(Originally published December 23, 2014 on Examiner.com)
Winkler Wooly Pigs Farm in Windsor, California, with the recent arrival of Red Mangalitsa pigs from Hungary via the Netherlands, now has three distinct breeds of Mangalitsa: Red Mangalitsa, Blonde Mangalitsa, and Swallow Belly Mangalitsa. Tim Winkler has a breeding program to restore all three of these breeds that almost went extinct with the necessary genetic diversity from distinct lines for each breed of Mangalitsa pigs. Just below, the first part of this three part article tells the story of how and why Tim Winkler got into pig farming plus why he specifically selected the Mangalitsa breed. The second part of this series explores how Winkler breeds and raises his pigs on his pig farm. The third part will examine the quality of the pork from both Winkler’s and some chefs’ perspectives. And the fourth part will detail the Red Managalitsa’s journey to Winkler’s pig farm, a process that took over two years.
Tim Winkler is an aquatic ecologist. He is also a contractor and owner of Winkler Aquascapes. He does aquatic environments based around natural means of filtration that are both biologically and ecologically balanced. These are environments for many things from waste water to fish ponds to natural swimming pools people may swim in without chlorine. So a lot of what his team does is work around large bodies of water where they encounter problematic and invasive weeds that are very hard to deal with through conventional means including either excavation and or chemicals. Chemicals set the table for the next generation of weeds because chemicals add fertility to the problem while excavation creates a large carbon foot print and is very expensive. So Winkler and his teams started to look for traditional means of aquatic eradication. They needed an animal that would go into water. Pigs love water. So they started to research pigs to do sustainable grazing similar to what goats and sheep do in nearby vineyards.
For a long time Tim and his team wanted a prototypical solution. They also got to a point where they were ready to implement this solution. So they did further research to figure out what kind of pig they wanted to deal with. They didn’t want commercial breeds because these breeds have a high stress gene making these pigs destructive and difficult to handle. So then they researched heritage breeds. Many of these breeds are also high strung and problematic. They came across the Mangalitsa and started to read about its attributes including its favorable disposition. Mangalitsa are really hardy and can be left out in the elements. Though truthfully, Winkler and his crew knew nothing about Mangalitsa prior to doing their research. Serendipitously when he discovered and then inquired about the pigs, the breed had just become available for sale six weeks prior to their inquiry. There were other people who knew about Mangalitsa for four or five years, but they weren’t available because Heath Putnam wasn’t selling any of his breeding stock. Putnam was the original importer of the swallow belly variety of Mangalitsa pigs. So Tim and his team were quite fortunate when they decided to pay a significant sum for the genetics that they acquired. They were in the top five or six people to acquire Mangalitsa pigs directly from Putnam.
Winkler was also the second pig farmer in the United States to get the blonde variety of Mangalitsa. Winkler was William Kohl’s first customer. Kohl was the original importer of Blonde Mangalitsa pigs. More recently Kohl was also integral in getting the red variety of Mangalitsa imported into the States through the Netherlands from Hungary. Eight of these pigs arrived recently to Winkler’s pig farm. So for now only Kohl’s farm and Winkler’s farm are the only two pig farms in the United States with the red variety of Mangalitsa pigs. Kohl and Winkler have the only Hungarian registered Reds in North America. (The journey of these red Mangalitsa pigs to Winkler’s pig farm will be discussed in more detail in part three of this article).
However while Winkler’s pig farm was still getting started and just getting its number up, Putnam’s farm sold out to one of its other and largest customers Mosefund Mangalitsa. Putnam had the market cornered for breeding stock since he had the most diverse genetics. When Mosefund bought Putnam out, Mosefund took all the breeding stock off the market because they wanted to have exclusivity. So Winkler had to act quickly to get whatever other genetic breeders were out there in order to keep the breed going. Thus Winkler bought out three other pig farms that had been former customers of Putnam. The fifty pigs that Winkler bought from these other establishments all came with genetic documentation tracing them back to Putnam’s farm as well as another farm Putnam operated. So Winkler’s farm almost acquired all the genetics that had come in with the first shipment of Mangalitsa pigs to arrive in the States. This was when Winkler started to focus on genetics and, in general, promoting the breed.
