marbled meat and pure white fat. It was so successful on both fronts that within 20 years Mangalitsa became the dominant Central European breed.

The pigs’ success came from its lard, which is beyond anything I’ve ever tasted. At the time of this writing, Mangalitsa lard is only available in America through a handful of specialty retailers, but that is bound to change. The stuff is like crack cocaine for foodies.

The lard was also an extremely valuable source of calories for Austria-Hungary’s growing population. Mangalitsa lard fueled Austria-Hungary’s industrial revolution, and led to the first large-scale hog production in human history.

The Mangalitsa even inspired its own Operetta. In 1885 Johann Strauss wrote “The Gypsy Baron,” wherein a wealthy pig farmer declares

Ja, das Schreiben und das Lesen
Ist nie mein Fach gewesen,
Denn schon von Kindesbeinen
Befaßt ich mich mit Schweinen,

Auch war ich nie ein Dichter
Potz Donnerwetter Parapluie!
Nur immer Scheinezüchter
Poetisch war ich nie!

I’ve no time for learning writing,
breeding pigs is too exciting
and I’ve got no time for reading,
for the pigs will keep on breeding

So I’ve never been a reader,
for reading I don’t care two figs,
I’m just a humble breeder,
who keeps on breeding pigs

When a man chooses pigs over literacy you know you’ve got some powerful lard!

The Mangalitsa remained a fixture of fine dining until 1945, when Hungary came under Communist rule. Suddenly
eating out became so expensive that only high Communist officials and foreign businessmen could enjoy it. Tragically, Hungary’s great culinary tradition thus entered a 40 year slumber.

But after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the situation changed rapidly. New businesses opened, tourism exploded, and the Hungarian culinary tradition was reborn. Famous Hungarian wines like “Tokaji” and “Bull’s Blood” returned to the sclerotic veins of Hungarian cooking schools, along with the beloved Mangalitsa.

There are now hundreds of great restaurants in Budapest alone, many of which serve the Mangalitsa of Hungary’s golden years. Just take a look at this Mangalitsa loin and you’ll understand this pig’s tremendous potential for American kitchens.

It’s already in America’s top restaurants. The Mangalitsa began its takeover of American fine dining in late 2007 when Putnam shipped pork to the French Laundry, a renowned restaurant in Yountville, California. It hasn’t left Chef Thomas Keller’s menu since.

And then of course you can enjoy three week aged Mangalitsa pork loin, with grilled abalone, at Atera in New York, a Four Star Restaurant for 2014.

The reason why is simple; as a traditional, unmodified breed, Mangalitsa is the opposite of most American pork, which is bred for rapid growth and lean meat. Unlike “the other white meat,” Mangalitsa is deep red in color, closer to beef than whatever passes for pork these days. The Mangalitsa’s soft fat tastes more like cream or butter, again unlike the pork fat most Americans so diligently slice away from their pork chops.

Sam Hazen, Executive Chef at Veritas in New York, knows how special the Mangalitsa meat is. After using it for several years he says that “It’s the best pork in the world. It’s got incredible texture and it’s consistent; it’s never dry. It’s very, very special.” ¹

I’m equally convinced that the Mangalitsa will transform 21st century American cooking. 10 years ago how many Americans had ever tasted Lardo, or even knew what Charcuterie was? How many Americans had knowingly eaten pure fat? Or have even considered it?

Mario Batali, a renowned expert on Italian cuisine, was one of the first great American chefs to serve Lardo; “At the restaurant, I tell the waiters to call it Prosciutto Bianco”² Soon after “Prosciutto Bianco” became a sensation, other chefs are clamoring to get it on their menus as well.

Willi Big Piece of PorkThose chefs learn about the Manglitsa just like the rest of us; YouTube is packed with videos on every imaginable aspect of the pigs. Well known chefs from Europe and the US blog about their passion and exchange tips on how to unlock its seemingly limitless potential.

In person events like PigstockTC, held every October in Traverse City (Michigan’s foodie capital), teach American chefs European-style seam butchery and charcuterie, all with a focus on the Mangalitsa pig. (see Pure Mangalitsa video)

Distinguished presenters include Chef Brian Polcyn, owner of the Forest Grill Restaurant in Birmingham, Michigan, and co-author with Michael Ruhlman of “Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing,” as well as Christoph Wiesner, the President of the Austrian Mangalitsa Breeders Association. Up and coming chefs from all over the Midwest come to Traverse City every year to train in the art of the Mangalitsa, just like their East Coast counterparts, who attend a similar event at Mosefund Farms in New Jersey.

Who could have predicted the resurgence of lard with American foodies and fine restaurants? Or that you’d be able to buy Mangalitsa Lard from sites like “chefshop.com” (4 pounds for $50)?

But once The French Laundry, as well as others, like Keith Luce of the highly-praised Herbfarm started using this full-flavored lard, other chefs realized that their light and flaky pie crusts contained a secret weapon; that miraculous lard.

All of this comes on the heels of new research showing that pork fat, or lard, has only half the saturated fat of palm oil, one of American junk food’s MVPs. 45% of pork fat is monounsaturated, which can help people raise their good cholesterol and lower the bad. Jennifer McLagan’s Award-winning cookbook “Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient,” says “pork fat is not only useful, but it is also good for us.”

Hopefully these pioneers will sway more Americans to return to a more European diet, which includes more animal fats. Most Americans followed this diet until the 1940s, when some potentially-flawed studies linked heart disease to animal fats.

But fortunately, I believe animal fat’s bad reputation is over – consumers should no longer be afraid of them.

In January, 2009 my friend and long time business partner, Marc Santucci, started raising Mangalitsa feeder pigs in Michigan. When Marc suggested for me to join this business and import breeding stock from Europe, I was thrilled; I’ve loved Hungary ever since my first visit in 1978. These pigs were an ideal opportunity to build on my previous success in the food business, where I’ve been active since the 70s.

With American demand consistently exceeding supply, the Mangalitsa is poised to become as popular in America as it is in Europe or Japan.

The curly-haired Mangalitsa is now hailed by many American chefs as the ultimate experience in pork. While traditional pigs like the Berkshire produce an inch of back fat, the Mangalitsa produces between 3 and 4 inches. The Mangalitsa’s lighter, airier fat structure allows for whipping of the rendered lard like cream, allowing its use in a variety of dishes unrivalled by any other pork. Or take a look at a Mangalitsa ham, raised in Hungary and cured in Spain. It is one of the world’s unforgettable food experiences.

I could go on all day – ask my wife – so I will sign off here and let the 23 Hungarian Chefs in this book take over. They definitely know their Mangalitsas better than just about anyone I’ve ever met.

I hope this book will open you to some of the Mangalitsa’s endless possibilities – and that some of you will share your experiences with us, once you and your families have enjoyed some of these great meals.

Bon Appetit,
Wilhelm W. Kohl

¹ NPR, Adee Brown, August 3, 2013
² NPR Books, Madeleine Brand, June 5, 2006