Strictly speaking when you go hunting for any kind of wild quarry I’m guessing you should do so in relative silence. Sadly for our guide Mike Pepler his entourage consists entirely of women and I’m afraid it is not in our nature (or at least certainly not mine) to remain quiet. So here we are chatting away whilst tramping through the woods near Rye looking for signs of wild boar although given the racket we are making it seems unlikely that we will see any.
Fortunately, Mike is extremely patient and takes time to show us the tell tale signs of wild boar. Despite their fearsome appearance they are evidently quite shy and are more likely to scamper off when they hear you approaching than attack. Their tusks are used to root around in the undergrowth for food and dig holes which they have left littered around the woods. Their destructive nature makes them unpopular in some quarters of the rural community. But in Rye they are somewhat revered with an entire week devoted to the celebration of wild boar (26 October – 3 November 2013).
Trevor Hambley, Head Chef at the Gallivant Hotel’s Beach Bistro in Camber told me why he is a fan of these rugged creatures.
“I love to cook with wild boar as the flavour is stronger than pork due to the fact it is eating a variety of naturally found food stuffs and not a constant diet that a farmed pig would be given,” he explained. “The boar can also take bigger flavours.”
This weekend I was fortunate enough to have a preview of the wild boar menu Trevor and his team will have on offer during the week. Wild boar meat has been described to me as a cross between pork and venison. Trevor’s roasted loin fillet does indeed have a rich, gamey flavour reminiscent of venison. A marjoram jus provides the welcome lubrication game meats scream out for (lacking as they do in excess fat present in farmed animals). But the real triumph on the plate is the mini suet pudding filled with tender chunks of boar. Trevor uses a good spicy ale to slow cook the leg used in the pudding. A refreshing hint of orange in the filling made it perfect autumnal fare.
Trevor prides himself on sourcing over 80 percent of the produce he uses in the kitchens of the Beach Bistro from local fisherman, farmers and artisan producers. One such producer is the Rye Spice Company who produce a spice rub using cinnamon, mace and cayenne which Trevor uses to prepare the wild boar for his arancini cakes. The boar flavour in these crisp cakes is relatively mild compared to the main but rightly so as otherwise it would drown the flavour of the seared scallops served with it. A spiced Kentish apple puree is a perfect partner for both the scallops and the arancini cake.
For dessert we are treated to a plank of options including mini cinnamon doughnuts filled with chocolate and pistachio mousse encased in a cocoa snap served with frozen berries and white chocolate sauce. They are all very good but one dessert stands out from the others. Trevor’s tarte tatin consists of warm pears enveloped in a vanilla infused caramel perched on a nest of buttery, flaky pastry. It’s spine shiveringly good (although the accompanying vanilla ice cream may have had something to do with this reaction). So much so I had to order it again the following lunchtime using my lengthy walk in the woods as an excuse for the calorific indulgence.
As predicted our search for wild boar is in vain. However, the walk alone is worth it if only to gain the benefit of Mike’s wealth of knowledge about the local woodland and these elusive creatures. After centuries of near extinction in this country wild boar numbers are on the increase (largely thanks to some wily wild boar farm escapees). This means we may start to see wild boar on more restaurant menus. Who knows one day we may even see it alongside venison in supermarkets (although technically wild boar is not classified as a game meat and therefore there is no official hunting season). If you can’t wait for this day to arrive you could do worse than head down to the Gallivant during Wild Boar Week. Not only does the Beach Bistro serve fantastic food and a great selection of wines but it is a stones throw from beautiful Camber Sands, which is gloriously empty at this time of the year. So go on, take a walk on the wild side.
If you fancy cooking wild boar at home why not try one of these recipes?
For more information on wild boar visit http://www.britishwildboar.org.uk.