Imagine lard whipped till it's fluffy, with a sprinkle of cracklings mixed in. Then imagine a furry Hungarian pig, bred to produce more such ambrosial fat than any other porker in the world.
A motley group of Michigan breeders, restaurant people and food writers were treated last night to four courses of cuts from the famous Mangalitsa pig, at a dinner sponsored by Pure Mangalitsa [puremangalitsa.com], which is promoting the porkers in the U.S. The breed dates to 1833 and according to its boosters is directly descended from wild boars — yet Mangalitsas are calmer than commercial pigs and love to be petted. They are furry and round; even the piglets have jowls, said a proud breeder.
Commercial pigs in the U.S. are bred lean, with less than three-quarters of an inch of back fat. The Mangalitsa boasts 3 inches on the back, 4 inches on the belly. Fat is its whole purpose in life, or at least in its breeders' lives.
And thank god fat is back. If you hadn't noticed during your obsession with gluten, restaurateurs and home cooks alike have been serving it up without apologies.
Most are not quite as praiseful of the benefits of fat as are the Mangalitsa mavens — but then, their pork is far more praiseworthy than any other. That whipped lard, called spuma when it's not called “pig butter,” is ethereal yet grounded by earthy pork flavors. Head meat was cooked by charcuterie expert Brian Polcyn, of Forest Grill, for 36 hours to bring out its own down-to-earthness. The climax course included roasted neck, smoked loin, slab bacon and summer sausage, all so tender you could cut them with a butter knife.
All this and omega-3's, too.
The Mangalista boosters insist that their pork should never be called “white meat,” as the National Pork Producers Council has it in its advertising. The meat is dark rose-colored and looks lean — yet fatty lusciousness is apparent in every pink bite.
For the time being, Mangalitsa is too expensive to be a regular feature on most restaurants' menus, although California's famed French Laundry is said to carry it. But if Detroiters are lucky, some ambitious restaurateurs will plan some special events around it. Be prepared to be transported to pig heaven.