The more we work with and learn about these wooly Mangalitsa pigs, the more we appreciate them. They are a unique breed in the pig world–because of the potential their genetics give them and because of the disciplines that maximize that potential. Heath Putnam of Wooly Pigs made a good analogy when he described them as Feraris, when the animal most chefs and cooks are used to is a station wagon. They both have motors and go forward, reverse, right, left and have doors–but that’s about as much as they have in common. They look different, handle differently, and have entirely different functions.
I’ve had the opportunity lately to cook with a bit of Mangalitsa backfat. It behaves and tastes differently than the lard I’ve worked with in the past. I’m a simple home cook–no professional–so I’ve relied more on historic uses for backfat than fine dining recipes. (As an aside–my Aunt Kay was telling us about when she met my great-grandparents Roberts. They used lard for everything. They fried their toast in it and even put dollops of lard on their vegetables instead of butter. Grandma lived to her late 80’s and Grandpa lived into his 90’s, though. They also ate eggs by the dozen, bought from a neighbor and stored on the steps going into the cellar.) I’ve merely cubed it, fried it and then used the lard and “cracklins” to fry other things in. This morning we had fried mush. Wow. I’m not a big fat eater, but it was good. The Mangalitsa fat does not have the heavy odor and taste of standard pork fat. (I didn’t have to burn candles–there was no residual heavy odor.) I’ve made similar dishes with lard from pastured standard hogs before–as close to comparably raised as you’d get as we always ate the older sows that had grown slower on lower octane feed and with more pasture time than feeder pigs. Mangalitsa fat is very edible by comparison. In the hands of someone more knowledgable than myself it would be an absolute delicacy–and in fact is so. The whipped lard we enjoyed at the Grand Traverse Resort this summer is one such example.
To say that Mangalitsa is pork is to say that a Ferari is a car. It’s true, but Mangalitsa is a different pork than a standard hog. Education is an ongoing activity here–we learn and we pass that learning along as we find that our products are not the same as the industrial products many people are used to dealing with. We realized that while talking to Aunt Kay as we explained why her parents in law could keep the neighbors eggs fresh on the cellar stairs while the eggs she had in her fridge were so touchy and had to be eaten in measured amounts.
So we enjoy our unique pigs, who seek out roots without being regular backhoes and love nothing more than acorns, who grow slowly and have playful, sweet personalities, who are very fat and can produce the world’s best lard products while living in primitive conditions and working for their food.
Heath had a great blog today, talking about this. There are some great photos on there, too.