Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wild Boar


When we were kids, my brother and I loved Asterix. We had volumes of English translations of the French comic and we'd borrow videos of the cartoon from our Belgian neighbors. At the time, we didn't decipher the overt French nationalist tendencies of the storylines (I learned years later that the Gauls were actually defeated pretty badly at the hands of the Romans, thank you HBO's Rome). At the time, we were more concerned with the druid Getafix's magic potion and even more with wild boar. Aside from beating up Roman soldiers and chugging potion, Asterix and his obese partner Obelix had an obsession with hunting, grilling, and consuming entire carcasses of the wild pigs that traversed the plains surrounding their paradisiacal settlement. The boar looked delicious. It looked delicious even after we were repeatedly told that it was Haram.

I never thought I'd get to try it. The one pork food that looked tempting to me, and it was entirely imaginary; a musing of cartoonist Rene Goscinny. It would be a solid 12 years before I would sample this Gaulish delicacy.

For this adventure, I revisit my trip to Italy and the furthest excursion I took from the city of Rome. My girlfriend was visiting and I had planned a trip to Umbria, a region known for its white wine. Our destination was Pulicaro, a farm house offering 'agriturismo', the experience of staying at a farm, eating and drinking only what the land yielded, which included wine, olive oil, produce, and meat. We were picked up from the train station in Orvieto and driven through the rolling landscape, finally arriving at our destination. Pulicaro is a sprawling stone building that was constructed in the 1500s. Its gray, squarish layout sits on a hill amidst olive tree orchards. The owners and operators are Marco and Chiara, an Italian couple in their late 20s who left the city to live life slow and entertain visitors at their farmhouse.

After some genuine Italian relaxation, we entered the lower chamber of the farmhouse for dinner with Marco, Chiara, and the rest of the staff, a rag tag crew of jovial youngsters. We began with homemade pasta prepared with cheese, parmesan, if not something similar. The main part of the meal consisted of some amazing bitter greens, potatoes, and, for the first time ever, dry rubbed wild boar. Marco said he's shot the beast himself, sending me spiraling into memories of Asterix. Chiara told us she had seasoned it with rosemary and baked it in the farmhouse's stone oven, also five centuries old.

The meat was dark and gamy, a little like venison. The chewiness had been somewhat neutralized by the cooking process. The cubes of meat were encased in slightly charred seasoning, the rosemary and what was perhaps rock salt. There was also a peppery element which was stronger than what I had had in the majority of Italian cuisine in my Roman experience. There was certainly a country-ness about the whole meal. Though produce in Rome is far superior to anything found in an American supermarket, these veggies were a cut above even that.

It wasn't the spit-roasted horned beast I remembered from my childhood comic books, but wild boar was the tastiest pork I'd had until that point. It's likely that this is the very species of swine that made Islamic travelers ill, leading to the animal's banning in the Muslim faith. I'll admit that at the time I had a slight fear of indigestion, assuming that if god was going to reprimand me, this would be the occasion. On the contrary, I felt fine. It was one of the most satisfying meals I'd ever consumed, and it fulfilled a long time dream.

In seeking images of Asterix and a wild boar for this post, I came across a wild boar ramen. Now that sounds freaking amazing to me. If anyone knows of a place where I can get a good bowl of wild boar ramen, please let me know.

2 comments:

  1. Hey, didn't know you were in Italy!!! You should have called! Btw, keep writing and next time in Italy, try the papardelle al cingiale (papardelle pasta with wild boar) and porchetta. We will take out out for the latter near Rome!!

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  2. getafix... ha! i get it now...

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