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The Passion of the Boar (page 2 of 2)

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We roasted a whole boar on woodfire at Hattonchâtel castle in France for a memorable medieval banquet. See how it's done, from start to finish. Not for the faint of heart!
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On the Saturday, as I drove back to the castle after my visit at Dutriez, the jam maker, I saw the castle sit on his hilltop with the whole village in tow like a giant stone caterpillar. In the plain, Mirabelle orchards and cows pasturing quietly. These cows produce the milk that makes most of France Brie de Meaux.

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While the guests roamed across the castle's grounds and salon (360° interactive panorama of the salon), Hubert Cremel set out to roast the boar outside the castle.

Hubert is an expert in the art of the méchoui, the North African whole roasted lamb. He used the same gear to erect a vertical wood wire in a metal grate box, and placed the unmarinated skinned boar on a giant spit of his own invention. The boar hangs above a tray that collects the dripping fat while the spit rotates to cook it evenly.

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I ask him whether he needs to lard or bard him before roasting. Absolutely not, he answers, this boar is very young, 14 months or so, and has been fed regularly, so his meat is not dry like an old wild boar. All I do is baste him with a mixture of oil, water and spices. You'll see for yourself. I ask Hubert what he thinks of my ember-roasted tubers, and he says Yes they should work fine. I've know about roasting vegetables in ashes for 50 years, we all started doing it when we came back from Algeria.

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From time to time, Hubert moves the two sheets of ondulated metal he brought to shield his fire from the wind. Seeing the boar in such capabable hand, I move up to my room to rest for a while before dinner.

When I look out from my room's windows, I saw a huge cliff spread in the woods below my feet. The room was very atmospheric - you can see my interactive 360° panorama of the tower room at Hattonchâtel.

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As I come down for the banquet, I see that they moved it back in front of the giant fireplace, with the long banquet table stretching in the Hogwarth-sized hall. People are waiting, almost 40 now around the huge table.

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Hubert expertly carves the boar in very thin slices. I look amazed at the beautiful brown crust on the meat. It actually looks much better than I expected.

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There was a long debate as to how the food ought to be served. Too many guests for people to be served à la russe, and a buffet might offend les huiles de la Meuse, so we settled on service à la française, with Guy bringing trays of roasted boar and vegetables on the table. I leave the master hunter and boar roaster confer somberly near the fireplace and move to finally enjoy the results of our work.

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The big enchiladas are all sitting near the boar, but I go and sit at the other end of the long table with the hoi polloi. I had planned to tell the local politicians that I found the solution to end unemployment in the Meuse by having every jobless person make quill-seeded red currant jam, but then, setting my eyes on a huge try of roasted boar, a call of nature stopped my thoughts and my reptilian brain took over. I helped myself to a heap of wild boar meat.

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I expected the boar to be dry as a wooden beam and to taste like a grouse. How could it be otherwise, such a lean beast, roasted for hours? But no, what an unexpected surprise, the flesh was rosy, juicy and covered with a delicious brown crust. Incredible. I had to go back four times for more. Well done, Hubert!

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Although I designed the banquet so that I could shoot my articles, I took no part in the preparation of this amazing roasted boar. My thanks for this dish go to Caroline, FX and Hubert Cremel who have done an outstanding job. I think this will be first of many roasted boars at Hattonchâtel. They can roast a wild boar for you too if you rent the castle out for an event - just contact them.


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«Without the fine work of Mr. FX, some of us would die without ever having seen a <br />senescent castle dog barking at a gutted corpse of wild boar that dangles <br />head-down from the stone wall, blood dropping among windstrewn flower petals and <br />dust.» After Cheese Comes Nothing 15/10/2008

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Thanks for sharing that unique moment with us! What a beautiful boar! I love that meat! It must have tasted heavenly... My cousin's grandfather was a hunter in Grisons.


  • #2
  • Comment by babazar
I hunt boar in Turkey all the time but I would not eat it rosy aand juicy as you seem to have done. Generally, I marinate for a day or more then I cook like a Turkish Tandir (roast) for 5-8 hours at lower heat.
I would have the fear of pork tricanosis (?).
Just a comment but would like to hear/see your reply.
I like your blog very much.
  • #3
  • Comment by Paul Mckenna
Excellent article and a lot of work must have gone into it.

