In the backyard treehouse where his children played when they were small, Dr. Erno Hollo is curing a ham, but not just any ham. The hefty haunch is from a Mangalitsa pig, a breed that Hollo, a veterinarian, has been raising on his five-acre property in Bernardsville for the last three years. A huge, wooly, Hungarian hog that looks like a bristly black blimp, the Mangalitsa nearly went extinct before a Hungarian geneticist revived the breed in the 1990s.
Hollo, 52, who emigrated from Hungary 26 years ago, grew up with the Mangalitsa and prizes the marbled tenderness and rich flavor of its meat and the silkiness of its thick cushions of fat. But that very plenitude of fat (which makes superior pastry lard) is part of what knocked the Mangalitsa out of favor as cheaper vegetable shortenings replaced lard in recipes. In this country, commercial production relies on breeds that are less flavorful but leaner (meat generally bringing a higher price than lard), smaller overall (175 vs. 300 pounds), faster maturing (six months vs. 12 to 15) and less costly to feed (for maximum flavor, Mangalitsa farmers give them wheat, barley and acorns rather than corn and soy products). All of which explains why Mangalitsa pork is almost twice as expensive as standard kinds.
In New Jersey, different cuts of rich Mangalitsa pork have turned up on the menus of some of the state’s best restaurants, including Elements in Princeton, the Pluckemin Inn in Bedminster, Copeland in Morristown, Uproot in Warren, Chakra in Paramus and the Ho-Ho-Kus Inn. Chef Juan Jose Cuevas of the Pluckemin Inn gets his Mangalitsa from George Faison, a Morris County resident who is chief operating officer of premium meat purveyor DeBragga & Spitler in New York. Faison also retails Mangalitsa pork at debragga.com. DeBragga’s Mangalitsa comes from farmer Heath Putnam of Wooly Pigs in Missouri.
Until now, Putnam has been the only American breeder of Mangalitsa. But in January he shipped seven sows and two boars to Michael Clampffer, a chef turned Mangalitsa farmer in Branchville who has been raising herds of neutered Mangalitsa supplied by Wooly Pigs. Clampffer sells meat to Elements, Copeland, some New York restaurants and farmers’ markets. He also sells at the Branchville farm, called Mosefund, and on the internet at mosefund.com. Now he’ll be breeding as well.
“It’s a big step,” says Clampffer. “We’ll be producing over 100 piglets from our place a year. Within 16 months we can probably be self-sufficient and won’t have to buy feeder piglets from Heath. We’re starting to get a little momentum in the market.”
Hollo, the veterinarian and gentleman farmer, raises three Mangalitsa neutered males a year, which he purchases as piglets from Mosefund. He says Mangalitsa are “very friendly and low-key and resilient. In cold weather, they just curl up together under a windbreak, and their thick coat insulates them. In hot weather they just need a water hole and they can cool themselves in the mud bath. And they’re clean animals. They don’t eliminate where they eat or drink or bathe.”
Because of the size and corpulence of the animal, and the preciousness of the meat, butchering a Mangalitsa requires cutting along the seams around muscles, rather than simply running a bandsaw through the carcass. The techniques are well-known in Europe but seldom practiced here. Mosefund farm is trying to spread seam butchery know-how by holding three-day seminars with master butcher Christoph Wiesner, president of the Austrian Mangalitsa Breeders’ Association. Called Pigstock, this year’s event will be held in November.