Though when a farm has so many pigs, and is producing so many piglets, it can’t keep them all. Only the cream of the crop are kept for breeding, so a pig farm doing genetics must have a meat program. Pigs are prolific for a reason. In nature they have large broods to ensure that enough of their species reach maturation since the piglets are the most susceptible to predation. Predation ensures natural selection so only the strongest and best of the species continue to survive. Without predation, the genetics are weakened because too many of the genetically inferior pigs survive. So Winkler selecting which pigs to keep for breeding basically serves a similar function to what would occur normally in nature which, in turn, ensures the strongest and best genetics for continuing the species. Plus practically there simply isn’t enough space to put all the pigs without a meat program.
Some of Winkler’s pigs however are doing the job he originally sought out the Mangalitsa pigs to do. Currently he’s using the pigs on four of his aquascape contracts. According to Winkler, the pigs go right into the water and look like little hippos. The pigs stick their heads under water for thirty seconds or so to eat algae, submerged aquatics, ludwigia, cat tails, hydrilla and all the species of plants that are invasive. The pigs even eat an aponogeton that has an oblong lily pad looking leaf and an uncanny ability to seed itself. The pigs have a nose for finding this aponogeton’s seeds, and sifting them. Going in instead with a crew of men with rakes would get the bulk of the aponogetons out, but would leave a lot of seeds behind to re-germinate. The pigs eat the entire plant including the seeds. Additionally by eating the plants, rooting and pushing the soil down in shallow areas, the pigs make these shallow areas deeper. The pigs clean up the shore lines both through excavation and by eating weeds.
A little over an hour north of San Francisco, Tim Winkler of Winkler Wooly Pigs currently breeds and raises Mangalista pigs on five different properties. At his home base in Windsor, California Winkler has his genetic breeding program. Here he keep boars and sows, plus produces piglets that are raised to a certain size before being transported to nearby pasture, his middle ground. On this middle ground, the pigs continue to grow larger so that they are not susceptible to predation when they’re then transferred next to one of the three natural type forest settings where Winkler’s non-breeding stock, his meat pigs, grow to market weight.
According to Winkler, in order to do the genetics correctly, a farmer needs to feed and house a lot of animals to have genetic diversity and parity in his herd. On Winkler’s farm, for example with his swallow bellies and blondes, he keeps twenty boars separated in pens in one area that represent five different sire lines of genetics with multiple boars in each line. Each boar, even if it comes from the same lines, will have sufficient genetic diversity because it won’t be the same animal. These boars are bred with the fifty maternal sows his team works with. So he’s invested in a lot of animals. If a farmer is re-breeding the same pigs over and over again, that farmer is going to see this inbreeding in the characteristics of his herd, which isn’t good for any breed. With Winkler’s Hungarian registered Royal Red Mangalista pigs that recently arrived on Winkler’s farm at the beginning of November, Winkler has four boars and four sows representing two sire and four maternal lines. These Red Mangalitsa will be discussed in more detail in another part of this series on Winkler’s Wooly Pigs farm.
As mentioned in the prior installment part one in this series, when doing a breeding program, a meat program is also essential. Only the best of the best will be kept for breeding. Any line that doesn’t demonstrate breed characteristics that are desirable is immediately eliminated. Favorable breeding characteristics include litter numbers, size, structural formation, mothering instincts and disposition. Select lines are ones that consistently demonstrate the breed characteristics a breeder wants represented in the animals. So only ten percent of the piglet offspring from these select lines will move forward. The remaining pigs will become part of the meat program. Pigs are very prolific and there just isn’t enough space to place all the pigs. According to Winkler, all breeders should be this selective, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case. He sees pigs sold that don’t have genetic documentation so there’s not even a way to know whether two pigs are brother and sister. Often these pigs are discounted. Eventually when good practices aren’t followed, negative characteristics like small litters, defects and other structural issues appear. Winkler believes people who haven’t invested in the right kind of diversity and stock shouldn’t be selling breeding stock, they should just be selling meat.
When a pig farm has a genetic program, that farm is breeding toward the breed standard in general. In the case of the Mangalitsa, that’s the Hungarian breed standard. But from a meat perspective, a pig farmer is also breeding for characteristics in the meat. All Mangalitsa pigs are not going to be genetically equal. That’s why Winkler keeps the best of the best for breeding stock and the best of the best for characteristics of the meat like webbing in the fat, and intramuscular fat ratios. This is why Winkler and his team keep detailed notes and statistics on all of his pigs.
