Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wild Boar Raised On Local Kelp?

Throughout the UK and France, there is a long-standing tradition of raising lamb on salt marshes.  These lamb are considered by many chefs to be some of the best lamb in the world.  Interestingly they are not any more salty or savory than a grass-fed lamb, but are alleged to be more sweet and tender with a pleasant complexity of flavor.  As far as I am aware, it has been generations since any American ranchers have focused on saltmarsh grazing for livestock, and saltmarsh lamb cannot be found anywhere locally.

After doing some research on saltmarsh lamb and reading the glowing descriptions of its culinary merits, I wondered whether it would be possible to replicate some of this flavor using seaweed, an abundant and sustainable resource along our coast.  A bit more searching revealed that on the Shetland Islands, herds of sheep are seasonally confined to the shoreline where the forage on freshly washed up algae.  This seemed like a very promising start for my idea, so I made a few calls.

Two weeks later I showed up at a Linda’s ranch in Carmel Valley with a huge bag of kelp from the Monterey Abalone Company.  Both the Abalone Company and Linda were nice enough to placate my desire to see if lambs would actually eat giant kelp.  Linda was familiar with adding a seaweed supplement to livestock food, but had never tried feeding them freshly harvested seaweed.  Our first stop was at the lamb barn.  Linda dumped the giant bag of slimy seaweed into a large feeder in the middle of the pen.  The lamb quickly gathered around, sniffing it, then licking it, their faces quickly revealing complete indifference toward this foreign food.  I wasn’t ready to give up yet, so we headed next door to the goats.  Goats have a reputation of being ravenous and undiscerning eaters, so I figured they would eat it right away.  Sadly, they were no more interested than the lamb.  Feeling defeated I threw a few fronds of kelp into the pig pen where they were quickly gobbled off the muddy floor, then spit back into a puddle.  Things were not looking good.

As I made my way back to the car I stopped to look at the wild boar.  The baby boar who had lured me into dropping my cell phone last time, were now all grown up now.  I tossed a few pieces of seaweed into the pen and immediately heard the popping stems and the sounds of satisfied chewing.  I threw in another piece and sure enough they were loving it!  This was not my goal, but the idea of Carmel Valley Wild Boar raised on local kelp was intriguing!   There must be instances where wild boar in Big Sur forage on the beach for food, so perhaps the seaweed seems natural.  It will take at least six months to determine whether feeding the boar kelp will  benefit to the meat’s flavor.  I also need to decide whether we will feed 100% wild boar, or try it with one of the litters of Berkshire-boar crosses.  Being that this is all taking place in Carmel Valley, surrounding my incredible vineyards, I also couldn’t help wondering whether there would be a benefit to feeding the pigs wine….After all, the practice of feeding wagyu cows beer and sake is well documented in Japan.  What would be the ultimate diet for a lamb or pig?  Would this kind of local feeding regiment really noticeably enhance the finished product?  These are all questions I must pursue…….. 

To be continued…………………………………….

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