Would you be able to tell the difference between free range pork and wild boar ?

  • #4
  • Comment by Katalin Gulyas
This very much reminds me of my childhood,when my father came back from hunting at 5 am and woke us to help him  cut,gut and prepare the boar.
We roasted it whole,with fresh herbs, paprika,or cut it into pieces and slow-cooked it in a bogracs (a cauldron we use a lot in Hungary)with red wine,thyme,bay leaves and a bit of whole dried chili.
Great memories were awoken,thank you for the article!
As always you have given a beautifully photographed and detailed account of this Food Experience.  Thanks for sharing.  At moments I felt sorry for that Boar!  Ewwww.
Wow - when you say Midieval you aren't kidding!  This looks like quite an amazing experience. I would have thought you'd age the meat longer than 2 days.  Was it tender after such a short aging time?
Thank you again for an exceptional post, one you teased us with and delivered in a big way.
One thing I liked about your experience is how you noted that the hunters kept the heads of the boars for later consumption. That reminds me of a mantra that I have in my kitchen first spoken by Thomas Keller: "Respect for food is a respect for life."

It does not make me sad about the plight of the boar, as it was treated with respect, and consumed. It looks like nothing went to waste there, and that is what it is all about. I have never actually seen a pig roast over a pit, but I have prepared a function for one. (When I worked in a hotel resort.)

That reminds me of a little anecdote, if you will humor me: On the day that I was preparing the function for the roasted suckling pig, there were of course about a hundred servers scurrying around, preparing their setups. One asked innocently where she could find the flowers for the tables. I directed her to the walk-in refrigerator with the spitted pig hanging between two shelves. Let's just say it took a couple of years to live that one down.

Thank you for the educational, informative post. I hope that my blog will become the quality of yours one day.
#2 Babazar asked an interesting question about trichinosis. Here in the U.S.A. we can eat pork that is less than well-done, because there is no trichinosis in commercial pork. But when I eat wild boar I make sure to cook it thoroughly, or have it frozen at low temperature for 6 weeks, just to avoid the possibility of disease.
  • #9
  • Comment by David
Impressive! I have had several wild boars, but none that have been roasted like this. Looks outstanding! Being from the Midwest of the US, I have been to several "hog roasts", but I know this boar would be decidedly better:)
What an amazing feast!  FULL DISCLOSURE:  I did have to whiz by the "skinning" portion of the program but enjoyed the glorious walk-in fireplace and the resulting banquet.  That fireplace is right out of CITIZEN KANE!
  • #11
  • Comment by Mike

Lachaim! =)
Another Great piece!

I grew up hunting boar and have alwayd loved the taste of a well roasted hog.

Thanks Again!

Wow, what an amazing photo series!
  • #14
  • Comment by Tony Spagnoli
While I'm not a huge fan of boar I do always appreciate the step by step process of preparing and cooking. It's now my favorite time of year in the kitchen. Hearty meats, root vegetables, winter squash, mushrooms, dried fruits. For me this is when I'm at my most creative and customers seem most adventurous! Thanks for your article.
  • #15
  • Comment by Angelo
Asterix and Obelix would have been so happy to attend this feast.

Beautiful pictures Francois. Excellent work. ^_^

In the Philippines though, we'd have roasted the boar in a pit with the skin on. Being a tropical country, having the boar ripen a day or two is just not possible. We'd be giving all sorts of nasty bacteria an invitation to breed on our delicious wild boar...
YUM.  I've been to a pig-pickin' featuring a 100-pound pig slow-roasted for 22 hours in the ground.  Pork is THE meat.  Looks like boar roasts slowly over wood, like bison (which, by the way, makes the BEST raw sushi -- try it!).  But, one suggestion:  a bit more respect for the handsome animal?  They die so we can live.  What ceremonies do we use to thank the animals who feed us?  They're not our enemy soldiers -- they're the founders of the feast.
  • #17
  • Comment by Andy
Bravo Francois! Another great and informative post. The pictures are exceptional and very educational. Am I correct that the heat source for cooking was to the side rather than under the boar? This is surprising since it must take constant turning to get it cooked evenly. While I am not a fan of wild game I would have taken this trip back to 1266 any day. I also loved your reference to the village looking like a "stone caterpillar" . The close up picture of the cooking boar with blackened flesh and charred head was a bit of a horror show but worth every gasp. I must say that it is refreshing to read your blog and experience the pictures since you have such a unique approach. It really looks like a magazine to me.
  • #18
  • Comment by Alys
Nice, as always. I appreciate the respect shown to the animal and the appreciation that he received.