Winkler also has a cross bred program, but that program is very limited. Winkler has done strategic cross breeding with some rare and classic heritage breeds.These cross bred pigs are bred to meet the needs of different chefs from both a meat quality and cost perspective. Some of Winkler’s chefs who do salumi like crosses specifically for salami. Other chefs who bought the cross bred pork at a lower price point, had such a great experience with this pork that they were intrigued enough to try the pork from pure bred Mangalitsa pigs. Thus the crosses provide a good entry level gateway pork. Since most of the crosses grow faster (a bit not a lot) than the pure bred Mangalistas, Winkler’s farm isn’t as long into these crosses, as he is with the pure bred, so he can offer the crosses at a lower price point to chefs.
The Mangalitsa takes around sixteen to eighteen months to get to sufficient size for slaughter where the loin eye diameter and intramuscular fat is ideal. Unlike commercial breeds and many other heritage breeds, the Mangalitsa is on a much smaller skeletal structure. In the 1950’s, breeders bred larger muscles, and bones into pigs with leaner profiles. The larger bones were necessary to handle the larger inflamac muscles. In breeds with larger skeletal structures the bones are approximately eighteen percent of the pig’s weight whereas a Mangalista’s bones are approximately ten percent of the pig’s weight. According to Winkler, any pig on a smaller skeletal structure is going to take longer to rear out as well as produce more fat. The quality of the meat is going to be better, but it’s going to take longer to harvest. Despite this higher quality meat, the main reasons the pig fell out of favor and almost went extinct is because commercial large boned pigs could be brought to market much faster and were a lot leaner. With the (mistaken) vilification of fat after 1950, lard pigs fell out of favor. Aside from the Mangalitsa pig, Iberian pigs, the Ossabaw pigs, and wild boars are a few of the other pig breeds that share the smaller true heritage pig skeletal system. Also like wild Eurasian boars, Mangalista piglets have juvenile stripes. Iberian and Ossabaw piglets lack these stripes.
In the farrowing areas on Winkler’s breeding genetics “home-base” sows with striped piglets are plentiful. Winkler and his crew have a non-stop juggling act producing piglets, weaning those piglets and getting them to a large enough size to get them off the breeding farm to what he refers to as “the middle” ground. Again pigs are very prolific. Sows may have two to three litters in just over a year of eight to twelve piglets. So sometimes Winkler says referring to his home-base, “we just have too many dam pigs here.” Thus when the piglets get to sufficient size and are moved to the middle ground, they have more space to roam and forage on this ten acre parcel where Winkler has a rotational program for the pigs to rotate through paddocks. In the paddocks they eat grasses. They are also fed a wheat mill run. Winkler uses the same feed from wean to finish with all of his pigs on all of his properties in different ratios for the different stages of the pigs’ lives including different ratios for pregnant sows. The feed is free of corn and alfalfa. The feed has a very small amount of soy which is needed to produce a specific amino acid that pigs needs to simulate their diets. Unlike many other pig farmers, Winkler doesn’t feed his pigs any food waste like spent barley or tortilla shells. Winkler believes you can take a great piece of pork and ruin it by not putting a pig on a clean diet. For Winkler too, the diet directly affects the quality of the fat. A bad diet may make the fat go rancid since unless the diet is clean, the fat won’t be clean.
After his pigs grow on a diet of grass and feed to large enough size to fend off predators like coyotes and bobcats, the pigs are then transferred to one of three other parcels that are forest environments. Winkler never transports more than seven pigs at a time. In two of these three environments the pigs get a lot of exercise climbing up and down hills. The third location not far from the home base is a special environment with hydrostatic aquifers running under the sixteen acre property bound by riparian creeks that resembles a Louisiana bayou with lots of water, woods, shade and mud (see the video). Here the pigs get plenty of exercise wading through the mud, hopping over logs and branches, and running around. Electrified wires divide this property into three parcels. The thirty or so pigs occupy one of these parcels at a time eating all the undergrowth, grasses, weeds, willow bark, leaves, aquatic plants and, seasonally, acorns in addition to their wheat mill run feed. What the pigs crave they can forage. Once the forage in one area has been grazed, the pigs are rotated to another parcel. The pigs’ noses are very sensitive and trained from a young aged to the solar powered electrified wire fence. Winkler was initially surprised by how much bark the pigs eat. He postulates that pigs are drawn to the bark because of the tannins which act as a natural cleanser and may account for why the pig’s fat is so high in mono-unsaturated oleic fatty acids. Winkler has also researched the nutritional profiles of different species of acorns. The acorn trees that are on Winkler’s properties are the same kind you’d find in Spain not pin Oaks like you’d find in Iowa. These Spanish acorns are the type of acorns that pigs should eat. Winkler noted that a lot of pig farmers who raise their pigs on pasture in the Midwest finish their pigs on commercial acorns that they buy. But the problem is that these farmers are finishing their pigs on sub-standard acorns.
