You'd be forgiven for giggling at the sight of a Mangalitsa pig. They're covered in curly hair, for starters, like the poodle of the pig world. They have squat legs, a chunky body, and affable, character-filled faces—all plump cheeks and droopy ears.
But if you tasted the Mangalitsa's meat, you'd stop laughing. The Hungarian breed's chubbiness translates to some serious marbling, the likes of which has been bred out of most livestock pigs. The majority of a Mangalitsa carcass is fat, and the majority of that fat is unsaturated, thanks in part to the pig's adventurous foraging habits.
The Mangalitsa's extraordinary meat established a following among US chefs and diners nearly a decade ago. While it's not easy to find these days, the pork has garnered a fan club of hobbyist breeders and small-scale farmers, Bainbridge Island's Brendan McGill among them.
The chef-owner of Hitchcock and Hitchcock Deli moved his family from a one-bedroom apartment on Capitol Hill to a densely wooded four-acre parcel on Bainbridge Island a few years ago. The small farm, Shady Acres, heightened McGill's feelings about local sourcing— being able to harvest his own bay leaves and pick nasturtiums as part of the daily mise-en-place offered a greater sense of ownership.
"That's what you move to Bainbridge for, you know?" McGill said.
But McGill still relied on other local farmers to supply his restaurants, chief among them Sol Farms' Kevin Block. Block had purchased a pair of Mangalitsas from an Orcas Island farmer a few years back, and had been steadily building up a breeding program since. McGill had toyed around with using the superlative meat for charcuterie, but at $2000 a pig, the stuff was too precious to do much with.
That's when McGill and Block decided to cut out the middle man. Block was hired on as a full-time employee at Shady Acres—and his land and pigs came with him. At McGill's behest, Block started cross-breeding the pigs with American heritage breeds, combining the Mangalitsa's rich dark meat and high fat ratio with greater commercial viability.
Shady Acres now has 40 Mangalitsas and Mangalitsa crosses to its name, and McGill can more liberal with their use at his restaurants, both current and "as-of-yet unnanounced" projects. Next year he's hoping to hit the triple digits, at which point he may start selling to other chefs.