mangalitsa pigs

Some of the pigs at Donn Nelson’s. The big curly pig is a purebred Mangalitsa boar. Photo by Dale Hildebrant

After being around agriculture all of my life, I didn’t think there was too much out there to surprise me, but such is the case with Mangalitsa pigs. These pigs have a few unique characteristics – they are covered in wool, much like a sheep has, and once the pigs are harvested you discover exquisitely marbled meat and pure white fat or lard.

The breed has a rather interesting history, according to Peter Toth, president of the Hungarian National Association of Mangalitsa Breeders. The breed was actually developed in the 1830s in Hungary when Archduke Joseph Palatine of Hungary received nine Sumadia (a bred of pig in that part of Europe) and two boars. They were crossbred with Romanian pigs from Szalonta and Bakony. This resulted in a hugely fat, well-growing breed – the Mangalitsa – that was owned by a large portion of the affluent Hungarian population by 1850.

The original color of these porkers was blond; hence they were called Blonde. They are the fattest hogs in the world, with an animal weighing from 300 to 320 pounds can yield 2,400 ounces (or about 150 lbs.) rendered lard in addition to bacon and other cuts of meat. At the Budapest Lard Type Fair in 1924, some of the Mangalitsa entries were actually yielding 73 percent fat.

But due to changes in human dietary patterns, Mangalitsa numbers reached a low point in 1991 and were destined to become extinct when the final 200 breeding animals were about to be sent to slaughterhouses.

At that time, Toth and a prospective veterinarian from Spain, formed Monte Nevado, a Spanish company that began breeding these pigs and started their recovery. Today in Hungary there are over 7,000 sows and they are producing about 60,000 piglets a year.

Coming to America – In 2007 Heath Putnam, a Seattle-based entrepreneur, was the first person to import Mangalitsa pigs from Austria. He was looking for a tastier pork, and the Mangalitsa pigs ended his search.

According to Wilhelm W. Kohl, author of the book, “The Mangalitsa Pig – Royalty Is Coming to America” this meat began its takeover of American fine dining in late 2007 when Putnam shipped pork to a restaurant in Yountville, Calif.

The Mangalitsa is the opposite of most American pork, which is bred for rapid growth and lean meat,” Kohl noted. Mangalitsa is deep red in color, with an appearance much like beef in both color and marbling. The fat from these pigs is a soft fat, more like cream or butter.

Sam Hazen, executive chef at Veritas in New York has used Mangalitsa for several years and said, “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.”

To further acquaint the American public to Mangalitsa, YouTube has many videos on every imaginable aspect of these pigs.

Kohl noted that 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,” he said.

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

We will get a local Mangalitsa breeder thoughts on this from Donn Nelson, at Fullerton, N.D., who is also one of our producer progress farmers this summer season. He has been raising pigs for four years and presently has about 50 pigs in his herd. Some are purebred Mangalitsa, but some of his pigs are also crossbred with either Hampshire or Yorkshire breeds.