The United States has a pig problem. Wild boars have been wreaking havoc on farmlands across the country for decades, causing $1.5 billion in damages and associated costs every year.
First introduced to North America (in the Southeast) in the early 1500s as a source of food, and then again in the 1900s to give hunting enthusiasts something else to kill, the invasive swine that roam across the country are a hybrid of the originally introduced wild boars and escaped domestic pigs. In 2016, the National Feral Swine Damage Management Program (NFSDMP) estimated between 5 million and 6 million of the beasts were distributed across at least 35 states. They destroy farmland, creating chaos wherever they go and eating nearly everything they see, from crops to man-made waste. They're also terrible for the ecosystem: A study conducted by Rice University and Texas A&M pointed out that areas used by wild pigs saw a significant reduction of plant diversity.
“One day I was watching the news and saw a segment on wild boar overpopulation,” Emil Chiaberi, co-owner of Burattino Pizza in Rancho Palos Verdes, says. “I think we can all come together as a country and solve it.”
Chiaberi called a supplier in Texas that contracts with local hunters and asked for wild boar sausages and custom-made boar pepperoni. His restaurant co-founder and chef Lee Kim took the ingredients and crafted a wild boar pizza.
The pizza can be ordered with cheese and a scattering of mushrooms, or with black garlic, gorgonzola and cherry tomatoes.
Feral pig meat has a more peppery finish than standard pepperoni. “I’m from Uzbekistan and my uncle used to hunt boar,” Kim says. “It’s a flavor I remember vividly from my childhood.”
The team hopes to expand its boar menu to include wild boar sausage sandwiches. While it’s an unconventional ingredient, Chiaberi and Kim say their customers have taken a liking to it.
“At first we were just giving it to loyal customers, but we got excellent feedback and found out that people really love it,” Chiaberi says.
For Erik Sun, a chef, restaurateur and hunter based in California, wild boar is an ingredient he hopes will find increased popularity in the mainstream restaurant industry. Sun is an investor at downtown Los Angeles’ Bestia and is in the process of opening two meat-centric restaurants of his own in the Bay Area.
“If we make a comparison to tuna, everyone starts off liking the fatty toro but then over time gravitates toward the more nuanced akami. As kids we want the sweetest things, but as we grow older we enjoy less sweet desserts," Sun notes. For him, boar is that more nuanced cut of red meat.
"[It's] loaded with flavor, and the age and sex of the animal can alter the taste,” he says.
A hobbyist hunter on both sea and land, Sun starting shooting boar in California's Central Valley more than a decade ago.
“One thing led to another and I ended up getting a special permit to hunt pigs because wild pigs have such an overpopulation problem,” he says. “The Department of Fish & Wildlife will give out permits on certain properties that have too many pigs. Pigs have three to four litters every year.”
In California, wild pigs exist in 56 of the state's 58 counties, and the state has an entire manual on how to legally and safely kill and handle the feral swine. It includes recipes.
Wild boar in California present an abundance of food, but as someone who processes his own catch, Sun is realistic about the challenges of cooking wild game.
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“People really need to know how to cook it. It can still be tough,” he says, pointing out that these are free-roaming animals whose meat tends to be on the drier side. “I would say 10 out of 100 boars that I catch are truly amazing. And not all the cuts are good.”
Still, the taste of the meat can be rather complex, depending on what the boar was foraging.
“It can be almonds, figs, pistachios, grapes or pomegranate. What they finish on is what they taste like,” Sun says. “While it's still a niche market, I’ve noticed that people are more open to it now.”