October to February is hunting season in Italy for Wild Boar (Cinghiali).
Hunting boar is a traditional pastime yet it is only this year that hunters have been able to sell their catch – previously they had to eat everything themselves. But this year you might well find actually wild Wild Boar on the menu at restaurants, which is a real leap forwards for slow food enthusiasts (though perhaps not for the boar themselves who are now a commodity rather than a hobby).
Why are boar hunted? Apart from the fact that they taste good (think Cinghiali al umido) [or any other recipe you can link to] but they cause a lot of damage to gardens and trees. This sounds harsh (you can only really appreciate the murderous qualities needed to shoot the creatures after your lovingly planted vegetable garden has been entirely rooted up) but these animals also breed terribly fast. Originally the Wild Boar had one or two young every year, thus sustaining a balanced population. Unfortunately the domestic (and prolific) pig came into the genetic mix and created a hybrid Boar which produces between 4 – 10 offspring each pregnancy. Thus the countryside is overpopulated and hunting is a sensible solution.
How to spot a Wild Boar: Boar are large, brown, bristly, wedge shaped pigs. Roughly the size of a small cow with short legs, no discernable neck and nasty yellow tusks. The young however are delightful jolly little brown and black striped humbugs.
They tend to be shy as a rule but not always. Mothers with young can be aggressive if challenged. They will stand their ground and grunt/blow at you. If they start to pace or paw the ground you know it is time to get the heck out of there! But don’t bother running – a boar is nearly as fast as a dog and will run you down no problem. The best thing to do is bolt up a tree. The very best thing to do is try not to get near one in the first place! They are mostly nocturnal and the best time to see them is at twilight when they come out to forage.
Hunters: If you find yourself in the Italian countryside during this time it is advisable to be very careful. Although there are strict hunting and firearm laws, there are a plethora of gunshot wounds to hunters and random bystanders in Italy in hunting season. The good news is that you are unlikely to die from the shot – most hunting is done with pellets rather than bullets so unless you are in the direct line of fire you’ll only catch a bit of buckshot. The bad news is that the average age of the hunters is about a hundred and seven so their eyesight isn’t what it might be. Wear bright clothing and sing a lot… definitely don’t wear dark brown and grunt.
Other Boaring Problems: Boar scratch their tusks on trees, ruining the bark and killing the tree. They tend to hang out in large family groups when they have young (the males are sent off and it is one matriarch who leads the herd) and destroy crops. The worst thing about boars though is that they like nothing more than to hang out on winding country roads, causing a lot of accidents. The miracle is that usually the boar trots off relatively undamaged whilst your car is invariably a write off. The only consolation is that you can have fun filling in your insurance claim form by drawing a particularly nasty looking boar charging your car as you and your passengers huddle together for safety.
Eat: Wild Boar meat is a gamey version of pork. If it is truly wild then it might be a little tough and need to be stewed. Interestingly, a male boar must have it’s testicles removed as soon as it is killed otherwise the hormones in them will infuse the rest of the flesh with an unpleasant taste.
These are some gorgeous recipes if you are lucky enough to get your hands on some Wild Boar meat…
The absolute best wine to drink with boar is a robust and well matured red. A Brunello will do nicely but if it’s not a special occasion and you don’t want to break the bank try a Rosso di Montalcino. It’s not aged as long as a Brunello but is made from the same grapes and gives you a great wine to accompany any boar dish.