Farmers put boar back on menu: Oliver Gillie reports on an ancient dish that is poised to return to the supermarket shelves

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The Independent Online
WILD boar is returning to British menus after an absence of several hundred years and may even find its way into supermarkets soon.

Ian and Tracy Ballard have a herd of 42 wild boar on their 200-acre farm at Abberley, near Great Witley, Worcestershire, and have developed a thriving business supplying local hotels and restaurants.

'Our herd is descended from real wild boar caught in France and Denmark,' Mr Ballard said. 'Some of the meat on the market which is described as wild boar is not genuine and does not taste like the real thing.'

Some farmers have crossbred wild boar with pigs and sell the meat as wild boar. Australian 'feral pig' is also sold as wild boar when in fact it is escaped domestic stock.

Genuine wild boar are dangerous. Mr Ballard keeps his behind a double fence of extra strong wire net with a strand of electrified wire. If they roamed freely they would attack and eat any other animals they found, although their staple diet is grass and roots.

'They would have you if they got a chance,' said Mr Ballard, who goes into the field to feed them. 'I've had a couple of young ones have a go at me. I climbed up the fence and they jumped up, snapping at my legs.

'I never go in with them alone. You have to watch your back. I always have a knife with me. I've killed enough of them. I know what to do.'

The leader of Mr Ballard's herd is a three-year-old called Nigel, whose tusks are just beginning to show. Nigel does not hesitate to use his teeth and his weight to discipline his sows if they get in his way.

Mr Ballard, who is primarily a dairy farmer, has a licence to keep wild animals and a licence to operate a small-scale slaughter house.

'We shoot them at 12 to 14 months - whereas domestic pigs are slaughtered at about six months,' Mr Ballard said.

The meat is hung for 10 to 14 days before butchering. Most is sold around Christmas but sausages made for him by a local butcher also sell well through the summer.

The better cuts, such as haunch or saddle, sell for about pounds 5 a pound. 'It is not at all like pork,' Mrs Ballard said. 'It is a dark red meat more like beef or venison. There is not much fat on it.'

Safeway is considering selling boar meat in some shops in the area as part of its new policy of selling regional foods. But the stock in Britain is not very large - about 300 breeding sows. Mr Ballard is cautious about selling to supermarkets. 'Safeway's can have some of the meat if they want it. But they will have to get supplies from other farmers as well,' he said. 'I can't become dependent on just one outlet. Too many farmers I know have had trouble doing that.'

(Photograph omitted)

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