Television chef plays the mating game in search for the perfect porker

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The Independent Online
WANTED: ADVENTUROUS Tamworth pig, or similar, with view to brief relationship with portly, porcine Vietnamese mate.

If only pigs could read, the problem might be solved. But as it is, the restaurateur Antony Worrall Thompson's controversial plan to cross-breed two very different kinds of pig and produce a better tasting pork, more akin to the piquant taste of boar, is fraught with difficulties.

Mr Worrall Thompson, a television chef who helps to run 30 restaurants, first decided to develop an improved meat for his own kitchens because he was dissatisfied with what he regarded as the insipid pork on offer in this country. "Most of our pigs seem to me pretty tasteless," he explained.

The real reason that most British pork is disappointing, he believes, is because breeders have systematically got rid of the fat "which is where most of the flavour comes from".

"I am trying to find two Tamworths, or some other traditional old English breed, and cross them with my own Vietnamese pot-bellieds, which have a wild boarish taste."

Mr Worrall Thompson can see nothing wrong with tampering with nature in this way. "The nations of the world all bonk each other," he said, "so I don't see why pigs should not do the same."

In preparation, the Worrall Thompson family has brought three Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs home to the four-acre grounds of their cottage in Shiplake, Oxfordshire.

"These pigs are generally known as pets over here, of course," admits Mr Worrall Thompson, who has already suffered from becoming a little too attached to his livestock.

"I did name our first three pigs, it is true, although I named them after cuts of ham - Serrano, St Danieli and Negra - so I guess the writing was always on the wall for them."

Sentiment has earned the three original pot-bellies a longer lease on life, but the chef cannot say as much for their projected offspring. "I plan to kill them here for our own consumption and see how they taste. If I develop them for commercial use, it will then have to go through a registered abattoir."

Mr Worrall Thompson would particularly like to engage the services of a Tamworth stud, he says. "I partly like the idea of a Tamworth because they are gingery and look a little like me."

The hunt for perfect pork has become a personal crusade for Mr Worrall Thompson. But if he is ever to succeed, he must first tackle opposition from members of the South Oxfordshire district council, which has served an enforcement notice for the removal of the outhouse where he keeps his animals.

Mr Worrall Thompson's appeal against the ruling comes before the Government inspector on 22 September. Paul Houghton, South Oxfordshire's appeals officer, said permission was refused because the outhouse is "intrusive, in a landscape the council regards as important".

Mr Worrall Thompson is not ready to accept failure, though. "I have got a bit of the pirate about me and I don't understand people who like to put lot of red tape around everything," he said. He hopes to serve a new kind of pork at his new West End restaurant, Wiz, when it opens on 18 September.

But even if he is triumphant, and the South Oxfordshire bureaucracy allows his pig breeding to go ahead, another leading Oxfordshire chef suspects that the Worrall Thompson scheme will still be doomed.

Raymond Blanc, of the famed Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, argues that the experiment is like trying to create a hare by cross-breeding rabbits. "Many have tried. They all have failed," said Mr Blanc. "I have tasted many different types of pork, but the real wild boar is redder, and it is very scented and very, very flavoursome. Wild boar is something different and you will not effectively create that flavour from pigs."

Mr Blanc's upbringing in the mountainous Franche- Compte region of eastern France means he has a near reverence for both the pig and its cousin, the boar. "In the area I am from, we have elevated the pig to a kind of pagan god because it has helped so many peasants in times of famine. There even used to be a three-day festival of drinking in my village, dedicated to the pig."

Mr Blanc also disagrees with his fellow chef's criticism of the British product. "The pig industry was one of the first to clear itself of problems with antibiotics, and now many are bred more or less free range. Of course the best, and this will cause tears, is the baby pig. A suckling pig is so succulent."

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