Whereof I discourse on the extinct Lincolnshire Curly Coat and of its cousin, of rare breed distinction, The Hungarian Mangalitsa (or Mangalitza);
The genesis for this site came when my partner Val Littlewood (artist & designer) was looking at an old book, that she’d illustrated back in 1985, called “Lincolnshire Country Food” (written by Eileen Elder), so, whilst this book is now out of print, I’m able to crib shamelessly from one of the copies retained by her.
One chapter, entitled succinctly “The Pig”, is a great guide to the husbandry, ancestry & eating of one of the old, sadly now extinct, English pig breeds, the Lincolnshire Curly Coat, also known as the Baston pig.
The earliest pigs to be kept in Lincolnshire were described as being ‘below contempt – long legged and long nosed, high in the back and lop-eared’ ¹ but by the 1930s, selective breeding (according to this fascinating piece from New South Wales they were exhibited for the first time at Smithfield in 1908) had developed the breeds hardiness (necessary for living nearly all year round on the fens in Lincolnshire) as well as its fattening abilities and large specimens were being exported to Russia and other countries. This was to prove fortuitous…
As well as its ability to survive in pretty much all weathers, the particular merits of the Curly Coat were outlined in herd books² as:
‘…it is exceptionally hardy and one that thrives and grows with great rapidity, it needs no pampering or unnatural protection to enable it to thrive at its best … They are frequently fed in the Marshes in the open in herds of one hundred or more with no other shelter than that afforded by mustard or other straw stacks … They come early to market as porkets or as large fat bacon pigs and being a general purpose pig are practically fit for slaughter at any age.’
‘… It is a breed which has been pure not for a few years but for over a century … let the animal graze and take care of itself during the summer months and then with the addition of some sound corn and other necessary food, finish it for market.’
‘The pigs are generally farrowed in March and April, those not kept for breeding are fed and at nine or twelve months weigh up to thirty stones. The sows are prolific, make good mothers and are usually fed after having had one litter and at twenty months weigh forty stones & upwards.’
‘In Lincolnshire — owing to the fact that so much pork is allowed to Foremen, Shepherds, Herdsmen and Horsemen, in lieu of wages — there is a good demand for large fat pigs. The labourer also feeds a pig or two, for his own consumption, invariably choosing this breed to any other…’
And finally, a description of the points of the typical Lincoln Curly Coat Pig:
‘…the animal should be white, curly or wavy hair (odd blue spots are not infrequently found on the skin). Head not too long, nose straight and dished, ears thick and pendant but not falling over the eyes, with a fair distance between them, jowl heavy, shoulders deep and wide at heart, ribs well sprung, back straight and long, tail well set, the sides are deep reaching nearly to the ground, belly parts thick and the whole carcass well supplied with lean, fleshy hams well filled to the hocks and standing on short straight legs with plenty on bone’³
This rather gorgeous illustration shows a fine example of the breed:
They started becoming rarer, dwindling in numbers in the period after the Second World War, due in part to changing farming patterns and, more importantly, to a growing taste from the consumer for leaner, less fatty, meat³. The last known specimens were kept by a John Crowder and the breed was finally lost in 1972, just one year before the formation of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST).
Luckily the line hadn’t become completely extinct everywhere: about 200 or so of the Curly Coats had been exported to Hungary & Austria in the 1920s to cross-breed with, and improve, the native Mangalitza curly coat pig – itself a rare breed which had been facing extinction in the second half of the last century and are now extremely rare in their native countries — and from these imports, the Lincolica was bred, using only the blond Mangalitza (although this type died out in the late 1940s or early 1950s).
Breeding of the Mangalitsa had started in the 1830s in the Austro-Hungarian Empire after Archduke Joseph Anton Johann received some Sumadija pigs from a Serbian prince, and crossed them with Bakony and Szalonta pigs. The resulting Mangalitsa “curly-hair hog” was initially reserved for the Habsburg Royalty, but became so popular because of its great taste that by the end of the 19th century it was the main breed in the mainland in Europe. The name Mangalica literally means “hog with a lot of lard.”
Many of the pigs were herded from Burgenland (part of Hungary until 1921 – now an Austrian province) to the slaughter houses in Vienna, just like the cattle were herded to the slaughter houses in the Midwest of America. Fattened to 250-300 kg (550 to 650 lbs), most of the meat was used for speck and lard, but the now famous “Stelze” (pork shank) was introduced at that time as well.
