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Hairy But Tasty, The "It" Pig Comes To SF

In the game of pig one-upmansship, Heath Putnam—the owner of Wooly Pigs—just pushed in all his chips. Not your obvious hog guy, the former software and financial analyst has become the first breeder of the burly (and yes, hairy) Austro-Hungarian Mangalitsa pig in the Western Hemisphere, a hog classified as an "extreme lard-type" versus the usual "meat-type." Two years since bringing the pigs over to the US, his work is paying off. Of course, King Keller got first Mangalitsa dibs a year back. But this Saturday, you can experience the rich, fatty pork at (no, not Incanto) … Frascati! Michael Mina is up next. Drooling homecooks fear not: Wooly Pigs' pork is also available via special order at 415-648-4762.

I spoke with Tom Canaday, vice president for Bay Area operations (previously a rocket scientist, of course), about how exactly one gets into pigs.

How did this whole thing start?
It started with Putnam. He’s an SF native, a Cal graduate, who was living in Munich and got a taste of the Mangalitsa. It was so fantastic, and because of his background as a Bay Area food lover, he thought he would import the pigs and start a pig company. It was like a light came on.

Two years into this venture, would you recommend getting into pigs?
No! There are too many difficulties to list. Handling meat is difficult and painstaking. And then there are the pigs. They’re wonderful animals but they’re very strong-willed and have sharp teeth and tusks. They do what they want. Also, we have to breed our animals very carefully. To keep our genetic wherewithal and the pigs don’t like to be told who gets to breed with who.

I get it. And how did you get them here?
We brought over two boars and 23 sows. Crated them up, flew them on a plane. Don’t import pigs, just don’t. These are huge powerful animals. There was some birth. The sows started giving birth in agricultural quarantine and then in the truck. So that was not ideal.

Where are the farms?

We have one farm in Washington and three farms in Iowa. We’re the only ones who breed them, while other people are raising them.

What makes the pork so special?
We’re raising our pigs according to an Austrian system. We only use grain like barley and fresh hay—no corn or soy. This maximizes the fat quality. The key to the Mangalitsa is that they have more fat and better fat.

Which restaurant gets to cook up the Mangalitsa first in SF?

Frescati was just delivered a belly and they’ll have it on their menu this weekend. There’s been a bit of a race here. Yesterday, I delivered 45 pounds to Michael Mina. They were very excited to have it. And they’re going to work their magic on it.

Any final words?
Pig is huge. And Mangalitsa is America’s It pig.