In the winter of ‘99 I was with my platoon, sitting high atop an up-armored Humvee in body armor with a .50 Cal, cruising around small landmine infested and bullet riddled villages of northern Bosnia.
During those days, much of my time was spent studying the countryside through rain-soaked goggles; a frigid, gray landscape that we all affectionally referred to as “Swiss cheese”. We policed the area, talked to the locals, guarded high ranking officials and marked landmines. There was really nothing else to do. It was actually pretty boring for a young soldier like myself.
At one point, we were driving through a village to check for developments and make sure the right people were moving in. I remember it was raining (it was always raining) and we stopped in the middle of town to talk to some farmers. A little further up, we caught a conversation with some soccer players before deciding to head back to base camp. I was able to see all around from the gunner’s hatch and caught quite a site in the distance beside a Swiss cheese house: two very large hairy pigs – mounted grunting beasts – making love amidst the war-torn landscape.
I watched with a sort of boyish fascination. Like a kid in my bedroom peering out my window in the dark to see a silhouette of the neighbors having sex. It was a pretty surreal thing to see in a land that reeked mostly of devastation. We were on the move so we didn’t stick around, but at that point I had really seen enough to keep the memory alive for a very long time. What the hell were these giant, curly-haired pigs? I thought they looked like wild boar but .. not really.
Years later, a buddy of mine told me about the Mangalitsa: the great woolly pig of the Balkans. This was it! It was no Loch Ness or Bigfoot, but a real live thing. And not only real, but apparently delicious.
Not long after we read the Times piece, Mangalitsa began to appear on every charcuterie plate in New York. Yes, we fell victim to the craze and discovered for ourselves that the horny little bastards were as delicious as reported. Everything familiar and satisfying about cured meat but with a gamey, complex newness that made us hate everything about ourselves for being common, lowly food-trend victims.
I’m just thankful to have a new memory to replace the Bosnian lovers. If you saw what I did, you would know how hard that was.