Mangalitsa pigs are fat pigs. They can get really fat-downright obese and borderline diabetic. So when raising Mangalitsa, the diet, exercise and environment all factor into getting the best pork. An athletically raised Mangalitsa pig fed a clean diet demonstrates less fat yield than a Mangalitsa raised incorrectly. Metabolic weight gain should be slow and consistent so fat isn’t stored too rapidly. Plus a pig raised slowly on a clean diet will have clean fat which won’t go rancid especially when used for salumi. Mangalitsa, Winkler quipped, are the original slow food. All of the pigs are also identified. Purebred Mangalitsa pigs have ear cuts with identification profile tags, the “F1” hybrids have single cuts in both ears but no tags, and the “F2” hybrids have two ear cuts on both ears again with no tags. Though Winkler can tell by eye whether his pigs are pure breeds or different degree of crosses, he and his team mark the pigs accordingly so there is no ambiguity as to what type of pig a chef is getting. When the pigs, after approximately sixteen to eighteen months grow to around three hundred pounds, they’re identified as ready for slaughter and marched to the front of the property where they are then transported to a nearby slaughterhouse in Petaluma only twenty minutes away.
Winkler notes that he’s not in the pig farming business to sell thousands of pigs. Rather he’s in the business to preserve the breed, use the pigs for aquatic grazing, and get pork to special people who do special things with this pork. So when he raises his pigs, they need to already have a destination to where the pigs will go. Thus he won’t cut any corners or make any compromises with the way he raises his pigs. He’s considering consolidating all of his operations onto one larger parcel further north in Northern California, but before he pursues that option further he’s attempting to build his base of customers who currently including many top chefs in the San Francisco area.
While a rose maybe a rose is a rose, a pig is definitely not a pig is a pig. All fat isn’t the same either. The meat and fat composition of different breeds of pigs vary plus depend upon how a pig was bred and raised. The fatty acid compositions of different animals also vary. In general, all animal fat is a mixture of different types of saturated, unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Plus fat has been vilified, particularly saturated fat. Though the fat from Mangalitsa is primarily unsaturated fat, the Mangalitsa pig was, in part, almost a victim of this vilification since, as noted in the second part of this series, only two hundred Mangalitsa were alive at the beginning of the nineteen nighties. The industrial breed of pigs that replaced heritage lard pigs, like the Mangalitsa, were bred to be much leaner.
Winkler’s Mangalitsa pigs bred and raised this way come to the table clean with no negative fats in them that will yellow or go rancid. Though these are still lard pigs, so the fat yield is about forty percent while the meat yield is around sixty percent. However since the Mangalitsa’s skeletal system is smaller than almost all other breeds, including Heritage breeds, there is a higher yield altogether because bone loss on a Mangalitsa is only about ten percent whereas on a normal pig the bone loss is around eighteen percent.
Chef de Cuisine Devin Knell, who uses Winkler’s Mangalitsa pigs at The French Laundry in Yountville, California, notes that the Mangalitsa pigs’, “entire musculature and skeletal structure are different from most other breeds. Ironically, even though Mangalitsa pigs are lard pigs, their bone structure is refined and elegant to the point of daintiness, the musculature is smaller than other pigs of the same weight.”
