Emod Istvánmajor, Hungary
Tamas Dezso for The New York Times
IN THE UNITED STATES, TOO Juan Vicente Olmos Llorente, above, takes the meat of curly-haired Hungarian Mangalitsa pigs and finishes it in Spain.
LIKE style on the runway, style for pigs is changeable. With their abundant fat, the curly-haired Mangalitsa pigs of Hungary were all the rage a century ago. But as time went on, they became has-beens.
Now that succulent pork is back in fashion, the Mangalitsa — saved from near extinction on a farm here at the edge of Hungary’s bleak and barren Great Plain — are making a comeback.
Most of those raised here become ham and other cured meats in Spain. But Mangalitsas are also being raised at farms in the United States for chefs who pay as much as 40 percent more for them than for Berkshires, another elite breed.
Last Wednesday April Bloomfield at the Spotted Pig in Greenwich Village served the belly and trotters of a Mangalitsa/Berkshire crossbreed with Agen prunes for $32. (She hopes to have more in two to three weeks.)
“When I tasted this pig,” Ms. Bloomfield said of the Mangalitsa, “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.”
Devin Knell, executive sous-chef at the French Laundry, confits the belly of the Mangalitsa (pronounced MAHN-ga-leet-za); roasts the liver, kidneys, and chops, and poaches the saddle sous vide with a garlic mousse.
“Unlike workaday pork,” Mr. Knell said, “Mangalitsa is marbled, and the fat dissolves on your tongue — it’s softer and creamier, akin to Wagyu beef.”
George Faison, an owner of the New York City specialty meats company DeBragga and Spitler, will start selling chefs pork from Mangalitsas fattened on the West Coast this summer. He said the fat was luscious, more like that of duck than pork. Recalling a tasting for chefs last fall, he said, “The belly meat was unctuous, but it was the loin meat that really impressed me.”
Mosefund Farm in Branchville, N.J., sells Mangalitsa pork to restaurants, including the Spotted Pig, for $10 to $11 a pound, about $3 a pound more than what Berkshire pork costs. Ms. Bloomfield said Mosefund sells the Berkshire crossbreed for $7.99 pound.
Mangalitsas were bred for their lard on the Hungarian farms of Archduke Joseph in the 1830s. Herds shrank with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I and declined further with the introduction of fast-growing white pigs and cheaper, higher quality vegetable oils after World War II.
But Peter Toth, a Hungarian animal geneticist, did not want this Hapsburg legacy to be lost. He has worked to save the pigs here on a farm with buildings of whitewashed stone, with roofs of thick thatch. Dimly lighted wooden pens filled with straw shelter piglets and nursing sows. Breeding boars and sows live in pens open at one end. On a tour of the farm, 100 miles east of Budapest, a bitter wind blew out of the Carpathian foothills just visible to the east.
Their feed is a mix of barley, wheat, wheat bran, alfalfa, and sunflower seeds, but unlike the feed on factory farms, little corn and nothing with soy.
“When Communism collapsed,” Mr. Toth said, “the state farms that served as the last gene banks also collapsed. It was a total anarchy in the country. 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.”
Today his company, Olmos and Toth, in addition to maintaining breeding stock, fattens some 8,000 pigs and oversees the production of 12,000 more on farms in the surrounding regions.
Because these pigs can cost 40 percent more to raise, Hungarians, who earn less than most Europeans, use them mostly to make lard and sausages.
“The Mangalitsa — many problems!” Mr. Toth said. “We must kill them at 140 kilos” — about 300 pounds — “to make sure that the marbling is maximized and the meat the best quality. If you kill it at 80 kilos” — 176 pounds, when industrially produced pigs are slaughtered — “you won’t have marbled meat. You need time, more than one year, when a normal pig takes five months to raise.”