Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wild Boars, Peccaries and Javaporcos

In contrast to their domesticated cousins, the common pig, wild members of the group of animals known as swine have only recently been making their way to the fashionable dining table in Brazil. Or, it should be said, returning to the fashionable dining table, as historically hunting wild pigs for human consumption was common throughout Brazil. For a very long time, however, the meat of wild pig was considered to strong tasting, too "wild" in fact, to be used as an ingredient in sophisticated cuisine. No more, however. Leading-edge contemporary chefs in Brazil's major cities are tripping over themselves trying to create new dishes and recipes featuring the meat of wild pigs. Recently, a major gastronomic website in Brazil highlighted a new recipe for confit of wild boar, and terrine of wild boar is showing up in contemporary-cuisine restaurants in Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Brasília and other urban centers.
Peccary (queixada)
Behind this new-found popularity, however, lurks an environmental battle between an invasive Eurasian species of wild pig and a native American species. The Eurasian species, with the unappealing scientific name Sus scrofa, was brought to southern South America by Spanish and Portuguese explorers, and is called javali in Portuguese, and in English is normally referred to as wild boar. The only-distantly-related native American species (Tayassu pecari) is called queixada in Portuguese and peccary in English.
Wild Boar (javali)
The original range of the wild boar (javali) was extensive in Eurasia, and there are still wild populations there. This animal was carried across the Atlantic to what is now Argentina and Uruguay, where it returned to its feral ways. Having no natural predators in the New World and reproducing rapidly, the wild boar spread from Uruguay into Southern Brazil. The native species, the peccary (queixada), is native to most of the Americas south of the Rio Grande river, the border between the USA and Mexico, but has found its range threatened by the wild boar. The Brazilian Environmental Protection Agency (IBAMA) considers the wild boar an invasive species, and has created a number of programs to limit or stop the growth of its range. To date they haven't had much success, and the situation is made worse by the close genetic relationship between the wild boar and the common pig. They can crossbreed, and have done so, creating a hybrid animal called the javaporco.

There are commercial producers of both wild boars and peccaries in Brazil, and the product that ends up on restaurant tables is from one of these producers, as health-standard legislation prevents the commercial use of wild meats. IBAMA, naturally, has a preference for queixada, but most chefs prefer to work with javali. The exception is found among those chefs who value local and native food sources - their preference is to serve queixada.

Here at Flavors of Brazil, we've eaten javali, and properly prepared to eliminate its gaminess, it's a delicious meat. Queixada remains to be tried, but we're on the lookout for it. Once we've sampled it, we'll return to this subject with a comparison.

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