Petraia is famous for its game and a good percentage of the meat we consume is wild boar from the property. Hunters often arrive at my kitchen bearing generous gifts of a whole boar or deer. If we’re really lucky we might even get a hare. At first I used to dread hunting season. I’d been a vegetarian for 25 years before we moved here and I knew next to nothing about cooking meat let alone fresh game. But I was determined to learn. My father had been a hunter and so I knew what excellent meat this was and what a privilege it was to have it. I’d be foolish not to eat it and even more foolish not to figure out the best way to butcher and cook it. I’m pretty sure I’d still be a vegetarian if it wasn’t for La Petraia and her abundant population of game.
Over the years I taught myself how to butcher these animals along with our pigs, lambs and poultry. This is work I came to reluctantly, but learning how to deal with a whole animal has hugely empowered me as a cook. I’ve become a competent butcher, and look forward to the hunting season each year. The overwhelming anxiety I once felt while staring at a whole boar to break down has now been replaced by a sense of calm. Surprisingly, or maybe not, I have found a meditative quality to this task. Perhaps this is something all butchers know.
I love to take care with each cut and imagine how I’ll prepare it later. I’ve learned how to tell the meat of a young animal from that of an older one and a male from a female. I’ve learned game hardly ever has a gamey smell and if it does its because the animal was either an older male or the kill was not a clean one (a bullet through the upper thigh or intestines for instance instead of the head). I’ve learned you can easily get rid of that with an overnight soak in a milk bath, and I’ve learned this works much better than the oft-called-for wine or vinegar cure. I’ve learned this meat is delicious and tastes so much better than anything I could ever buy. And I’ve learned lots more than that too. But I’m saving that for later.
Laid to rest…