Eh Farms' cute and curly Red Mangalitsa pigs bring a new kind of pork to the table
Not all pigs are the same. This is something that most people who are knowledgeable about their food realize — just like there are different breeds of cows that dictate the distinction between an Angus or Wagyu steak, breeds like Berkshire and Duroc hogs have their own characteristics, both as animals and in the end meat product.
But both Berkshire and Duroc pigs fall into the category of what we usually think of as standard pork. The Red Mangalitsa is a different kind of swine all together.
Christina Stender, the force behind Eh Farms doesn’t even call her animals “pigs,” she calls them “Mangalitsas” because they’re almost an entirely different animal than those that produce the white pork chops that most of us are used to buying in the grocery store. The pigs themselves are quite cute to look at: they’re big but are covered in a woolly red fur that makes them a good match for Alberta winters. More importantly, they’re often referred to as the “Kobe beef of pork,” thanks to the rich and fatty red-hued meat that is often mistaken for beef when it hits the table.
Most Albertans haven’t heard of Red Mangalitsa, which isn’t a surprise. Stender is the first to bring them to Canada from their native Hungary and her operation is fairly small (though some other local farms are starting to breed Red Mangalitsa pigs). She didn’t grow up on a farm herself but she majored in Animal Science at the University of Guelph and dreamed of having her own farm. After moving to Alberta and working with grain farmers for a while, she and her husband bought what used to be a small cattle farm near Strathmore in 2016. Stender knew she wanted to raise pigs, but when the time came to buy her first animals she surprised herself by opting for a lesser-known European breed.
“I started doing my homework around the Mangalitsas and learned about their uniqueness, the way they look, and their hardiness. No one else was doing them in Canada, so there was a business opportunity there,” she says. “I didn’t want to be like everyone else. I’m not like everyone else — I’m unique and rare, so we thought it would be a really good fit.”
Red Mangalitsa pork is definitely a niche product. Stender runs her pigs free range, keeps them on the farm until they are two years old and treats them with tender loving care (she even sleeps in the barn with her sows while they’re waiting to give birth to piglets), which pushes them into the luxury meat market. While the pork can be cut into chops, roasts, and other conventional pork products, it is also particularly well suited for curing.
“The Mangalitsa is one of the fattiest pigs in the world. That’s why it’s renowned for its charcuterie, which is one of the growing meat trends in Canada,” Stender says. “That’s where the Mangalitsa shines because you can cure this meat for years and it won’t dry out. The longer you cure it, the more flavourful gets.”
Stender has about 60 pigs on her farm and since they take 24 months to raise, even though Mangalitsa pork is a boutique product her supply isn’t meeting the potential demand that would come with wider distribution. She sells her products slowly, alerting customers when a pig is ready for harvest, often selling to a handful of commercial accounts like Fairmont Banff Springs, Ankör Restaurant in Canmore, and Calgary restaurants including River Café, Eight, Shokunin, and Soleil Bistro.
The pork is also occasionally available through services like Bessie Box in both Calgary and Edmonton, but the best way for consumers to get their Mangalitsa is to come out to the farm, where Stender does direct sales via email (she doesn’t keep an online store because so many cuts are so often sold out). Stender warns home cooks that they should be careful not to overcook Mangalitsa and to also avoid putting it directly on an outdoor grill since the abundant pork fat can quickly burst into flames.
As an agriculture academic, Stender is also big on educating the public about her beautiful pigs. When it’s safe to do so, Eh Farms is a hotbed of activity, with Stender often offering farm tours and participating in events like Open Farm Days and even holding an annual Mangalitsa festival called Pigstock that attracts members of the Hungarian community who miss the fleecy pigs from back home. She doesn’t think that Red Mangalitsas will ever become the dominant breed in Alberta (nor does she want them to), but she loves introducing something different to the customers who visit her farm.
“Sharing my story is a big thing for me,” Stender says. “I really want to educate both adults and kids, not just about my breed, but about life on the farm and the vital role that agriculture plays in our lives.”
For more information on Eh Farms and its Magalitsa pigs or to get in touch to place an order, visit ehfarms.ca.