Having never met my Hungarian grandmother, I'm always curious about that part of my own heritage, especially if it has to do with food. The Mangalitsa shares two traits with my paternal grandmother: both are/were Hungarian imports, and both have/had thick, curly hair. Thankfully, the similarities in our bloodlines end there. Photo of Tan - click photo to go to Pete & Jen's
The more I learn about Mangalitsa (Hungarians call it Mangalica), the more I discover that its story shares some common threads with other heritage breed pigs. The breed nearly disappeared due to the geopolitical hardships in Eastern Europe. It was resurrected by two entrepreneurs who understood its promise and appreciated its unique features. The breed was brought to the US by a hi tech guy turned entrepreneur/farmer, Heath Putnam. By throwing down a princely sum, Putnam imported a herd of the once-royal swine to the US just prior to the ban currently in place. Carefully controlling the breeding, Putnman has created a Mangalitsa Monopoly that some chefs grumble about but which does ensure the endurance of the breed. Given the problems other heritage breeds have had when registries disappear or farmers retire or die, it's easy to make an argument for more, rather than less, control. Whatever your feelings are about the "preciousness" of this pork marketing scheme, you'd be hard-pressed to find a person who's tried it and hasn't loved it.
When I began the Pig Tales book project, I was originally focused on heritage breeds, American heritage breeds. Then I learned about the Mangalitsa. I tasted it and immediately understood why chefs swoon over it. I get Putnam's faith, his vision, his dreams for this breed. He was certain the pork he tasted in Austria, the pork that won him over immediately, would also win the hearts, palates (and wallets) of chefs and gourmands in the US. And it has.
A Wooly Pig comes to Beacon Hill
Thanks to Chef Jason Bond at Beacon Hill Hotel and Bistro, the Hungarian Mangalitsa has made it all the way to Boston. As of this writing, the dinner featuring this special hog still has a handful of seats left. Call BHHB to reserve your seat now.
Prior to Chef Bond's efforts, the only place a curious diner could try this unique pork would have been in a restaurant or two in NYC (April Bloomfield's The Spotted Pig) or at the Herb Farm restaurant outside Seattle, or Thomas Keller's French Laundry. Bond brought two Mangalitsas to New England, raised them at Pete & Jen's farm in Concord. Named Black and Tan, I have enjoyed the gift of some leaf lard from Tan and a taste of the rich meat. Leaf lard is the special fat that grows around the pig's kidneys and rendered it yields fat that is coveted by cooks and especially, bakers. See: For the Love of Lard: Mangalitsa Leaf Lard for Perfect Pies.
It's an odd thing to see a pig with a long, curly coat. In fact, the Mangalitsa was almost unheard of not too long ago, but now the "wooly pigs" are enjoying their moment in the sun. Well, enjoy, may be too strong a way to put it. No doubt that these unique pigs are in the center of a couple of culinary trends. One is the growing interest in heritage foods and the "eat it to save it" ethos. Another is the farm-to-table movement, and our renewed interest in tracing our food to its source, knowing how it's raised, and meeting our farmers and producers. A return to old food ways, to traditional farming methods both have come to be seen as more sustainable and certainly healthier for the environment, the animals and those consume them.
Meet Your Meal
I stopped by to see Chef Bond as he was prepping the newly arrived Black. He explained that this pig was much smaller than his brother (fed the same, raised the same and sharing the same parents). Black, it seems, just wasn't as assertive at meal time. Poor Black got edged out by Tan one too many times. As a result, Bond has much less fat work with but will surely rise to the challenge.
This photo (above) shows the loin and the fat which, if you can believe it, was thicker on Tan. Notice this pork is not white. The commercial pork that comes from industrial factory operations ("other white meat") was bred for speedy fattening, docile handling and lean meat. CAFO/commercial pork is trouble to cook because of the absence of intramuscular fat. It bears little resemblance to the meat of its predecessors. Most commercial pork comes from pigs whose lives have nothing in common with the fresh pasture, foraging life, and gentle hands-on care that Black and Tan enjoyed.
I'd never seen this cool little gadget. I suppose Jason learned of it at the Mosefund Pigstock three day butchering seminar. Mosefund Mangalitsa brings the leading Mangalitsa producers together with chefs and food professionals to learn from the team trained by master butchers. They are expert at preparations of all sorts, as well as the full utilzation of the animal, aided by European seam-butchering techniques.
Yes, Tan had more fat than this. For those of you recoiling at the sight of this fat or worried about the quantity, you should know that lard from pigs like this, raised on healthy organic diets including foraged foods is much closer in profile to healthy fats like olive oil. We tend to associate "lard" with the age-old tub o' Crisco. The two could not be more DIS-similar.
Heavenly Fat, Leaf lard from around the kidneys. Really, rendered down (see step by step photos in the Loving Lard post, link above), it is an unexpected delight.
At the ALBC conference in Raleigh, I learned about European butchering techniques that run along the seam of a muscle (hence the name "seam butchery") rather than cutting across it as we do in North America. This is one of the unique cuts that result from the seam butchering technique. Two others mentioned in the lecture I saw were called Pluma and Presa - I believe it was a Spanish chart. These are said to be two of the tastiest cuts and two which Americans typically cut through and trim off.
To have a chef that cares so deeply about how food is sourced, raised, produced and who is able to do this type of skilled butchering, it's not as common as one might think. When that chef thinks, studies, and cares about all these issues from farm-to-table and also prepares such understated yet elegant food with these rare ingredients, we are fortunate indeed.
The topics of slaughter and butchering are both going to be explored more in Pig Tales:a Love Story and perhaps here. Please drop a comment if you have any recommendations on these below.
More about Mangalitsas
- See Rebekah Denn's article, Super-Succulent imports are everything US pork isn't - for which she won a James Beard Journalism Award
- Wooly Pigs
- Mosefund Mangalitsa Pigstock