The Mangalitsa pig was honored by the composer Johann Strauss II in his 1885 Operetta, “The Gypsy Baron”, in which the pig breeder Zsupan declares that he “lives for pigs and speck – but has no time for intellectual activities”.
In Germany, the breed is known as the Wollschwein, or “woolly pig”.
With changing conditions in animal husbandry after World War II, when tastes changed in Western Europe, and Hungarian Agriculture was collectivised, the breed rapidly declined and was replaced with leaner and more rapidly growing breeds. By the end of the 1970s Mangalitsa pigs in Austria could only be found in National Parks and Zoos, and less than 200 breeding sows remained in Hungary.
But by the mid 1980s the Mangalitsa Renaissance had started in both Austria & Hungary, and the “Kobe Beef of pork” has made a huge comeback since then. By 1994 the Austrian breeders Association had 43 members, and today there are over 80 breeders in Austria⁸. In Hungary there are now over 10,000 breeding sows again, over 90% of which are the Blonde Mangalitsas and, thanks to Isabell and Christoph Wiesner out of the small village of Wischathal in Lower Austria, there are now Mangalitsa breeders in most European countries, as well as the United States and Russia.⁷
With the help of DEFRA, Pig Paradise and a specialist veterinarian the breed was traced⁴ using DNA to descendants of the original Lincolnshire pigs, still living in Hungary. From these Hungarian herds, about a dozen Mangalitza sows and three boars were imported to the UK, for the first time, in 2006.
The British Pig Association has granted them a pedigree group and there are now 7 female lines and 3 boar lines established in England, but, whilst bearing a very strong resemblance to the old breed, it’s judged well nigh impossible now to gauge what percentage of their genes are truly the original line from the Curly Coat and which Mangalitza.
Mangalitza pigs are extremely hardy, lively and friendly, with strong maternal instincts. Litter sizes are currently not large, averaging about 6, although this seems to be rising. The piglets are striped, much like their distant ancestors, wild boar. They also moult in the summer to prevent themselves getting too hot and, unlike normal commercial pigs, they do not get sunburnt because of their “black” skin.
They come in three colours, Red, Blonde and Swallow Bellied with a cream stomach or “band”. The Swallow bellied Mangalitza was developed in the 1800s from crossing the Blonde with the Black Mangalitza. Unfortunately the Black pig also became extinct in the 1970s with the last known herd on the Serb islands in the Danube.
“Once renowned as a “Lard Pig” capable of producing 70 litres of rendered fat, the Mangalitza has carved out new niche markets in forestry projects and the production of special (esp. Parma-like) hams and salamis. The breed was featured at the Salone Del Gusto in Turin in 2004. The meat is well marbled so that it is tastier and less dry than that from more modern breeds. The fat is also special as it has a higher level of mono-unsaturated fats, meaning it goes rancid less easily which is good for long curing. It also has a healthier balance of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids than seed oils which have become so popular in modern cookery”.⁵
And, as a side-note, interestingly, hair from the pigs is particularly popular in the U.S. as it retains air bubbles under water making it ideal for tying fishing flies. Brian Codling has a great collection of these as well as supplying some of the most delicious pig portions you’ll ever eat, produced from their herd of around seventy Mangalitzas (raised directly from the first litter of these original imports into Britain). Please support his and Sylvia’s efforts. I fully intend to keep on ordering from them⁶
Finally, I’ll not regurgitate the Wiki piece on the history of the Mangalitza breed. It’s here.
¹ John Cordeaux, ‘Lincolnshire Agriculture 100 Years Ago’, “The Naturalist”, Nov 1895, p.323
³ It should be noted that any pig intended for curing by traditional dry-salting methods must still carry a high proportion of fat to lean meat simply because salt has a toughening effect on lean meat.
⁴ A fuller article on the people behind this effort is available here from The Wiltshire Times, 20th October 2013
⁶ Grateful thanks for both information and great pork products to Brian & Sylvia Codling of Rectory Reserve Mangalitza fame The Old Rectory, Fulletby, Horncastle, Lincolnshire LN9 6JX Email: email@example.com
⁷ Thanks to “Pure Mangalitsa” for this section.