WEST BAY: Tanja Welz has a thick German accent, is a recognized domestic teacher, used to dance ballet in the theatre in Hannover, managed three high-end saloons in Bremen and wasn’t a part of a farm family before moving to Canada in 2007.
Yet those aren’t the things that set her apart as a hog farmer in rural Cape Breton. For the past three years, Welz and her husband, Christian, have been raising one of the rarest pig breeds in the world on their little farm in West Bay, which is nestled alongside the southern tip of the Bras d’Or Lake.
The Mangalitsa was a popular breed of domestic pig in the Austrian and Hungarian kingdoms in the mid-1800s and the Welz family is among a small group of farmers hoping to revive the breed by putting it back on the menu.
“The reason why the Mangalitsa is going extinct, is people [just] aren’t eating them anymore,” Welz explained as she emptied a bucket of freshly-picked apples into one of the pens.
The 300-pound hogs roam free-range across 210 acres of forested and pastured areas at The Lilac Farm, a small organic farm about 21 kilometers northeast of Port Hawkesbury. Lilac Farm has a number of operating philosophies and are dedicated to producing the best meat in the best environment possible.
The Mangalitsa doesn’t look like your typical pink pig – it grows a thick, wooly coat similar to that of a sheep. It was an extremely popular breed back in the mid 1800s, with hundreds of herds spread all across Europe, where it was nicknamed the ‘wooly pig.’ Today, 90 per cent of the Mangalitsa population are still bred in Hungary. The interest of Mangalitsa started falling out of fashion with the rise of commercial pink Asian pig which is a leaner variety.
The Welz family have single-handedly saved the breed from extinction in Nova Scotia, as Lilac Farm is the first and only Mangalitsa pig farm in Atlantic Canada. The whole Mangalitsa breed was almost lost with the total population world-wide down to less than 150 sows in 1993. The Welz’s didn’t need much convincing to get their own herd started once they were settled into their Cape Breton farm.
“We didn’t think right away to raise pigs at all, we had been thinking more of bison as we’ve always wanted to have old heritage animals, it would not have been difficult to bring bison here, but we just had no experience at all,” Welz said. “A really good friend of ours pointed us to ‘wooly pigs,’ we call them ‘wooly pigs’ in Germany. We researched and found a breeder in Alberta, and purchased our first trio in 2015.”
Welz’s first and main boar, “Lord Nelson” was one of the original three piglets purchased and will be four-years-old on Decemeber 31. Since then she’s added three more swallow bellied sows and one more boar, with the newest blonde sow, “Poppy,” imported from a breeder in Michigan.
Welz describes the animal as a personable, mild-mannered pig with succulent meat.
“Customers want to know where your meat comes from, what is in it, and how have they live,” she said. “Because of that and the deliciousness, people who try real Mangalitsa meat [are] not going back to the pink meat.”
Welz said there are a lot more chefs and charcuterie producers that understand now the value of Mangalitsa and are willing to pay for it. Over the past year, the Welz’s have developed a small but loyal following, including the Cable Room at the Telegraph House in Baddeck.
“They really love the bacon and buy whole slabs of bacon from me and cure it the way they like.”
Along with the seasonal appearances in select local kitchens, Welz also distributes her Mangalitsa products through the Cape Breton Food Hub and at the market in St. Peter’s on Tuesdays.
Labeled the ‘kobe beef’ of pork, the meat has up to 16 per cent less saturated fatty acids and up to 10 per cent more unsaturated fatty acids. It is high in beneficial minerals including zinc, copper, iron and anti-oxidants. The hogs are completely organic and vegetarian, and don’t receive any animal by-products or growth hormones.
Welz said at 24-months, the Mangalitsa pigs are the perfect size to be slaughtered. They will weigh around 300-pounds and have the perfect combination of meat and fat. The meat is reddish, highly marbled with creamy white fat. The lard is lighter and melts at a lower temperature than lard from other pigs. Surprisingly, it’s also high in good cholesterol and mono-saturated fats, which is excellent for long curing, and contains a healthier balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.