According to Winkler, “the skeletal system on a pig determines the meat quality. A big boned animal is going to have big inflamed muscles more like a body builder and have a lower pH across the board. In contrast, a Mangalitsa pig, with its smaller skeletal system, is going to be less inflamed. Thus the Mangalitsa pig’s muscle tissue has more elasticity, more water content and a higher pH. A Mangalitsa pig metabolically handles the protein degradation much better than an inflammatory pig and thus has better meat quality across the board. It has a lot of unique and special qualities that you’ll only find in Mangalitsa pork. It’s not a boxed pork. The pork itself it is pretty simple pork. It doesn’t need to be marinated or brined. Due to this simplicity of the pork, it offers a lot on its own. It has a lot of similarities to beef.”
Knell reiterated what Winkler said, “Mangalitsa pork meat is a deep red color to the point that certain muscles can resemble beef. This is not only visual, the meat is gamier with more minerality and true pork flavor. The fat is sweet and mild in flavor and there is much more marbling. Mangalitsa meat is more succulent and tender as a result.”
Tony Incontro, a salumist at Del Dotto Vineyards in Saint Helena, California, gets both whole hogs and parts from Winkler. Incontro uses these for traditional butchery and curing applications. Incontro agrees that the flavor of this pig’s pork is very unique and special plus has a “very clean ‘porkiness’ with a beefy & gamey flavor mixed in.” Incontro too stated, “Texturally when prepared correctly, it eats like high quality beef. Hence the Mangalitsa pig’s nickname “the Kobe beef of pork” I am not at all bad mouthing other pork, I am a lover of the entire species. But once you go Mangalitsa you can’t go back, it’s too special. In my opinion, it’s in the same category of true one hundred percent Iberico pork.”
According to the book “Know Your Fats” by Dr. Mary G. Enig “typical” lard is fifty percent mono-unsaturated fat, forty percent saturated fat and ten percent polyunsaturated fat where most of the mono-unsaturated fatty acid is oleic acid. With Winkler’s Mangalitsa, the mono-unsaturated levels are even higher due to the way his pigs are bred and raised. The percentage of oleic acid in his pigs is over fifty percent. Olive oil in comparison is seventy percent oleic acid. Winkler noted that, “For a land animal to have that kind of fat break down is kind of special.”
In regards to this fat, Knell said, “The meat is very sweet, tender and flavorful, but it is the fat content which really shines through. Particularly with the proper feeding protocol that Winkler follows, the fat is highly unsaturated and will literally melt in your hands. This quality givescharcuterie prepared from Mangalitsa similar characteristics to eating oh toro or a wagyu carpaccio. Mangalitsas have a tremendous extra-muscular fat content often three inches thick on the loin; bellies can be well over four inches thick. This can make it more difficult to determine where the joints are when breaking the pig down. Though I still love breaking down Mangalitsa pigs. I’m always amazed at the snow white fat quality and marbling. It’s akin to wagyu.”
Though Winkler says many other chefs ask what they’ll do with all the fat. So the pig really fits into a kitchen with a lot of culinary experience that can fully utilize the fat and do many wonderful things with it. They can use the fat in different ways. They can whip the fat, sweeten it, and use it like whip cream, cremed lardo, anything. Confit or fry with it as well. Winkler emphasized that the Mangalitsa pig is for the dedicated chef. They’re curing parts of the meat for delicacies like prosciutto and coppa. A Mangalitsa pig is for specific chefs that are willing to use all parts of the pig.
Incontro loves the “beautiful fat.” He say, “don’t fear the fat.” He cures whole bricks of the back fat for months to get lardo. He renders fat to smear on the opened faces of a prosciuttoto slow down the drying process (called sugna). And, of course, dices or grinds the fat to incorporate into salami. Moreover Incontro says the fat can be rendered and used for pastries including for pie crust or cookies.
Another of Winkler’s customers, Chef Brock Macdonald at Block Butcher Bar and LowBrauin Sacramento, gets a pig from Tim Winkler every Tuesday. Brock separates all the fat out into one, two or three fat. One fat gets cured into lardo. Two fat gets diced into or ground to be mixed into sausage. The three fat gets rendered. With the rendered three fat, Brock even made an Mangalitsa hollandaise for a few dinner events. He said making his Mangalitsa hollandaise is just like making regular hollandaise, “You separate the egg yolks, temper the yolks, add a little lemon juice, vinegar, and whatever else you want to use. Then slowly whisk in your fat. So when you make hollandaise, you normally use clarified butter, but with this Mangalitsa hollandaise you instead use rendered leaf lard from Mangalitsa. It’s actually really good.” For a beer pairing dinner, McDonald also made a whipped lardo cake pop with mixed peanuts that was dipped in chocolate ganache. Plus Brock uses the rendered fat in his restaurant’s fryer which is about twenty percent rendered Mangalitsa fat and eighty percent rice oil. He use to use duck fat.
