When it comes to pork, the ladies have it. Young female pigs – Gilts – in the view of most farmers and butchers ‘in the know’ produce a better flavoured, more succulent meat than their male counterparts.
Have you ever experienced a rather unpleasant aroma and flavour when cooking pork? A smell that is not dissimilar to one whilst passing by an intensive pig farm. That is most likely to be ‘Boar Taint’. We used to call it ‘pissy pork’.
This is caused when male pigs – Boars – reach puberty. Its hormones take over, it starts chasing the ladies, and it can have a negative effect on the eating quality of the meat.
In the past, most male pigs were castrated in the first weeks of their life for this reason. I recall helping father to catch the piglets, and holding them by their back legs whilst he performed a quick surgical stroke with a scalpel to removed the testicles in a ‘fairly’ painless procedure. These were discarded onto the floor and promptly eaten by the farm dog.
The practice of castrating pigs has become less common, although in Italy, where they keep the pigs until a greater age for the charcuterie, they still perform this to ensure a good eating quality product.
It is not just pigs that suffer from this, all livestock can have a taint if the males are left to a certain age. Many years ago, we once had some rare breed lambs, hoggets actually (about 18 months old), that had been kept ‘entire’ just in case the farmer wanted to use them for breeding. The meat was strong, dark and unpleasant, but we learned from this. Experience is the greatest teacher.
Modern day pork grows quickly and the pig is usually ready for the butchers block before the problem arises. However, it does still occur occasionally, and we actively avoid any boar pigs. We only buy gilts from Colin Piercy, our pig farmer near York. The flesh is firmer and drier to handle, tends to carry some fat which is all important for succulence and crackling, and the flavour is superior to that of the male pig.
How do you as a customer ensure you only get the best meat? Get to know your butcher. Do they have an understanding of the meat, where it comes from and the history and welfare of the livestock? If an animal has forfeited its life to feed us, it’s only correct that we give it a decent time whilst it’s on this earth. Meat should not be viewed as a commodity.
Finding a local Q Guild Butcher is a great starting point.
So what happens to all those boars which are born? Well, they are sold on the supermarket shelves!