Wild boar have thrived in English forests since Shakespeare wrote about them (in Richard III, the wild boar is the symbol of the main character) and has been popular as a meal in Britain for centuries. Today, boar is farmed and the meat sold in supermarkets, but the taste of a wild boar hunted in the forest is much more lively and gamey than that which you find in the display case at Tesco.
There is a substantial wild boar population in the southeast of England, particularly in Sussex forests, where it is not uncommon to come upon them if you go for a walk. They are not dangerous unless cornered, although British farmers are beginning to complain about the damage they can do to crops. Hunters find them good sport and, according to Mark Boulton, who runs a wild boar shoot on his own land in Beckley, East Sussex, “Hunters love this sport because the quality of the meat is to die for.” Wild boar is tangy, like venison, but not as strongly flavored, Boulton explains, and it has a delicate, almost fruity quality.
So it’s not surprising that wild boar has made it onto some of the finest tables in London. It is favored more by the great Italian restaurants of the city, which prepare it in the Tuscan tradition. We have to cite the inimitable Jamie Oliver, whose Italian restaurant chain now serves wild boar salami, cured in the U.K., and made with a rigatoni pasta and tomato combination. Oliver serves the dish with an Italian Barbera, from the northern Piedmont region, a wine that is full in the mouth, but is somewhat soft, and so doesn’t overcome the light tangy flavour of the wild boar.
At one of London’s best Italian restaurants, L’Anima, a more complex pasta and wild boar dish is served. This is a wild boar ragout that, in chef Francesco Mazzei’s version, is served on homemade chestnut pappardelle. Sage and carrot peek through the tomato and red wine flavors that dominate the ragout. Mazzei makes his ragout with a wine that few outside Italy have heard of–an Aglianico Irpinia, Mont’ Antico 2010–from the Avellino region just east of Naples. This is an unoaked red wine that shows the velvety richness and intense structure of the Aglianico variety. A beautifully rounded wine with densely packed fresh black fruits and a hint of dark chocolate, backed up with supple but firm tannins, it is again not too harsh to go with the subtleties of the wild boar, but big enough in the mouth to stand up to its tangy taste. For those who seek a more conventional pairing, the Argentiera Bolgheri Superiore is a typical Bordeaux-type blend of cabernet and merlot, but one that is a little less wood-aged than the classic French homologue, so that it is a little softer and goes better with boar.
“It is difficult to find a wine that goes exceptionally well with wild boar,” comments Colin Wills, a wine expert with the London gourmet food website tilia.co.uk (“Uncorked” section).
“The boar has a sweet, nutty, and intense flavour, and this is much stronger in hunted game than in the kind bought in the supermarket. It is also very tender and has a delicacy that pork does not have.”
To complement all of this without overwhelming it, Wills recommends a Barbera, or even a well-aged Barolo from the Italian Piedmont. “The nebbiolo grape aged in the wood does not get as hard as a French cabernet, so it goes better with the boar,” Wills points out.
But there is another, less-well-known Italian wine that Wills especially recommends with cooked wild boar. “Morellino di Scansano is from the Maremma region in the south of Tuscany. It is made from the sangiovese grape, which, aged in the wood, is even softer than nebbiolo. It is far less fruity, with a kind of rounder, more savory fullness which stands up well to the wild boar dishes without being too strong.”
“Then, there are always the great Brunellos,” suggests Wills. Also made from sangiovese, Brunello di Montalcino is one of the greatest Tuscan wines, capable of long bottle age. “After 20 years, a Brunello has a nose of great complexity, and a very soft body, and all of this will go incomparably with your wild boar,” Wills comments. But be prepared to spend more than $150 per bottle.
Is there no truly British way to serve this classically English beast? No people love sausages more than the British, so it is only natural that wild boar ‘bangers’ should find their way onto sandwiches and lunch tables all across the Isles. In fact, served with a great Sussex ale like PolyPin from Lewes microbrewery Harvey’s, John Bull is a pretty happy guy.– Andrew Rosenbaum