Additionally McDonald noted, “What makes the breed superior, especially Tim’s breeds of hogs, is the fat content. There are different multitudes of fat. There is real soft leaf lard that melts in your hands. There is good medium grinding lard. There is also fat cap that can be diced and mixed into it. There are different degrees of fat that makes Tim’s pigs stand out. Plus If you’re going to judge a pig, it is by the coppa. The coppa is the best cut in any sort of hog on any breed you choose. Tim’s coppas are amazing. It’s the very top of the shoulder connected to the back fat and neck and the beginning of loin. That’s the best cut of meat on the animal whether you roast it, braise it, or cure it and make it into the coppa. The marbling in them and the fat to meat ratio is amazing and that’s what you want when you braise or when you cure pork.”
According to Winkler, The bellies on these Mangalitsa pigs are almost pure fat. So it’s not aporchetta pig. You don’t make a porchetta out of this. Winkler emphasized that would just be a failure. Knell notes too that the fat has to be frozen in order to grind it without smearing. Additionally since the fat renders at such low temperatures, it’s more challenging to achieve a proper emulsion particularly in coarsely ground cooked products such as a pate de champagne or sausage for grilling.
The Mangalitsa is known for being a salumi pig. It is an amazing salumi pig because the fat in the animal can render in your mouth. When you eat good salumi, your body temperature will melt it on your tongue. That’s why you get that oil. That nice profile when you eat it. That’s why it’s exceptional for salumi. “It’s a premium pig,” noted Incontro. “So the final products are as well- very deep in flavor and color plus aesthetically very attractive whole muscles. I honestly do things the very old traditional ways, so fat is a very key component of goodsalume. Mangalitsa like I said before has superior fat. To me there’s no hesitation on what breed I want to work with for my style of craft.”
Knell typically uses only Mangalitsas for dry curing and in particular whole muscle cuts. With the fatty trimmings, he usually renders them down until the meaty bits are crisp. Then he pulverizes them with the fat and spices to make a really wonderful spread. He also renders the leaf lard to use for pastries and also as pannage for the hams during the drying process.
McDonald also uses Mangalitsa primarily for charcuterie and salumi. He notes, “When you have an amazing product and you dry it, it loses thirty to forty percent of its weight. It is condensing. If you take something that is amazing in the first place, you’re just making it better. If you buy something generic, more like some watered down generic pork and then you make it into a salumi, then you’re just losing water weight and making it okay.” McDonald emphasized, “The Mangalitsa pig is by far the best pig you can buy for charcuterie andsalumi.”
Currently Winkler is selling his whole pigs and parts mainly to Michelin starred restaurants in the San Francisco, Northern California region. Some of the other prominent chefs and restaurants who purchase his pork include John Hong at Meadowood (three Michelin stars), Mark Zimmerman at Alexander Steakhouse (one Michelin star), and Dominique Crenn at Atelier Crenn (two Michelin stars). He has also sold some product to restaurants in Vegas and Los Angeles. Winkler is currently in the process of getting Rocker Brothers to help with distribution in the Los Angeles market for both his pure bred Mangalitsa and his “gateway” crosses. Winkler is planning an event with Rocker Brothers in Los Angeles for chefs within the next couple months though a date has yet to be set. Winkler wants to get more customers in Los Angeles.
Winkler concluded, “Chefs at three starred Michelin restaurants have looked me in the eye and told me this is the most amazing pork we’ve ever used. We don’t ever want to deviate from this.”
Toward the beginning of this past November of 2014, eight four and a half month old pigs arrived at Tim Winkler’s Wooly Pigs Farm in Northern California. The four boars and four gilts though weren’t just any pigs. No, these were eight of the first ten Red Mangalitsa pigs registered in the Hungarian Breed Book ever in the United States and outside of Europe in the world. The other two Red Mangalitsa arrived a day or two earlier at Wilhelm Kohl’s Pure Mangalitsa pig farm in Michigan. Though these piglets were only four and a half months old when they arrived at Winkler’s and Kohl’s farms last November, the time it took for the pigs to get here to the United States was much longer and took a concerted effort from Winkler, Kohl, Kohl’s founding business partner Marc Santucci and two other people fully dedicated to restoring the Mangalitsa breed, Péter Tóth in Hungary and Barbara Meyer Zu Altenschildesche in the Netherlands.