Not too many "wild" boars in Canada except on game farms as they are an imported species. They can be a problem where they have escaped or been set free into the wild (it has been a problem in our prairie provinces for about the past decade). Trichinella spiralis is an issue to consider ...
  • #19
  • Answered by fx
Alys, I am certain that Canadian hunters will be glad to come and help regulate the population of wild boars!
  • #20
  • Answered by fx
Andy, I must admit that when I discovered the boar apparently covered in ashes and black all over, I thought my goose was cooked and the prospects of a successful banquet were gone. But no, the rosy meat was just amazing. Thanks for comparing my blog to a magazine, perhaps I can sell some paper publication one of my articles!
  • #21
  • Answered by fx
Donna, where did you have this extraordinary pig picking feast? Sounds really amazing!
  • #22
  • Answered by fx
Angelo, would you have marinated the boar to tenderize the meat? And, in the Philippines, would you bury the boar in some hole in the ground filled with embers?
  • #23
  • Answered by fx
Tony, indeed it is a fine season for the lover of meats and tubers, but I do miss our glorious summer vegetables. Eating in season is nice, though makes for variety and makes one appreciate all the more those things that are at their peak only 2 weeks a year like green peas!
  • #24
  • Answered by fx
Thanks Jaden!
  • #25
  • Answered by fx
Dave I have never hunted a boar, that is really the part missing from this article I guess.
  • #26
  • Answered by fx
Mike I hope nobody was offended by my little religious jokes, after all holding a wake for a wild boar in the Bishop of Verdun's former home might be acceptable only on the Day of the Fools!
  • #27
  • Answered by fx
Real Chiffonade (I hope that's you!), this indeed is much like Citizen Kane although I can't say that my visit of Hearst castle impressed me as much as Hattonchatel, but I guess he must be thanked for having provided at least one tourist sight on the road between Frisco and LA!
  • #28
  • Answered by fx
David, I am not sure if every boar spit-roasted in France looks exactly like this one, but in my book it really should. Simple and delicious, making the boar the center of the meal- you can't beat that!
  • #29
  • Answered by fx
Iamnotachef, I am told that trichinosis is an efficient was to lose weight and I might try it. Now apparently the parasite is prevalent where boars are fed other boars, and somehow I can't see this happening for semi-wild boars in France, where roasted wild boar is considered best served rare. But clearly, there is a small risk. I conclude that we should hold wakes and eat only boars with the most impeccable pedigrees.
  • #30
  • Answered by fx
Jason thanks a lot for your kind words! Game in the refrigerator can unsettle some people, that's for sure!
  • #31
  • Answered by fx
Dana this was a really young boar, only 14 months old, and it had been killed the day before, so in total it must have aged 4 days in total. Definitely enough, the meat was succulent and tender! For the trichinosis I think there must be some testing, apparently in most countries only a handful of cases are reported every year, and some countries like Germany serve raw-pork dishes.
  • #32
  • Answered by fx
Dawn, I understand your feeling towards this young and handsome boar, but on how many chickens who live in horrible cages piled on top of each other live under a cascade of refuse, only to be transformed into tasteless nuggets? I guess this boar's life was much nicer, and he ended up being the soul of the party in a thousand year old castle. For an animal, is this the worse way to go?
  • #33
  • Answered by fx
Katalin, thanks for sharing an amazing memory of your childhood! Did you live in the woods? Was the wild boar ever roasted or always simmered?
  • #34
  • Answered by fx
Paul, indeed I had some fun with my off-camera flashes for this article, but this was a work of pleasure, sleeping and eating like a Bishop in a French castle for taking pictures, I really can't complain! Pork has less taste, boar is a stronger meat with slightly more fibers. I must say I had never eaten it roasted but will definitely do it again the first chance I get!
  • #35
  • Answered by fx
Babazar, thanks for visiting my site! I am very fond of tandir cooking and am amazed that you can find a one big enough to cook a boar in it. Do you put the whole marinated boar inside the tandir hanging from a hook? How do you marinate it - what spices do you use for this? In which part of Turkey do you hunt?
  • #36
  • Answered by fx
Rosa, it was heavenly indeed! I have never tried boar hunted in Switzerland, this would be very exciting, I'll look for some hunters...
That boar meat looked delicious! My grandfather was an expert boar hunter on his island and passed the skills on to a couple of my uncles. For my first birthday he roasted up two hogs for the party! In our part of the world (tropical) though, the boars or pigs are shaved and the animal is roasted skin on. I'm guessing it's because the hides are not needed for clothing. Any was you do it though, wild boar is good eating!
  • #38
  • Comment by marilia
The perfect dinner! (just like the pictures). We should all take active roles in our feeding manners. This place semms like heaven!

