I’d been promising my friends John and Charlotte that I’d pop-over to see their Mangaliza pigs for ages. Somehow I’d always been a bit too busy with other things. As damn cool a woolly pig might be, business comes first, no? John explains that it was indeed as the next “It Pig” that these were first imported to the country at £1000 each. The price has gone down since then, and much more understanding of the animal exists. John has certainly done his bit to help.

So I finally made time to indulge myself and go to see the fuzzies in question. I was in for a shock.

Firstly, the cuteness I had imagined was tenfold in the flesh. While they can mature to an enormous size, they are slow growing. So that a 6-month old Mangaliza (the age at which most pigs find themselves divided into separate polystyrene trays on the supermarket shelf) is an endearingly tubby ball of fluffy, energetic youngster. They are puppy-like in their attitude. Yet among the hardiest of all pigs: quite capable of giving birth in deep snow and with all piglets surviving while mum forages for food, away from human intervention or help. That goes for 2 litters per year at least.

Their slow maturing rate would give most farmers today an apoplexy, but with these pigs you get great wool too, a hugely important difference from other pigs which are “single-use” And they just. Keep. Going.

Despite the blond variant of the Mangaliza (there are three colours, each with their own physiological traits) having a tendency to run to fat easily, they are quite capable of jumping the 4-ft fence if they so wish. You just know that a rotund, fluffy, athletic pig aught to taste as good as it looks. It looks awesome.

It’s not the grin-inducing furriness that interests me, even though the coat is at certain times of the year, softer and warmer than sheep’s wool. No, this creature provided the preferred meat for the Viennese Court. A position not achieved by pulling wool over the eyes (sorry) of the overly fashion conscious. The pork is genuinely special. Very.

It turns out that a Mangaliza pig’s fat is richer in omega3 than fish oil. Incredible! It is also rich in monounsaturated fat and oleic acid: the healthy stuffs which olive oil is famous-for but is comparatively less rich-in. In pig terms, these traits were thought unique to the World-beating Iberico pig, from The South of Spain.

In the latter, much of this is achieved with a pure diet of acorns. The Mangaliza is even more inclined this way, but John is nevertheless looking for a way to feed his pigs something nice to help. I wish he were on the continent, where spent olives from organic oil-pressing would do the trick. That has been has been my retirement plan for some time. Having ascertained the right place for feedstuff and curing conditions, this is clearly the pig of choice!

On a piece of bacon, it is possible to encounter 4 inches of fat. And yet, this fat is genuinely GOOD for you. By Christ it tastes amazing!

Charlotte and John are passionate about breeding. Aren’t we all? But the Mangaliza suffers from a tiny gene-pool. Firstly, most of the existing animals are descended from a single herd. They are a Hungarian pig, and communist rule resulted in an order to slay them all. One brave soul sent ordinary pigs to the slaughter-house in place of his beloved Mangalizas, where the correct number of pigs were ticked-off and nothing more said. When communism collapsed, it was revealed that he had, somehow, kept his herd alive in the mountains. They probably took care of themselves, bless ‘em. They can do that.

Unfortunately, this now means that pig breeders often find that the only good boar available happens to be the grandfather of their own females. Not ideal.

Furthermore, there are three distinct varieties of Mangaliza: Blonde, Swallow-bellied and Red. The Swallow-bellied (originally produced by crossing the Blonde Mangaliza with the extinct Black Mangaliza) has a blonde belly and feet with a black body, and the red (produced by crossing the Blonde Mangaliza with the Szalonta breed) is ginger.

Short of options, “most people” (there aren’t enough people involved to talk about “most”) just cross these closely related strains. But this is the worst thing you could do: they have VERY common ancestors, and each separate characteristic was created by those traits brought in by cross-breeding with another pig. This genetic strength is nullified if you re-integrate the three varieties, John explains.

I suspect they are something of a genius when it comes to these things. These guys see traits and ancestral lines like I see patterns in the relationship between curing ingredients and histories.

So we are going to get our heads and hearts together. The very finest hams on this planet really COULD come from a little place just a few miles away from my beloved yurt up in the Wiltshire Downs.

I had absolutely NO idea! Neither does anyone else, yet. All I know is that in a quiet but determined way John and Charlotte are extraordinary people. They have, due to their passions and talents, the ur-pig. I want-in! And have waiting in the wings, the ur-cure, I think.

 

Deep Breath. Here goes…..

Search

Translate

English French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish