It used to be known as the 'king of feasts' - and it's also the favourite dish of Goskinny and Underzo's cartoon superheroes Asterix and Obelix. Now Scots will soon be savouring the succulent flavour of wild boar on their plates for the first time in 300 years.
Leading supermarket Safeway is preparing to stock its shelves with meat from a heard of 360 wild boar which roam the Forestry Commission's woods in Morayshire, and are being raised by farmer and ex-Michelin chef Andrew Ashcroft.
What started as an experiment in organic woodland management - the animals are super-efficient at destroying tree-choking vegetation has led to a dream deal for the delicious meat. Now Ashcroft is planning to expand the herd to 22,000 over the next 18 months.
The spin -off means jobs for the local community. 'With so much meat, I will be investing £1.2 million in a processing plant in the fishing plant in the fishing town of Buckie, five miles away,' says Ashcroft.
Safeway's meat buyer Amanda Sprayson said that it will initially offer wild boar in selected supermarkers.
'We have specialist butcher counters in many of our supermarkets,' she said. 'And that is where we see the wild boar going.
'Our first job is to ensure there will be a continuous supply, and that other rearing conditions are being met, but I will be visiting Mr Ashcroft in January.'
Wild boar proved a popular dish until around 300 years ago when they were phased out in favour of a succession of easily raised domestic animals and birds such as lamb, goose, and more recently, turkey.
But Ashcroft, the Scottish-born son of a diplomat, said that wild boar meat is lower in cholesterol than skinned chicken, and has a darker, tighter-textured appearance than pork. In addition to the low-fat advantage, many customers will flock to buy wild boar because of the way it has been reared, he addded.
'They have a fantastic life,' he said. 'They live all their time in the woods, restrained only by a light electric fence, and travel a short five-mile hop to a barn where they are lept overnight before slaughter.
'They suffer no stress at any time, unlike some of the scenes at some abbatoirs where animals are shot in front of each other en masse, having previously travelled hundreds of miles.'
Forty-five-year-old Ashcroft said that he only started rearing boar to provide food for his family when he returned to his native Moray after a lifetime working abroad.
'We had about three or four in a small paddock in the gardden, just for the table,' he said.
'I am a bit fanatical about where our food comes from - I only use organic veg from a local farm - and I've always wanter to have my own boar.
'It is important to me to know what has happened to any meat that appears on our table, and what it has been fed on.'
Ashcroft is now Chairman of the Scottish Wild Boar Association (SWBA), and believes that, even with 22,000 in Scottish woods, there will be plenty of deman for wild boar meat to support even more boars.
The expansion into woodland developed just as organically. While carrying out some tree-felling for Ashcroft, a local forester told him that the commission were trying to find ways of scrrifying local woods without using heavy and expensive machinery.
Within weeks Ashcroft had a small herd of 24 boars chomping away in nearby woods - ironically called Deerpark.
There are signs that large landowners are now looking at boar as a lucrative alternative to sheep or conventioal pigs. With £5 per kil guaranteed by the SWBA and low upkeep costs, the hardly wild boar could be the beast of choice for hundreds of farmers still reeling from the effects of foot-and-mouth.
Far from being the ferocious animals of folklore, Ashcroft said the boars are shy but friendly when approached. 'It may not be long before the occasional escapees are back roaming the Scottish woodlands they populated 300 years ago,' he added.
© Sunday Herald, December 30 th 2001
|Return to index||Return to Exotic Scottish Animals||Return to Wild Boar|