I feel like I was there from your story and photos, I wish I was there  to taste it! I could set up my tent, be fruitful and multiply, in that humongous fireplace!

Pehaps you might  diagram how you use off camera flashes relative to your camera, to get such a beautiful lighting.  I'm ready to learn and try, knowing it can look this good!

  • #40
  • Answered by fx
Ivan thanks for your appreciation! For off-camera flashes you need little flashguns like the Nikon SB-800, you place them on top of small collapsible light stands (little tripods) and then trigger them either using the built-in on-camera flash, or, like I do now, with a wireless flash sync. I'll try and post a picture of me doing this in the future so you guys can see how it's done. The best results sometimes are when you don't really realize there is a flash, for instance the two pictures of Hubert the Hunter roasting the boar outside the castle both had a flash on him to provide for a crisper, more detailed subject in the face of the strong sunlight.
  • #41
  • Answered by fx
Marilia, glad you liked the article, should sounded like heaven!
  • #42
  • Answered by fx
Fran, I think it's a great idea to use the boar skin, this should provide for even better taste. I was quite surprised - and relieved - to see that Hubert managed to get a crispy crust despite having skinned the boar. When I asked what people usually did with the boar fur they laughed, maybe some carpet for a die-hard bachelor, they said. In which part of the world did your grandfather roast boars?
  • #43
  • Comment by Magda
FX- that looks fantastic! Thanks for another wonderful article!

On a different note- I've just finished reading a book that I thought might appeal to you "The Billionaire's Vinegar" by Benjamin Wallace :)
  • #44
  • Comment by Katalin Gulyas
We did roast it whole,in a similar fashion to the article.I'm actually a city girl,never lived in the woods or country,but my parents are really outdoor people,so i spent a lot of my time in father's hunting lodge.It was a great time and gave me an interesting set of skills.
"Real Chiffonade (I hope that's you!)"

Yes, it's me!  You can always tell when it's me because I don't spend anytime belittling people - just enjoying the comradery of cooking and the love of cuisine.  I so enjoy your blog and live vicariously through your international experiences.  Thanks for perpetuating the message that food is community and, as such, promotes harmony and commonality amongst we who value the talent.
FABULOUS as ever ... and I have been thinking of your adventures all this week, since my copy of the Magic of Fire arrived - we have a new woodburning range, so just at the moment I am very interested in the old ways of cooking with flames.

I have been enjoying your medieval series immensly Francois. I am just wondering when we will see you wearing chain mail... :-)
  • #48
  • Answered by fx
Foodjunkie I'll try to come dressed as a knight next medieval banquet!
  • #49
  • Answered by fx
Joanna, thanks for your kind words! What is a woodburning range? Do you mean some outside open hearth?
  • #50
  • Answered by fx
Magda, I looked this book up, sounds quite funny! I have "War and Wine", same general topic, more gloomy however.
  • #51
  • Comment by Helena
Wow this is informative. I'm glad your post skimped over most of the bleeding out, cleaning and skinning though. And I'm guessing you were glad you get to leave the unpleasant and bloody work to the experts too.

As for the walk-in fireplace. Wow. Pretty! I'm guessing Guy was just posing in there pretending to light up the boar, unless that fireplace has another exit or he was planning to do a Santa Claus. Nice fireplace. Is that the castle's version of central heating? Historically, does the heat from that fireplace do anything besides warm up the room it is in.

