For the Christmas feast in 1254, the royal kitchen placed an order for 100 boars and sows to feed the festive revellers. Hunted in the royal forests, the boar’s flavoursome meat formed part of their famous feasts.
Fast forward almost 400 years and boar, which had largely disappeared from the wild, was reintroduced to Britain from abroad, initially into private estates for hunting. James I released them into Windsor Park in 1608 and 1611 and then his son, Charles I, introduced them into the New Forest. Hunted to extinction in Hampshire, 300 years later they are back – but don’t expect to find them grazing on the common land as in days of yore.
At Swallowfields Farm in Bramshaw, fourth generation farmer Jamie Burgess rears wild boar for its premium-quality meat (also sold on site).
“We have between 80 and 100 boar here, depending on the time of year and what they’re breeding like,” says Jamie. “We’re lucky, myself and my brother Dan have the time to work with the boar.”
Indeed, rearing these (surprisingly cute) creatures isn’t a short-term responsibility – all good things come to those who wait. Boar may be similar to pig, but “it’s a different meat from pork”, asserts Jamie. “It’s darker and denser, too. Because it’s slower growing, it changes the texture of the meat and takes on a richer flavour.”
This slow growth means that boar can’t be farmed on a mass scale like pigs, which are ready for the table within four to six months. “Boar takes 18 months, and is much more of a niche product. You can sell it to specialist retailers for customers who want something different,” says Jamie.
Finding a niche
They have always had pigs at Swallowfields Farm, as well as beef cattle, so this new venture by Jamie is an add-on to the family business. Their other animals, however, didn’t require the same level of preparation as the wild boar.
Because of their tendency to remain ‘wild’, if you want to rear them, you must obtain a licence from the local authority. And it doesn’t end there: “We had to construct a 6ft fence, dug at least a foot into the ground with a barbed snout wire then electric fences around their stalls.”
It’s a serious business, because, although you might not think it to look at them, boar can actually jump 5ft and if they can’t go over a fence, they’ll try getting under it. That might sound scary, but these mammals are far from malicious according to Jamie.
“I don’t think they are aggressive, no more so than a cow or pig. Sows may get disgruntled when they are protecting their young.”
At The Farmer’s Butcher on the farm, Neil Reid, prepares the various cuts of boar, as well as producing burgers and sausages to sell direct to customers and to the various farm shops they supply in Hampshire.
As word spreads of this very special meat, Jamie’s diversification has paid dividends for the farm and he hopes to start promoting New Forest Wild Boar further afield.
“Over the last few years people have wanted to know where their food is coming from. Buying local produce is fast becoming their preference and with the help of food groups like Hampshire Fare and New Forest Marque, here in Hampshire this has meant we’ve got the business off to an encouraging start. Fingers crossed, soon we will be seeing more boar on farm shop shelves and restaurant menus across the country.”
For more facts, figures and stockists, see OUT&ABOUT magazine