Robert Laitsch of Cortez, Colo., had been a small farmer most of his life, but he’d never seen anything like the hogs that were featured on “Iron Chef” one afternoon in May, 2011.
“I was watching this cooking show on TV, and they were talking about Magalista pork.”
Curious, he looked up more information online.
He and his wife, Carolyn, found two sows from Santa Fe, N.M., on Craigslist, and bought them — although they definitely weren’t cheap.
“Magalistas are fairly hard to find,” he explains. “They’ve only been in this country for six or seven years, and most are scattered about northern California, Iowa, Montana, and New Jersey.”
The effort to track some down was well worth it, however. Rotating the hogs with sheep on five acres of irrigated pasture, he was also able to renovate the grass.
As it turned out, “the NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium, the elements necessary for plants to grow) in hog manure was cheaper to utilize than the NPK in commercial fertilizer.”
Primarily raising the Magalistas for their own table, they soon started selling off the excess.
What makes these pigs so special?
At first glance, it’s the long, bristly — downright curly — hair, developed to protect it in all kinds of weather. (In Colorado’s high elevations, it also prevents the dangers from sun stroke.)
They have powerful legs, with sturdy hooves, which enable them to navigate any terrain.
They are resistant to disease, but have even temperaments.
Robert says, “They are especially easy-going, and train well to electric fence.”
But to Magalista enthusiasts, it’s the flavor of the meat that is outstanding.
“It is fattier and sweeter than other types of pigs. Fat is where most flavors and moisture are carried. The marbling in Magalistas is more like Kobe beef (a Japanese breed), with a fatty acid profile similar to wild-caught salmon. It’s succulent, and great for curing. And the pork, itself, is perfect for salami.”
The popularity of the fat, as well as the pork, waned after World War II when the public demanded breeds that had leaner meat, and grew more rapidly.
“Magalistas are slow to mature, and don’t do well with artificial insemination,” Bob continues. (“They are what is known as a Heritage breed, which in this case means old and traditional.”)
The need dropped yet again during the 1960s, when “it was thought that fat caused cancer, and it began to be bred out of livestock.
Magalistas that are pastured and fed properly, however, end up with a good fatty acid profile, growing fat that is actually good for you. More roughage ferments in the intestines, and make for better Omega 3 acids.”
Bob’s pigs “love alfalfa, and graze it well ... but as pigs, they will eat anything.”
They also get a specialty grain that he mixes himself, and are never given commercial feed, “first, because it’s too expensive.”
Originally from Austria-Hungary, the Magalista was developed in the 1830s, when Archduke Joseph Anton Johann crossed Sumadija pigs (gifts from Serbia) with Bakony and Szalonta stock from his own country. Because of the superior taste, much of the meat was used for flavoring, or lard.
“The fat doesn’t solidify at room temperature. It stays liquid. It doesn’t taste like tallow, or go rancid as quickly. Instead, it melts in your mouth, and is becoming used more and more in upscale restaurants.”
Although Robert and Carolyn currently have a waiting list that’s two years long, they haven’t given up their “day job” yet.
“A friend of mind told me years ago, ‘The best thing a small farmer can have is a good job in town,’” he admits, and so Carolyn has kept her full-time position as a nurse for now. “Our livestock pays their own way, and feeds us, and our customers, a knowable quality product.”
Considering that one local restaurant recently put in an order for two pigs a month, or 24 a year, the wife might not have to commute much longer. ❖