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Hungarian treasure gains reputation among gourmands

The furry Mangalitsa pig can resemble an oversized sheep. Its numbers dwindled to around 200 by the 1990s.

NEW YORK — An old pig is breeding new enthusiasm among carnivorous foodies.

Though the world of gourmet pork has long been dominated by famous names like Iberico and Berkshire, the Hungarian delicacy known as Mangalitsa is gaining dedicated followers, many of whom call it “the Kobe beef of pork.”

And with Japan set to relax tariffs on imports of pork and other meat under the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, those seeking a flavorful alternative to the standard chop may want to keep an eye out for this pig.

Revitalizing a forgotten breed

The furry Mangalitsa pig, which can resemble an oversized sheep, is an Austro-Hungarian heritage breed prized for its marbled red meat and creamy lard. After the Mangalitsa became one of the most popular breeds in the mid-1800s, the lard-rich pork fell out of favor as consumer tastes and agricultural practices shifted.

As the modern agricultural industry took off, it streamlined a process of raising a large number of pigs as quickly as possible. Pork was subsequently rebranded in the U.S. as “the other white meat,” with producers of commodity pork seeking to maximize leanness to cater to a consumer base that equates fat with foe. Mangalitsa pigs are 65-75% body fat, unabashedly obese in contrast with the more than 50% lean meat of modern pigs.

Slow-growing Mangalitsa pigs take 15 months to reach slaughter weight, versus five for commercial breeds. And as vegetable oil replaced lard in many kitchens, the high-maintenance pigs were unable to keep up. By the early 1990s, only around 200 of the pigs remained.

But thanks to demand from the artisanal meat market, the pig was brought back from the brink of extinction and designated a Hungarian national treasure in 2004.

Wall Street insider takes an interest

Wall Street investment banker Chris Andersen was unsatisfied with the bland pork being produced across America. After sampling Iberico ham on a trip to Spain — at the time illegal for sale in the U.S. — he was propelled by a quest to bring flavor back to the U.S. and purchased his first pigs to raise himself.

Andersen established Mosefund Farm in rural New Jersey in 2008 with the goal of “building a better pig.” It wasn’t until he experimented with raising Mangalitsa that he found what he wanted. He is now responsible for 4,600 Mangalitsa pigs, which he estimates is 90% of the U.S. market.


Wall Street investment banker Chris Andersen founded Mosefund Farm in New Jersey. Andersen is responsible for 4,600 Mangalitsa pigs.

Andersen, whose operation of Mosefund Farm is self-financed, has invested heavily in ensuring his pork is of the highest quality. In 2012 he founded the Mangalitsa Breeders Association, a collective of Mangalitsa farmers in the U.S. who pledge to keep the heritage pig 100 percent purebred. Mosefund Farm also has developed a special feed to resemble what the pigs eat in the wild. One ingredient is barley, a major part of the diet of Kobe wagyu.

Raising a Mangalitsa pig is no easy feat, and Mosefund’s Mangalitsa is priced accordingly. One pound of the farm’s soppressata costs $32, around double the store price of the same product from a common farm pig.

These painstaking measures to ensure quality meat are part of a U.S. trend of alternative and organic farming, a movement driven largely by consumers weary of the efficiency-first formula of “Big Ag” — the name given to the large companies controlling the majority of the meat market. Andersen claims his motivation was not to rebel against the industry, but to regain what was lost through the production line process.

“I want the children of the future to understand where their food comes from, how it’s raised, how it’s taken care of and what it’s supposed to taste like,” he said.

High-profile customers of Andersen’s Mangalitsa include upscale Manhattan institutions such as the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and Le Cirque restaurant. Mosefund Farm is developing new products — it has 34 Mangalitsa items — and has expressed interest in expanding sales abroad.

Appealing to Asia’s gourmet market

Introduced to the Japanese market at the 2009 Foodex exhibition, Mangalitsa pork is garnering a fan base among connoisseurs. Pick Szeged, Hungary’s largest food manufacturer, is the only company that exports Mangalitsa meat and products from Hungary to Japan, and it works with local distributors. Most of Pick’s meat is sold to restaurants, with Michelin-starred clients among them. Within Asia, Pick sells Mangalitsa products to Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Whereas Andersen’s most popular fresh products — Mangalitsa bacon and collar steak — cater to a U.S. audience, Japanese consumers are seeing Mangalitsa in familiar contexts like Mangalitsa tonkatsu, shabu-shabu and yakiniku.

Japanese shabu-shabu chain On-Yasai has featured Mangalitsa pork in its “edible national treasure” campaign four times since its introduction in 2011, to favorable customer feedback. Playing on the idea of a trifecta of world delicacies, the Mangalitsa was served accompanied by truffle broth and a sesame foie gras dipping sauce. Chain owner Reins International has expressed interest in bringing the campaign back in the future.

Despite rave reviews, Mangalitsa continues to be a rare, expensive luxury. A Pick representative said Mangalitsa sales remain only a fraction of those for Iberico, with the total number of live Mangalitsa pigs accounting for less than 2 percent of the Iberico population in Spain. Mangalitsa’s entry into Japan’s market also is impeded by the popularity of domestic Berkshire pork, known as Kurobuta, a specialty of Kagoshima Prefecture.

Japan is scheduled to eliminate tariffs on more than 65 percent of its pork and pork products within 11 years. Be it Mangalitsa or “the other white meat,” Japanese consumers soon will be see an influx of imported pork at a lower price. via asia.nikkei.com

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