Sheep-Pig Is More Real Than Bigfoot And CatDog — And Makes Amazing Bacon
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Foodbeast, a blog about food, recently pointed out something we all should take a moment to understand: There's a pig that looks like a sheep. And although neither Foodbeast nor the International Science Times has sampled its flesh, we're pretty sure sheep-pig "produces the world's greatest bacon, probably." It just stands to reason, considering this ponderous guy was bred for his lard.
But alas, this once proud lard-bearer, popular in the plains of Eastern Europe, was condemned to live as an oddity — condemned by vegetable oil. Vegetable oil, after all, was healthier, and leaner pigs could be procured more cheaply and quickly after World War I, as The New York Times describes in an exhaustive 2009 report. According to The Times, the Mangalitsa, as it prefers to be known, saw a resurgence among foodies and devout butchers, who describe the flavor as a journey back to a simpler, agrarian age.
"When I tasted this pig, it took me back to my grandmother's kitchen on a Sunday afternoon, windows steaming from the roasting pork in the oven. Back then pork tasted as it should: like a pig. This pork has that same authentic taste," said one. Said another: "Unlike workaday pork, Mangalitsa is marbled, and the fat dissolves on your tongue — it's softer and creamier, akin to Wagyu beef."
Like so many things the Europeans thought they'd invented, the Mangalitsa was actually domesticated in Asia 8,000 years ago from a kind of wild boar relation. The Germans and Hungarians subsequently (read: thousands of years later) "discovered" and bred them in the 1830s, according to the good folks at puremangalitsa.com, who now breed the pigs in Michigan. Chronicling their history, the company says only the Habsburgs could afford to eat it back then, but by the end of the century the royalty could not keep the secret any longer. Widespread breeding brought the pork to the people. "It was the main breed in Europe," they said.
Then the Industrial Revolution happened, and efficiency usurped artistry. Tastes and values shifted. The Mangalitsa sheep-pig was doomed by leaner, balder pigs that grew faster. By 1980, the only Mangalitsas in Austria were in national parks and zoos, and "less than 200 breeding sows remained in Hungary," according to Pure Mangalitsa. Worse, the only other kind of sheep-haired pig in the world, England's Lincolnshire Curly Coat, went extinct altogether.
The Times credits Peter Toth, a Hungarian geneticist, with the pig's salvation. Communists had stored the pig's genes in banks, apparently, and when Communism fell, the banks were imperiled. High drama ensued: "It was a total anarchy in the country," Toth says. "When I started to save Mangalitsas, to search for them in 1991, I found only 198 purebred pigs in the country. Sometimes, I would rescue the pigs right from the slaughterhouse."
And so this meat-borne heart attack, 50 percent fat by volume, was saved for posterity. But you'll pay for it with more than high blood pressure. Wholesale, Mangalitsa pork runs $8 to $15 per pound wholesale. In Spain there's a variation that will set you back $70 for a pound. Look at this meat, though, and tell me it's not worth it.
Above photos courtesy of Shutterstock.
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