Wild Boar - Symbol of the Maremma
‘Do your neighbours have pet wild boars?’, an alarmed visitor once asked me after admiring the view of Porto Ercole from the terrace to see some young boars - cute little things with their slightly faded beige and brown stripped coats. They would travel down the hills of forest and scrub and through the olive groves that reach right into town, where thy must have found something very interesting as their snorting and rummaging could be heard from our terrace quite often in evenings and early mornings.
Il Cinghiale is the symbol of Maremma. It’s a strong courageous and resilient animal, like the inhabitants who share this place and its rugged, thick forest-covered hills. As hunting and foraging are a traditional pastime, wild boar is also one of the most prized items on the menu. Towns such as Capalbio are well know for wild boar - just take a look at any of the restaurant menus and you’ll find it in every form imaginable. And in summer, there’s the saga del cinghiale, a fifty-year-old food festival dedicated to the animal. If you can possibly find out the provenance of the meat, choose a younger animal. If you know you are working with a more mature animal, you may need a little more cooking time. Very mature wild boars are tough as old boots, so steer clear.
Capalbio has a Sagra di Cingarle, held in September every year. It’s one of the best known around and is over fifty years old. Wild boar is the main feature and you’ll find specialities such as ammazzafegati (‘liver killers’ - charmingly named spicy, wild boar and liver sausages), wild boar all cacciatore, polenta with wild boar stew, and aquacotta.
Cinghiale in Dolce-Forte
A truly age-old maremma dish, this is one of Tuscany’s most famous. One bit of this luscious, dark, sweet and sour stew and there is not mistaking that it was plucked out of the Renaissance, mostly unchanged.
This recipe. begins with a very simple stew, where the wild boar simmers, softening, for a couple of hours. Right before serving, the ‘dolce forte’ is added to the pot, completely transforming it: a mixture of sultans, pine nuts, candied fruit peel, sugar, vinegar and the darkest chocolate you can find. You can serve this with something starchy: mash potatoes, soft polenta or a nice crusty load of Tuscan bread to mop up the sauce.
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, finely chopped
- 1/2 celery stalk
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 kg (2 Ib 3 oz) wild boar, cut into 4 cm cubes
- 2 teaspoons plain flour
- 250 ml red wine
- 1 litre beef stock
- 40 g sultanas
- 30 g pine nuts
- 30 g candied fruit peel (orange or lemon)
- 40 g sugar
- 40 g dark chocolate (80%)
- 60 ml red wine vinegar
Pour the olive oil in a casserole pot and cook the onion, carrot, celery and bay leaves over low-medium heat until the vegetables are softened but not coloured, about 10 minutes. Add the meat to the vegetables, season with salt and pepper, and let it colour on all sides evenly, a further 10 minutes.
Add the flour and toss through the mixture. Let it cook for 2 minutes, then add the red wine, turn up to medium-high and let it reduce until the sauce begins to thicken, about 10-15 minutes. Add stock (or water) to cover and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and let it simmer, uncovered, until the meat is tender, about 2-3 hours. Check it occasionally, and top up with water as needed.
In the meantime, prepare the ‘dolce-forte’ sauce. Mix the sultanas, pine nuts, candied sugar, chocolate and red wine vinegar in a small saucepan and put over medium heat until the chocolate is melted and the mixture well combined. Remove from the heat and set aside (it is good to do this at least 1 hour before you need it).
When the meat is tender, turn the heat to medium to reduce the sauce until it is thick. Add the dolce-forte sauce and combine, letting the stew come back to the boil. Remove from the heat and serve.
If there are leftovers, that’s good news - they will probably taste better than the original dish. It freezes well, too.