I was wondering, what happened to the pig skin? As far as I know, most tanneries do not tan pig skin. Was it a DIY job at the castle or was the skin just thrown out eventually?

And why would the skin go straight into a larder? I understand the carcass needs to be cooled down before cooking, but the skin? Won't the fat and membranes left over from the skinning need to be fleshed off? Or was the skin stored there due to the lack of time to do anything with it?

Also what is the temperature in the larder? Just wondering because some tanners believe hides should not be frozen, others believe a freezing and thawing cycle actually helps the hide to become softer and easier to work. Just wondering which way you all went about doing things.

Also for the boar ending up so juicy, was the roast larded with the fresh boar fat? If so, that would explain why it was so juicy. Otherwise it is just plain and simple kudos to the chef. :)

As for the seating arrangements, just be glad no one there were offered the eyes. ;) From what I've heard, Bedouin Arabs of the African deserts used to offer visiting foreigners eyeballs at the feast, claiming it was a treat. I don't know if it were really a treat, but it sure kept the foreigners away. ;)
  • #52
  • Answered by fx
Helena, the castle has actually been razed to the ground by Cardinal Richelieu and now it is equipped with a furnace for central heating. But back in the days each room had its own fireplace and I am not aware of medieval castles with devices to spread the heat across the building. I would gladly have asked for the hide to be turned into some furry hat to help me fight the rigor of Swiss winters, but the dog got it first. I don't think they use it much these days. The boar was not larded nor barded and indeed, kudos to Hubert the roaster!  
  • #53
  • Comment by Julie
What a lovely castle! Do they allow visitors or do you have to book an event?
I am always surprised when meat eating friends express disapproval of hunting & yet seem quite happy to eat factory farmed meat, which I believe is more cruel. I used to go hunting with hawks occasionally for rabbits (& the odd pheasant- the hawks just would no matter how often you told them not to) & the prey would either be caught & dead within seconds or else would get clean away. So much less suffering in my opinion.  The meat was always better too and the rabbits were plumper, so the kind of life farmed rabbits have must be much worse than their free cousins.
Thank you for an interesting article, as always.   
As always, this was such a pleasure and thank for the 360-degree views!
  • #55
  • Answered by fx
Cynthia glad you liked my boar article!
  • #56
  • Answered by fx
Julie, yes they allow visitors although things are changing right now and visiting schedules might change. You can definitely book the castle, they have three suites for now but are working on refurbishing more rooms.
  • #57
  • Comment by ayhan uçmaklı
Dear fx,Wild boar hunting in Turkey permitted throughout the year as they are regarded pests for agriculture. The best season is late autumn as they are fatter from the chestnuts etc. Almost all black sea region, northern trakya and Kaz dağları (Kaz mountains) (which expands from Bursa to Çanakkale)and Toros mountains north of Antalya are forested and teeming with boar. There are arranged tours and plentiful meat as the locals regularly hunt and don't eat the meat.
  • #58
  • Answered by fx
Ayhan, do you mean to say there are no Turkish recipes for boar at all? I know that some Turks eat ham and drink alcohol, but never really investigated. Of course it makes sense - boar is pork - but does this mean I can't get to see some traditional Turkish boar recipe?
Hi Francois-Xavier,
Once again your serie is just amazing , i didnt realized that as been on the scene the pictures would be making such a good illustration of this first roasted boar experience.The idea sounds interesting for duplication for one young couple willing to get married at the chateau next year.
We hope that it will be as good as this one. have a nice weekend FX. I also apprciated your turkish tour
I'm not so thrilled with the skinned boar pics, but I understand the process and love slow roasted meats.
The finished product looks amazing.
  • #61
  • Answered by fx
Laura, indeed the boar skinning is quite medieval and not for all to see, but the result was well worth the work.
  • #62
  • Answered by fx
Good morning FX and thanks for your participation and that of your father to this memorable meal! I hope he will like the pictures too, this was really an extraordinary opportunity for us to take those nice pictures. I am sure that for French weddings the idea of a wild boar roast will be very appealing. Several readers had questions about the danger of Trichinosis, perhaps you might ask the person who has the boar park to see what he says, I'm sure it's quite safe but people might want to know. Next week is my last article in the Hattonchatel serie!
Wow, *that* is the way to do whole-hog barbecue in France!  I've never seen the vertical roasting style before - usually the carcass is suspended above the coals, not next to them.