Wilhelm Kohl and Marc Santucci’s goal has been to truly establish the Mangalitsa pigs as a sustainable breed in North America. To that end to have diverse enough genetics for both the red and blonde breeds of the Mangalitsa, Kohl realized he’d have to go to Hungary where more blood lines were available. Kohl had realized this several years earlier when he imported Blonde Mangalitsa pigs from Austria. So four years ago Kohl flew to Hungary where he visited with several farms and actually, at one point, had it set up to buy pigs from another breeder, but then he realized that the only way one could legally export pigs from Hungary was through the Hungarian Association of Mangalica Breeders [MOE]. This was when Kohl met Péter Tóth.
As a brief aside, Tóth was instrumental years earlier in saving the breed after the number of Mangalitsa pigs had been reduced in Hungary to only two hundred total pigs of all three varieties of the pig: the swallow bellies, reds and blondes. Tóth’s efforts to save the breed are detailed in one of the first few introductory chapters of a beautiful new book, The Mangalitsa Pig – Royalty is coming to America that came out in February of this year. In that chapter Tóth’s efforts are further detailed. Now Tóth’s company Olmos and Toth LLC, the biggest Mangalitsa producer and trader, alone markets more than twenty thousand Mangalitsa pigs a year. More recently within the past year, Tóth has also become a partner at the Pure Mangalitsa farm in Michigan. The Mangalitsa is also considered a “royal” pig since it was first bred in the eighteen hundreds by the Habsburgs during their dynasty when Hungary was part of their Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The Red Mangalitsa is the youngest breed of the pig. This variety was created at the beginning of the nineteen hundreds when Blonde Mangalitsa were cross bred with Szalonta pigs, an old Germanic breed of pig. None of the varieties of the Mangalitsa, however, were officially recognized as unique breeds of pigs until 1927.
When Kohl met Tóth, Kohl visited Tóth’s breeding farm and also met with the secretary of the Hungarian Breeders Association. Kohl explained to them what he wanted to do. From there Kohl and Tóth went to Washington DC where, along with Marc Santucci, they went to the USDA and the Hungarian embassy. What the three of them found out was that the Hungarian pigs had actually been technically approved to be exported to the United States. The law governing this actually had gone into effect in January of 2014. Though for all practical purposes, the law was meaningless because there was no protocol established between the Hungarian Veterinary Service and the USDA. After waiting for a short while, it became clear to Kohl, Santucci and Tóth that it would take years and years and years before the USDA and the Hungarian Veterinary service would actually establish a protocol on how to move the pigs directly from Hungary to the United States.
Around that time when Kohl was waiting for a response as to this protocol process, Kohl met Barbara Meyer Zu Altenschildesche. Barbara became involved with pigs after she adopted a ten day old orphaned wild boar piglet. After searching the internet for a suitable companion for this wild boar that she raised, she decided on purchasing a pair Mangalitsa pigs. She had to wait a year for these pigs to arrive. Shortly thereafter, she imported two red Mangalitsa pigs with pedigrees from Austria. Now about five years later she has over twenty pigs and has been very active in promoting the Mangalitsa breed via social media particularly onFacebook with several accounts and youtube.
After Kohl, Santucci and Tóth realized that to get pigs imported into the United States, they had to move Hungarian pigs first to an approved Western European country (Austria, France, Italy, Germany, and Holland) that could import directly into the United States with already established protocols. So they decided to move the pigs to Barbara’s farm in Holland. Here with a lot of time and effort, Barbara established a quarantine facility she referred to on her Facebook pages as the “Royal Mangalitsa Hilton” as well as referred to this hotel’s inhabitants as “The Royal Mangalitsa.” Barbara set up another “Royal Mangalitsa” Facebook page to detail the story of the sows and their litters. Tóth chose the boar and sows lines to breed in Hungary. In making these selections, he tried to select the best lines for future breeding. He also selected the sows with the best production history including the size of litters, survival ratios or born piglets, etc. So all of the sows had at least three litters before being bred this time so Tóth knew that these sows were good breeding material. According to Tóth, there is a lot of experience required for making these selections and, despite this experience, little problems may still occur, for example, like spots on the body or lack of black color in the skin.
