EVERY SATURDAY at the University District farmers market, shoppers gather around the Wooly Pigs stand. Clutching baskets of fresh eggs and leafy green veggies, they lean in as Heath Putnam scoots sputtering sausage around on his portable grill. The aroma makes your belly grumble, but this crowd hasn’t come to eat. They’re here to learn who buys this $25-per-pound pork and what on earth they plan to do with it.
Last year Putnam’s Spokane-based company, Wooly Pigs, imported a herd of Mangalitsa, the curly-bristled Hungarian hog famous in Europe for its fat. Putnam fell in love when he tasted the succulent swine on an Austrian farm, and promptly sunk his savings into importing it. His sustainable, humane pig-rearing practices make the meat pricey, “but Mangalitsa isn’t a different kind of pork,” he explains. “It’s a different animal.”
While most U.S. pork comes from “meat-type” breeds—animals that produce lean muscle mass most efficiently—Mangalitsa is a “lard type,” best at making fat. (Putnam compares it to Wagyu, the cow that yields kobe beef, another example of a blubbery breed). One of Putnam’s favorite cuts, a pork belly and spare rib piece he calls the Notorious C.U.T., yields about 80 percent light, flavorful fat and 20 percent luxuriously marbled meat.
Because a Mangalitsa’s muscle fibers are longer than those of other pigs, Putnam spends much of his market time coaching buyers on cooking it. “It has to be slow-roasted, braised, or cured,” he says. “The last thing we want is for people to buy expensive meat and cook it badly.” That’s not a problem for the handful of Seattle chefs who’ve caught Mangalitsa madness—the porky pig can now be found on some of the best menus around town.
Find Wooly Pigs’ meat at University District, West Seattle, Bellevue, and Kirkland farmers markets, or at www.woolypigs.com.