That plate of food makes me want to weep. Was that roasted radish and beet on the side?
  • FX's answer→ Nate, the beet and turnips are described in another article in the Hattonchatel serie, just following the link on top of the article. Roasting meat right above the coals is a sure way to have fat drip on the flames and come back with a vengeance in a huge flame that will burn the meat.

  • #65
  • Comment by parshu
By Toutatis, what a feast! Hunting is now banned in India, but in my teenage years I did go on shikar(hunts) mostly from the back of army jeeps, and we (the Hindus and Sikhs only, our Muslim/Jewish buddies would stick to deer kababs)would enjoy the very lean and tough meat of wild boar later from a jar, tenderized and turned into pickle that tasted just awesome with "parathas". The occasional hunting of boar on foot, with shotguns and frangible filed bullets we called dum-dum in Hindi - needed a cold head as he could become very fierce when cornered by the beaters - our uncle's old regimental orderly (from Rajasthan) would say that on occasion they could drive away a tiger.
  • FX's answer→ Parshu, this sounds like really extraordinary memories! Is all hunting legally banned in India?

  • #67
  • Comment by parshu naryanan
Yes it is, unless the animal is declared crop destroying "vermin" (mostly is Nilgai antelope) in any area. I have refused to go on such shoots because i dont think it is much sport to pop off the large and clumsy Nilgai, dazed by a jeep-mounted searchlight. As in any third-world country with corrupt officals, the rich and privileged can bribe or influence forest officers into letting them hunt.A Bombay movie star called Salman Khan is facing trial for shooting a blackbuck in a widely reported case.
  • #68
  • Comment by Anita Clarkson
Hi Francois-Xavier & Caroline, what a great article - I came upon this when trying to obtain your details through the internet. Pleased to see the exciting progression of your business.  Well done - please contact me.  best regards
  • FX's answer→ Anita, glad you liked the article and I hope you get to stay at Hattonchatel soon!

  • #70
  • Comment by Brandy
Wow!  Beautiful photos, and a beautiful young boar!  Thanks for sharing the WHOLE procedure.  It was fascinating and informative.  Your photos of the unskinned beast in the hall did honor to his gloriousness!

The amazing dish he became looked very delicious, and if we ever have a chance to return to France, we will consider a stay at this beautiful castle!
  • FX's answer→ Brandy, thanks for your kind words!

  • #72
  • Comment by Marian
Regarding the roast boar in FRONT of the fire rather than OVER the fire:  

If you look at pictures of 16th and 17th and 18th Century kitchens you will see that this was the standard method.  Over the years we have roasted a number of lambs in our back yard, and we always do it in front of the fire.  Advantages: (1) you can collect the drippings in a pan; (2) you don't risk burns while basting; (3) fat does not drip into the fire to create sizzles; (4) you can cook in front of a full fire -- no need to wait for embers.  

We rigged up a forked spit holder and use 2 parallel spits to reduce the labor of turning.  The spits are about 3-4 inches apart.  We start with both spits sitting in the south forks (fire is to the north), after 15 minutes we move the upper spit to the north forks, after another 15 we move the remaining spit above the other in the north forks, and after another 15 move the bottom one back to the south forks.  Rinse (with basting) and repeat.  

Following a Medieval Spanish recipe that suggests "beating [the roast] with a green stick", we use long, thick rosemary rods dipped in garlic-infused olive oil to thwack the roasts just before the spits are turned.  This presents a newly basted side toward the fire.  

Our guests have no complaints.
  • FX's answer→ Marian, indeed roasting directly over the embers is a surefire way of burning the meat with flares, old kitchens have all sorts of dripping trays to collect the juices rather than see them turn into billowing towers of fire! I love the rosemary/bay leaf branch used to baste the meat, so poetic!

  • #74
  • Comment by Louis
Your desription of the event is wonderful and only surpassed by the event itself. I have roasted wild boar and bushpig cuts on many occassions and spitroasted SKINNED bushpig. I now have a wild boar with skin on (hair has been removed) and I would like the opinion of Hubert as to whether I should skin the hairless beast, or roast it with the skin. Can you help?
Love the site, and LOVE this post! Wish we could pull off such an impressive boar dish! :)

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