After the sows were impregnated in Hungary, the sows were shipped to Barbara’s quarantine facility the “Royal Mangalitsa Hilton” in Holland. This is where the sows had their litters. According to Kohl, when you breed pigs, you never know exactly what you’ll get. Sometimes you may get all sows, other times you may get all boars. With the litters born in Barbara’s Mangalitsa Hilton, one sow had ten piglets including four boars and six sows. Another had nine piglets including four boars and five sows. But a third only had six piglets with five sows and only one boar who had a spot on his nose. This spot was a pigmentation problem and it makes no sense to import a pig that doesn’t exactly fit the breed standards. Unfortunately this meant that the litters didn’t provide all the boar bloodlines that they hoped to export to the United States. So with the Red Royal Mangalista additional blood lines will have to be imported later to fully complement what they were able to produce with these first initial litters.
Regardless, after the pigs were about five weeks old, Kohl, Tóth, and one of his breeders flew to Holland and met with Barbara to select which pigs would be sent to the United States. Based on the criteria for breed standards, a total of eighteen “Royal Mangalitsa” pigs were selected. In addition to the ten Red Royal Mangalitsa another eight Blonde Royal Mangalitsa pigs were sent to the US. Six of these blondes went to the Pure Mangalitsa farm in Michigan. The other two went to Justin King’s farm in Georgia. So now at this point there are six blood lines of the blondes in the United States so that for all practical purposes establishes enough lines with enough diversity to keep the blonde breed going. Though before any of these pigs were sent anywhere and made it to their respective farms in the United States, the pigs needed to have numerous blood samples taken to test for a variety of diseases including tuberculosis. Pigs, in general, aren’t easy to get blood from. So it’s even more difficult getting blood from fatty pigs like the Mangalitsa. Nonetheless after getting passing results, the pigs were shipped from Holland to New York where the pigs had to stay in the USDA’s quarantine for what initially was supposed to be four weeks. Here Marc Santucci handled the contacts and did the paperwork to get the pigs into the country and facilitate the importation process. Due to a slight miscommunication on additional tests that were required, this time was extended a little longer which added to the quarantine time and costs.
Well, after all the quarantines, needles, and years of effort- as first noted- eight Red Royal Mangalitsa representing two sire and four sow registered Royal Hungarian lines finally arrived at Tim Winkler’s Wooley Pig Farm. Though he didn’t get all the genetics he had hoped for, he still was very happy with the exceptional quality of the pigs he got. In large part due to the care and love they received from Barbara in the Netherlands, these royal pigs all arrived in great shape especially in regards to weight and size for pigs that travelled such a long distance from Europe to Winkler’s farm in Northern California. So Winkler was especially appreciative of the concerted efforts made by all the different people who were involved in getting these pigs to his farm. For him, there weren’t many negatives. And now many months later, the gilts and boars have been bred, so after the sows’ gestation period of approximately one hundred and fourteen days, Winkler will have his first litters. There has been a lot of interest in these pigs and their litters, but Winkler is not sure if any will be available to be sold as breeders. This availability, of course, depends on the quality, quantity and sex of piglets in the litters born to the sows.
Initially more blood lines of the Red Royal Mangalitsa were going to be imported this year, this summer. But due to timing and other constraints, importing these additional blood lines won’t occur to early next year. When these additional lines of reds arrive, Winkler will have enough diverse genetics to build his population of Red Mangalitsa pigs as large as his populations of swallow bellies and blondes which currently total around fifty sows. So along with Kohl’s Pure Mangalitsa farm in Michigan, enough blood lines of all the breeds of Mangalitsa will be available to ensure the sustainability of the breed here in North America. The reds from Winkler’s, like his blondes and swallow bellies, will be available for both meat and breeding. Kohl’s operations are more focused on breeding. Both farms will only breed the best of the best from their respective litters ensuring the quality and breed standards are the same as those in Hungary, which Kohl has studied in detail. Kohl is also in the process of establishing a breed registry in the United States which he hopes will be working within the next six or so months. Kohl and his partners are trying to insure as much diversity as they can. Ensuring this diversity, Kohl has always considered to be his main objective.