Saturday, April 24th is National Pig-in-a-Blanket Day in the United States. To celebrate, Porkopolis.org is offering a favorite variety, the Mangalitza. This is not a food entry on cabbage rolls or informal U.S. cuisine; it’s a blanket statement and a shaggy hog story…
Literally, Pigs in Blankets
Or shear swine, all cry and no wool;
– Samuel Butler. Hudibras, pt. I, canto I, l. 852
To “shear your pig” is a common euphemism for an act of futility. As most any farmer will tell you, you’ll get a lot of noise for very little wool if you try to shear most any pig.
And, as noted above, no less an authority than the English writer, artist and satirist, Samuel Butler (1835-1902), has even weighed in on the shearing of pigs. Clearly Butler’s travels never took him near to the Curly Coat pigs of Lincolnshire in the east of England, or to Austria and Hungary, home of the of Mangalitza pigs. Warm sweaters could easily be knitted from the sheared “wool” of these pigs, they are literally, pigs in blankets.
Big, Fat and Rather Sheepish
Seen from a ways off Mangalitza pigs bear a striking resemblance to sheep – a big fat sheep. A casual glance from a non-husbandman and you would have no idea that they are pigs, that is until you get a view of their snouts. Then you see they are pigs, not posers.
It can be presumed that their curly, woolly hair has these pigs occasionally feeling a bit sheepish. But it also makes them very hardy, helping them to survive in the harsh, damp and cold winters of their native lands. Also, their thick hair and underlying black skin protect them from summer sunburn.
Extinction and Renaissance
Today, the Mangalitza breed is rare, even in its native Hungary and Austria. It is very similar to England’s Lincolnshire Curly Coat breed. That English sheep-pig was once a common sight, but it became extinct in 1972.
In the early 1900s through the 1920’s, England exported hundreds of Lincolnshire Curly Coats to Austria and Hungary. The Hungarians used the Lincolnshire Curly Coat to cross with their very similar native curly coated pig, the Mangalitza, and the resultant cross was nicknamed the ‘Lincolista’.
Since 2006 efforts by several English breeding groups and zoos have succeeded in bringing some of the cross-bred Mangalitza pigs into England. Now there are long-term plans to create several sustainable herds and an English renaissance for the Lincolnshire Curly Coat pig.
Colorful, Hair and Lardy
Mangalitza pigs in England today are worth around five times the value of a standard farm-raised pig. Their meat is lardier than the current breeds in England, with a nutty flavor. This makes them highly valued for use in Parma-style ham cuts, like prosciutto, an uncooked smoked ham. Their meat also lends itself equally to more traditional ‘English’ sausages and flavorsome bacon.
The Mangalitza pigs are bred in three colors, bright red, blonde and black with a cream stomach. The original Lincolnshire Curly Coats were traditionally shorn once a year and the wool used to make men’s sweaters – a nice item to be wearing on a chilly morning while enjoying some of that flavorsome bacon… Hair from the Mangalitza pigs is particularly popular now in the US as it retains air bubbles under water, making it ideal for tying fishing flies.
Samuel Butler, and many a pessimist will assert that it seems that every man must have a clip at his own particular pig, and cannot be made to believe that, like every other time, it will yield him nothing but noise and bristles.
If you know a bit about pigs, you would never expected silence in your piggery, nor would you ever consider shearing your pigs. Yet here we have pigs eminently worth shearing, and I’ll bet you want one of those pig ‘wool’ sweaters…
Today preservation programs for Mangalitza pigs and dedicated breeders associations are in place in Switzerland, France, England, the United States and other countries. So perhaps the optimists have won out. And these things are so darn cute, too. Look for them in more zoos, animal parks, and in theme farms in all these countries. Their woolly coats are a security blanket.