Cinghiale and Brunello: Love at First Sight
Cinghiale, or wild boar, is commonly found on restaurant menus throughout Tuscany and is famously paired with Brunello di Montalcino. We tasted several cinghiale dishes while traveling in Montalcino to prepare our upcoming report on The Wines of Brunello di Montalcino. Cinghiale is prepared in a wide variety of ways depending upon the size and age of the animal and the culinary wizardry of the chef. In this article we explore the culinary world of cinghiale and Brunello.
Tuscany has a large wild boar population that has grown steadily since the 1950s. Italian hunters had kept the boar population in check for many years, but the 20th century introduction of the Eastern European boar has resulted in larger and more vigorous herds. The result has been a disaster for agriculture, with feral pigs foraging the countryside and causing considerable damage to crops. On the other hand, for those who love the rich savory meat of cinghiale, it is a boon.
How is cinghiale cooked? The loin, chops, and legs of piglets can be roasted, grilled or pan cooked. Most boar meat, especially that of large adults, is tough and needs to be marinated for several hours. Cooking with moist heat, or braising, is a common cooking technique used to make tender stews and sauces for pasta. Cinghiale is also made into a variety of cured meats such as Finocchione, Capocollo, Sopressata, Prosciutto, and Salsicce.
Cinghiale is eaten all year around in Tuscany but is most popular during the fall hunting season and throughout the cold winter months. As we discovered, all the restaurants in the magnificent medieval hill town of Montalcino serve Cinghiale. Re di Macchia, a simple family run restaurant in the center of town, offers some of the finest cinghiale dishes Cinghiale we tasted during our visit.
Wild boar is leaner than beef and slightly gamey in flavor. It can be paired with many different Tuscan red wines, but its robust flavors are sublime with an earthy elegant full-bodied wine like Brunello di Montalcino or Brunello di Montalcino Riserva.
Selected Tuscan Cinghiale Dishes
Pappardelle al Cinghiale, a pasta made with wild boar sauce, is the most common dish prepared with cinghiale. The sauce is made of marinated minced wild boar meat (from the shoulder), Rosso di Montalcino, onions, tomatoes (optional), rosemary, bay leaf, celery and fresh grated nutmeg. Pappardelle are broad ribbons of pasta. Tagliatelle (a thinner pasta) is regularly substituted for pappardelle, but is less satisfying in our opinion. Pinci, a round pasta, is a better substitute. This dish is also sometimes called Pappardelle al sugo di Cinghiale on restaurant menus.
A variation on this classic (pictured here) is Pappardelle al Ragu Di Cinghiale, a wild boar ragu made with cubes of wild boar instead of minced meat, and cooked for several hours in wine with onions, carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary, and bay leaf. The ragu is finished when the meat is tender.
Scottiglia di Cinghiale, a stew made of wild boar, is another classic dish to pair with Brunello di Montalcino. It is usually made of adult cinghiale that is marinated in Rosso di Montalcino and cooked in olive oil, garlic, tomato sauce, rosemary and sage until tender.
If you live outside of Tuscany and wish to cook cinghiale, you’ll need to search far a purveyor. We found one—the Organic Butcher—in our backyard, in Virginia. The Organic Butcher can make special orders of boneless loin, Frenched racks, shoulder, stew meat, tenderloin, and ground boar. One of their most popular sausages is Wild Boar and Bacon. The Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas also sells wild boar cuts on-line. We’re not familiar with the availability of wild boar outside Italy and the US, but we know warthog can be found in South Africa, and, given the affinity of wild boar and vineyards, it’s likely the meat can be found in many wine-producing areas.
The Re di Macchia Restaurant in Montalcino is located at Via Soccorso Saloni, 21
The Organic Butcher has locations in Charlottesville and McLean, Virginia.
Mike Potashnik and Don Winkler