Swallow-belly Mangalitsa piglets, pork chop.
In 2007, I imported a herd of Swallow-belly Mangalitsa pigs. My business, Heath Putnam Farms, better known as Wooly Pigs, set out to be the first lard-type pork company in the USA. I have worked hard, achieving things I didn't think were possible.
At first few understood how unique Mangalitsa pigs are.
A few years later, it is clear that they are very special. Restaurants like Michael Mina, The French Laundry, The Herbfarm, Charlie Trotter's, Corton and Per Se buy Mangalitsa pork, either regularly or occasionally.
Just a few days ago, The New York Times wrote about Mangalitsa hams costing $79.99/lb. They cost that much for good reasons.
Had I not imported Mangalitsa pigs in 2007, there wouldn't be any American hams made from Mangalitsa pork. There wouldn't be any lardo as good as Europe's best, nor any speck. It is neat that I'm responsible for that.
Also, the business is economically significant. Two formerly underemployed pig breeders support themselves by breeding Mangalitsa pigs, and several farmers derive substantial income from fattening Mangalitsa pigs.
Because of Mangalitsa pigs, Swiss Meat and Sausage Company regularly employs seam butchery techniques. They cut pigs in special ways, and make products that other processors don't make.
Wooly Pigs, is considering offering Swallow-belly Mangalitsa breeding stock to the public. The business, besides selling feeder pigs and meat, would actively promote the sale of Swallow-belly Mangalitsa breed pigs.
In the beginning, it didn't make sense to sell breeding stock. There weren't that many to sell, and few knew about them. I was afraid people might keep them as pets or curiosities, not as food animals.
Now there are plenty of pigs to sell, and people understand their special culinary role. There's reason to think that we can establish the Swallow-belly Mangalitsa as our hemisphere's super-premium pig.
As the map of feeder pig customers shows, farms from all over the USA have bought our pigs. There is a national market for Mangalitsa pigs and pork.
Mangalitsa has a great reputation because producers like Wooly Pigs, Red Mountain Farm, Mosefund, Suisun Valley Farm, Revival Meats (along with other farms that I haven't named) have maintained quality.
I've got a few concerns about opening things up:
- It is important that consumers continue to associate the breed with quality. So far, most producers have done what it takes to make great pigs.
- I want people to breed the pigs and sell the offspring for meat, so that the Swallow-Belly Mangalitsa breed survives in the USA. It isn't about breeding pets, it is about making food.
It would be unfortunate if people started raising Mangalitsa pigs in such a way that they didn't taste much better than regular pigs. The most obvious concerns:
- Corn-finished or slop-finished pigs.
- Making cured products like bacon and ham from too-young animals.
- The sale of crossbred animals with minimal Mangalitsa admixture as "Mangalitsa".
I am imagining the following sort of offer:
- The first group of breeders has to promise to breed their gilts for a few turns, helping the goal of breed preservation.
- They promise to fatten some of the offspring and sell them for meat. This works toward breed preservation, by building a market for the meat.
- If people fatten them for cured products, they'll make sure the pigs are at least 9 months old before slaughter. Also, they'll promise to feed them low-PUFA feed (e.g. barley and/or wheat) for at least 60 days before slaughter. They won't feed the pigs corn, spent grains, slop, meat, etc. 60 days before slaughter.
- If it isn't possible to follow the rules, they'll market the pork as "pork", without hurting the Mangalitsa reputation.
This is a huge step for Wooly Pigs. We'll be giving up our monopoly on Swallow-belly genetics. The upside is that we are going to further cement the breed as America's super-pig, and build a much bigger market for Mangalitsa pork.
It would be neat if we got a bunch of Hungarian-Americans to raise "mangalica" pigs, and make traditional products from them.
I'm already on record as someone who has spent time and money to try to save rare breeds - particularly the ones that taste the best. I have told my putative competitors what genetics to acquire and how to feed their pigs to produce outstanding food - because I'd rather see more excellence in the world.
At the same time, my inability to help conserve Meishan genetics troubles me. Despite my best efforts, that breed is going extinct. That's really a shame.
It seems that with minimal effort, I can get others to help conserve the Swallow-belly Mangalitsa breed.
I would appreciate any feedback that readers of this blog have. Please just leave a comment.