from Pembs Life articles
It's wild, its hairy, its edible, its a symbol of our past
Long ago wild boar roamed the forests of
, and were hunted by noblemen with steeds and fanfare. They graced heraldic coats of arms, and feast tables, whole. But before that they were worshiped by pre-christian matriarchal tribes (the wild boar’s tribal leader is the mothersow), later expunged by patriarchal druids and Christians.
Now where are they?
Sarah Tarbutt has 12 acres and over 100 wild boar near Newcastle Emlyn, so I expected a dismal sea of mud. Far from it, I met a land fit for pigs, it was green (with delightful muddy wades), included a lake, woods, ditches, deep greenery to hide in.
Wild boar are neither wild nor necessarily boars, thiey are a breed. The piglets are exquisite, a mix of russet red, black and cream on round hairy bodies with long questing snouts. Left free they are mobile entertainment but intensively kept they are neurotic and untrustworthy: the light has to be ruddy so they cant see blood and get into killing. Pigs have exageratedly human emotions - in short succession they can be gorgeously indolent, frighted, excited, cautiously curious. If you grab one by the leg, it screams blue murder, they enjoy slurping food, wallowing in mud, racing in gangs, with a zest we left in childhood or primitive memory.
Sarah and I exchange tales of incredible acts by pigs, beleivable only if you have kept them in freedom. The male boar eyed me with the cold stare of a dog considering biting. ‘ He isn’t aggressive but you couldn’t trust him further than you can throw him’ Sarah told me. We paid our respects outside the electric fence. We waded in among some of his many family tribes. They remain in their sibling groups, weaned only when it suits them. Sighting company, pig tribes galloped from the horizons. A gang of piglets approached the new person shyly, and ventured to sniff my bare sandalled toes. I hoped they didn’t smell too enticing!
Sarah runs her farm single-handed.and makes 50 varieties of sausage from wild mushroom and roast garlic to fennel and sweet peppers. She gave me some, an explosion of concentrated flavour and nutrition, twice what you’d get in the conventional pink wet flabby apology. It takes a year for a wildboar to be ready to kill, with all that running around it’s not surprising. On the continent they keep them 3 or 4 years to get the gamey flavour.
Anything called sausages has to be 64% meat, hers are 90%. But a ‘banger’ can have no meat in it! The latest of those supermarket deceptions we all fall for once. Like ‘whipping’ not being cream, and grated ‘cheddar’ being potato starch and flavouring!
Sarah takes a pigs head and trotters to school to teach children the facts of farm life. She encourages them to feel the ears and see if they feel like leather, make the trotters trot. They love it, she said, the parents are horrified, children are more like her pigs, curious not squeamish.
A lot of her farm time is taken with inspections. There are inspectorates for the welfare of pigs, the food they eat (to make sure there is no household waste) for weights and measures, for the storage temperatures and butchery equipment. Sarah has to do hazard tests at every stage, but she values the principles these exercises serve.
The traditional role of pigs was to process waste. Wild boar, in the wild live on insects, bulbs, grasses and roots, small animals, carion and detritus of every description. When I kept pigs they occasionally ate rotten meat and plastic bags which emerged like a string with poos attached like beads. One mean eyed family learned to kill and eat my chickens, leaving nothing but the claws.
Cottagers in the past could afford bacon through the winter because their pig lived largely on veg garden and household waste. Unlike ruminant sheep and cattle which are mostly gut, pigs are nearly all edible, even the bones and fat can be rendered, gut liner used for sausageskins.
The wild boar meat is sold at local markets, but with more markets than one person can get to, there is room for the male run wild boar farm in another part of the county: Trehale, the family farm on a few acres run by Adam Vince.
He is a charcuterie king, creating wild boar burgers and sausages with a flavour as sizzling as the fire he cooks them on. His organic style of husbandry, passion for the wild and natural and his indefatigable energy mean he provides a sizzling irresistable centre piece for most of the county markets round here.
The flavour intensity has scientific grounds: there are more protein strands per micron in wild boar than with the paler versions bred for fast fattening.
Up in the world of food policy titanic forces clash:
Food is the new gold, or should be. Predictably the vested powers have opened their jaws.
'To feed the 9 billion we must intensify, science proves it' is the mantra. As if feeding the hungry was ever the agenda!
Intensive pig rearing is like Belson to those who understand pigs' potential. The conditions breed disease.
Genetically modified pigs are being engineered to withstand viruses. They actually do glow green as a radioactive genetic marker is added to trace modified gene uptake.
The science lab boys love it, but the costs are huge, one wonders if a muddy wade, a woodland and happy galloping pigs wouldnt be cheaper!
Wildboar were hunted to extinction in
500 years ago, but enterprising farmers are bringing them back, and the boar, with similar enterprise and determination sometimes escape to replenish the wild. Their mystique endures. George Monbiot has written in defense of the escapees, dont shoot them he pleads. They are not just indigenous wildlife, they are totemic:
From Dalriada Celtic Heritage Trust
The pig and its wild relative, the boar, are probably the most important totem animals of the Gaelic Celts, particularly in terms of their connections with the Otherworld, as providers of spiritual nourishment. When we consider that the Celtic / Gaelic system is in fact two systems, incorporating the 'realms of the moon' and the 'realms of the sun', that have over time merged into one system, we begin to realise why the boar and the sow have become the totem animals par excellence of the Gaelic Celts. They represent the twin forces of masculinity and femininity - the wild, untamed boar, the warrior's challenge, and the sow as the giver of Life and Death… The boar is also the traditional food of the Samhain feast, a time when the two worlds meet.’
And in carbon reduction terms, if pigs were allowed to eat waste and clear the woodland floor, as of yore, they would be a first class protein with little fertile land demand. Mythology knows..
‘Manannan told Cormac that he possessed seven pigs, with which he could feed the whole world…'