The Story Behind Wooly Mangalitsa Pigs

A European heritage breed of pig called the "Kobe beef of pork" is now thriving in Sonoma County

Heritage breeds of pig are increasingly popular with chefs and foodies. In Sonoma County, we’re blessed to have one of the most progressive, exciting Mangalitsa wooly pig farming projects in the United States happening in our backyard. I visited the brainchild behind Winkler Wooly Pigs, Tim Winkler, to learn more about the hairy swine responsible for what chefs call the “Kobe beef of pork.”

Tim’s entry into pig farming and breeding is fascinating. A life-long aquatic landscaper, he was searching for a sustainable approach to weed and algae removal of plants from his customer’s ponds and other water features. Enter the wooly pig. While the pigs live on his customer’s properties cleaning the natural habitat, they also graze on acorns–a diet delicacy key to their rich, marbled meat–and once they’ve finished their lives’ work as landscapers, the animals transition to the tastiest pork Bay Area chefs can get their hands on. The restaurant purveyor side of Tim’s business is new in the last year, and we’re excited to have the opportunity to support our local farmers and serve such a delicious pork to our guests, whether it be on Tours & Tastings or special events.

Mangalitsa pork is leaner, high-quality level pork, which means it’s often destined for the best salumi. The pigs’ foraging diet–rich in tannins, roots, leaves and seasonal acorns–contributes to their prized flavor. Chef Dustin Valette of Valette in Healdsburg makes his own charcuterie from Winkler Woolies; I’m a big fan of using the meat for pork rillettes. We visited Tim recently to better understand his philosophy, and look forward to sharing more stories from our local purveyors through this Artisans Stories video series.

Less than two years ago, Tim was simply a landscaping business owner with a novel idea. Today, he oversees a drove of 450 hogs across four ranches in Sonoma County. Tim’s farmhouse is also the site of his genetic breeding program, which includes 25 boars (usually there are only a half dozen in such an operation). The three other ranches are share-cropping relationships, where the owners of the properties let the pigs roam and eat in exchange for their landscape clean-up prowess. Molly, Tim’s largest pig, was the first Mangalitsa in California. She weighs in at 800 pounds. Tim also raises the only Hungarian-registered Mangalitsa on the west coast.

Wine country chefs now have a local interpretation of charcuterie to rival Spain’s famous jamón ibéricoFarm-to-plate sourcing doesn’t get better than this.

Learn more about Tim’s journey from aquascapist to pig farmer in Sonoma magazine.

Learn more about Mangalitsa pigs in Modern Farmer.