A rescued breed of pig infuses Hungarian cuisine with tasty fat

Mon Jun 15, 2015 2:05pm EDT
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By Marton Dunai

GYOMAENDROD, Hungary (Reuters) - Far from the glitzy restaurants in Budapest, in muddy stalls in the Hungarian plains, ancient-looking hairy pigs promise to help transform the cuisine of the country, and possibly the world.

The "mangalica" pig was once ubiquitous, kept mostly for its massive layers of fat. It nearly went extinct as pork production was industrialized during Communism, when other pig species that produced more meat squeezed it out.

Since 1989, a small group of breeders has saved all four mangalica varietals. The black version, thought extinct until recently, was the last to be rescued. A few dozen black mangalicas now root around at a Gyomaendrod pig farm. Their genes fill the last missing spots in the mangalica breed.

"We are just about done saving the mangalica," said Peter Toth, the breeder who has led the effort. He also plans to boost the mangalica's commercial use, raising its numbers several times over from about 10,000 sows now.

"It's a good beginning," he said. "We need to eat it to save it. If we don't eat mangalica, it will disappear again."

His timing could hardly be better. World markets pick up high-quality organic foods in a snap, and Hungarian cuisine - full of paprika-infused heavy dishes popularized during Communism - is rediscovering its roots.

In this renaissance, fat is no longer a hindrance: it is a selling point. Mangalica fat is so soft it's easy to poke a naked finger through it, and it infuses the pork with such taste that chefs compare it with the best Spanish hams.

"It is really good, and its main feature is the fat," said Lajos Biro, head chef at Bock Bisztro, a Budapest restaurant. "Mangalica is somewhere between the Spanish Serrano and Iberico hams in quality."   Continued...

A chef at restaurant Bock Bisztro shows the difference between a perfectly marbled Spanish Iberico pork (L) and the less evenly marbled Hungarian "mangalica" pork (R) in Budapest, Hungary, June 10, 2015.  REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh