The Food Issue: Meet the Mangalitsas | Feature | Chicago Reader
We talk to a breeder and importer about this wild and wooly breed that's become a favorite with farmers and eaters. With the genetics of a pig, the coat of a sheep, and the personality of a dog, the Mangalitsa is a wooly wonder definitely worth learning about. A pig, a sheep, and a dog? Well, there's no need to camp outside of the geneticist cloner's office any longer, because the Mangalitsa pig fits the bill! Its curly hair.
Meet the Mangalitsa, the Hairy Pig That’s the Kobe Beef of Pork
Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe Mangalitsa pig on Stan Schutte's farm in Stewardson Mike Sula One early morning last month, a dozen Chicago chefs crowded into Stan Schutte's kitchen, listening to the stocky, buzz-cut farmer talk about the owls, hawks, and coyotes that harass his animals.
They're not so bad this time of year, but once it gets cold they'll start coming in closer and closer, and that's when they start to get a little bit greedy. It's when they summon the brass to pick off his chickens or turkeys in broad daylight that he goes for his shotgun. Since the spring, Schutte has had a new and far more rare and valuable animal to protect. The chefs—Mike Sheerin of Blackbird, his brother Pat from the Signature Room, Ryan Poli of Perennial, and Paul Virant, Nathan Sears and a battery of line cooks from Vie—had rousted themselves before dawn and made the three-hour drive to Schutte's organic Triple S Farm in downstate Stewardson to visit the six Mangalitsa hogs they'd committed to purchase and serve in their restaurants this winter.
While they snacked on thin, juicy pork chops rimmed by a luscious band of fat butchered from Schutte's Berkshire crosses and cooked up in a crock potSchutte noted that the young Mangalitsas, which had probably gotten too big to be a meal for a single coyote, might still fall prey to a group of them.
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That would be a very expensive loss. Mangalitsas are an old Austro-Hungarian breed that had no presence in the United States until about three years ago, when a Washington State financial analyst and programmer named Heath Putnam imported a herd of 25 from Austria at enormous expense.
Heath Putnam - the Godfather of Mangalitsa. - Charcutier
Like other old breeds, Mangalitsas are lard-type pigs, fattening well—if slowly—and producing juicy marbled meat. Like Schutte, most of the chefs in the room had read the April Times article, in which their colleagues on the coasts swooned over the creamy fat of the woolly pig and compared its marbled meat to Wagyu beef. A year earlier they'd purchased four heritage pigs—two Durocs and two Red Wattles—and contracted a farmer to raise them naturally with the intention of eventually selling the meat.
Though the experiment wasn't an economic success—one of the pigs died—they did sell one off to Osteria di Tramonto. The rest they distributed among themselves and friends. When they read about the Mangalitsas, they wanted in. But "Chris and I both thought we needed more than just a caretaker farmer to raise these things," says Smith. And that's when I proposed Stan.
Because Stan is always thinking of new, different, and unusual things that he can do to raise the profile of what he does, and to be unique. That project is on hold for lack of funds.
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He, Koetke, and Smith wanted to buy pigs they could breed themselves, but Putnam—who controls the country's entire breeding stock of Mangalitsas—only sells feeders. Schutte looked into importing a herd, but discovered that the cost of bringing in enough of them to ensure healthy genetic diversity was prohibitive: Putnam put Schutte in contact with a farmer in Centerville, Iowa, who breeds them on his behalf. Schutte, Koetke, and Smith pooled their resources, and in early May Schutte went to Iowa and picked out half a dozen.
Schutte thought the woollies looked a bit like French poodles at first, and he chose his miniherd like he was picking out puppies. So his pigs are a quite bit more varied in appearance than the adorable porcine Brillo pads that pop up on a cursory Google search: And you can only do that with fat and marbling. Obviously the striking thing about the pigs is their hair.
Is that a selling point? Can people do anything with the hair? A lot of people also like their pigs to sort of be pets.
The marbled meat of a Mangalitsa pig. Yes, these are livestock, but some people seem to use them as pets as well. You need a piece of land big enough so they can forage and then put up electric fence and then maybe a little shelter for winter.
The Food Issue: Meet the Mangalitsas
They get all their minerals from the ground, and we rotate them through the pastures, let them tear up the ground, replant and then let them tear it up again.
Most people buy two gilts and a boar from us, if they want to breed. We recommend at least one and one. They are a herding type animal, so they do stick together. Even the boars leave the sows alone when they give birth.Eltee Mangalitsa
They really are very easy animals to raise. About how many piglets will a sow give birth to? We recommend about 15 months. But 15 months is about double what a normal pig does. Some people crossbred their pigs, for instance with Hampshire or Berkshire pigs, to get a faster growing pig with that nice fat.