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The Passion of the Boar

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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!

When a reader invited me to spend the week-end at his castle in France if could write an article about it, I told him sure, but we need a food angle. Just make me a list of what you need, he said. Seeing the huge walk-in fireplace on his website, I went medieval, got out my quill and started writing: One wild boar, two hunters, 5 pounds of whole almonds, woodfire, .... Sure enough, when I arrived on the Thursday, the fine people who run the castle had located all of it.

Readers of the vegetarian persuasion are advised to skip this article - it will show how local hunter Hubert hunted, killed, gutted, skinned and roasted a wild boar much like in the Middle Ages. And we didn't even get the wild boar's name, so I'll understand if that is too much for city folks to palate and apologize in advance. Just check back next week for the medieval desserts article.

To honor the wild beast, we placed it on a large spit in the castle's giant fireplace. Hubert and his mate Denis had gone the day before to shoot and gut him the day before in a boar park, so this was a civilized wild boar.

We decided to light a fire to warm up the wild boar's wake and François-Xavier Cremel (chequered shirt), the son of the hunter, helped us. His business is to sell French castles to foreign investors - a fine occupation indeed.

When I spoke of a walk-in fireplace, you thought, here is FX exagerating again. Just check out the picture for yourself, with Guy [gee] the caretaker standing inside the fireplace.

The beast is finally ready for a proper wake in the Great Hall. Besides the fireplace, various hearth-cooking implements to please readers of The Magic of Fire. You can see the rest of the this impressive room in my 360° interactive panorama of the Great Hall, or a close-up shot of his Lordship the Boar.

You can't say a kadish for a wild boar, so we all thanked him for lending his young flesh to flatter our jaded palates and moved him out into the courtyard.

Hubert hung the beast by his back legs to a gothic door. I guess we know who the bell is tolling for.

As soon as the boar was safely hanging from a beam, the caretaker's mama-dog suddendly found new spirits and fearlessly crept out of his hole to start barking to tell the boar what he really thought of him.

Amazing how brave can certain creatures become given the right circumstances.

Denis Hartmann (left) and Hubert Cremel (right) start skinning the boar.

Hubert Cremel is a local farmer and was the mayor of his village for many years. He is also an avid hunter and has a strong gallic persona.

Hubert and his younger friend both carefully pass their sharp knives behind the fur to separate it from the flesh. To a city person, such a scene can come across as barbaric, but that would be the height of hypocrisy. I don't mean to say that it is fair or unfair to kill animals for food - that is a matter each has to settle for himself. But which furcoat-hater has never sat on a leather sofa? If you have ever seen the truck come into a tannery and pour on the pavement six dozens bloody cowskins, some still warm, you live in blissful oblivion of where our leather comes from. Is it any more cruel to kill a boar who was brought into this world and fed good corn and could freely roam a nice woodland park for all his short life? I don't think so. Many cows and pigs don't live a life half as nice as this here boar did. As a consequence, I will accept cries of disgust only from those who can swear they have never placed their feet in leather shoes nor ever sat in a car with leather interior.

As they progress on the boar's legs, the unters join forces to pull its trousers down.

Denis and Hubert continue to work on the beast ...

... until they reach the head. We ask him to keep the fur on the head for better effect. I mention having read an 18th century recipe for boar head pâté, and Hubert explains that at home he piles boar heads in the freezer and when he and his mates feel like it, they cook them up. Sounds like a bit more than I could eat, but on the other hand is it not more respectful of the beast no to have killed it just for the hind legs but on the contrary to eat everything?

A final pull and the skin is off.

Hubert clearly is not afraid of knifes. The man is a veteran of the war in Algeria.

Denis owns the local BMW dealership.

The boar dripped his blood on the medieval pavement scattered with rose petals.

Denis let the dog lick the boar's blood off his hands.

While we all sat down at a table under the trees to try the local wine, the dog licked the boar's blood between rose petals the wind had blown on the rock slabs.

Hubert pulls out a horn and out of sheer boyish playfulness, sounds it ...

... while Denis unhooks the skinned boar with the help of Hubert's son FX

The skinned boar was left to hang in the castle's larder for two days. Next page, see how we roasted the boar and carved it in the castle's Great Hall, plus two more 360° interactive panoramas. Don't miss this!

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.