Mangalitsa pigs from Hungary
A rare breed of Hungarian woolly pig has been saved from extinction thanks to its delicious flavour, now favoured by top international chefs.Featured July 09 Words by Laura Latham
With their wooly coats and narrow faces, mangalitsa pigs look more like sheep. But this comical Hungarian breed, recently on the edge of extinction, is now taking the foodie world by storm.
Prized for the tender texture and rich-red colour of its meat, the mangalitsa was a favourite of Hungarian nobility in the 19th century. Its high fat content enhanced its strong flavour and it was farmed widely across the Carpathian region.
But due to its foraging and slow-growing nature, it adapted poorly to the intensive farming practices of the late 20th-century, and the fashion for lean meat made it less popular. By the late 1990s there were less than 200 mangalitsas left in Hungary.
If it hadn't been for the work of Hungarian agricultural geneticist Peter Tóth and Juan Olmos, managing director of Spanish cured meat importers Monte Nevado, the breed may have died out altogether. Tóth visited small rural farms in search of pigs and set up a breeding programme. With Olmos, he founded the export company Tóth-Olmos, creating a market in Spain for mangalitsa cured hams and sliced meats.
These products now rival quality Iberican meats, such as Serrano hams, in popularity. "We can cure this product for three years, something you can't do with modern pork," says Olmos. International chefs have also discovered that mangalitsa meat enables them to make richer, more distinctive dishes and many are happy to pay up to 200 per cent more for mangalitsa than standard pork meat. Prime cuts feature at quality European restaurants, such as Zum Weissen Rauchfangkehrer in Vienna. "Mangalitsa loses almost no weight when cooked compared to regular pork, which contains a lot of water," says proprietor Alexander Stauder. "Being more organically reared, it contains healthy amino acids, similar to wild mountain salmon. It's an extremely precious food."
The mangalitsa pig population has now soared to 20,000 thanks to demand from as far afield as Japan and San Franscisco. "There is a growing interest," says Olmos, "not just in terms of eating it but in the story of how the breed was saved. Everyone should have the chance to enjoy this quality pork."
WHERE TO BUY MANGALITSA
ZUM WEISSEN RAUCH FANGKEHRER
tel: +43 (0)1 512 3471,
LA GRANDE EPICERIE DE PARIS
38 Rue des Sevres,
tel: +33 (0)1 44 39 8100,
RESTAURANTE LOS MELLIZOS
5 Travesia de la Iglésia, Carbonero el Mayor,
tel: +34 921 56 0110,
25 Táncsics Mihály Utca,
tel: +36 (0)1 212 85 65,
38 Lajos Utca,
tel: +36 06 1 240 9010,
WHERE TO MAILORDER MANGALITSA