NOT A CREATURE WAS STIRRING
A beautiful magazine that should not be missing in the homes of those who love Italy and its cuisine
During a trip to Tuscany, we join a club of hunters and Panzano’s famous butcher to track boar, the most delicious of the area’s wild beasts.
The din of barking dogs in the distance changes pitch and grows louder as Riccardo Dainelli’s radio squelches with the word-at long last-“cinghiale.” The.president of La Squadra Chiantigiana hunt club, he has been waiting nearly eight hours for this, and shouts what he’s heard back into the radio. “Boar! Boar! Boar!” Within minutes, the barking mixes with the sound of rustlin leaves and snapping branches.
They’re bringing it thare” Dainelli says, sottovoce, and readies his rifle.
As the yelping of frenzied dogs becomes deafening, a shot rings our from a hunter one hundred yards to the left. Silence. Bang again. Finally, a third shot echoes off the ridge. As the commotion from the dogs moves behind us and trails off into the distance. Riccardo sighs. “I think he missed it.”
LIKE BRlTA|N’S FOX HUNT, |TALY’S LA
Caccia al Cinghiale, or boar hunt, has always been as much a social activity as a sport. And nowhere in Italy is it so deeply ingrained in the region’s culture as in Tuscany, where wild boar have roamed the landscape since the ancient world.
The caccia is recorded in Renaissance art, and Italian nobility maintained vast forests guarded against poachers for the sole purpose of entertaining guests
with the thrill of the hunt. Today, this tradition still thrives-Tuscany boasts nearly 100,000 registered hunters, who participate in dramatic. Highly organized hunts from the middle of October through the middle of January. The wild boar is also fundamental to the cannon of Tuscan cuisine, where it is cooked into rich stews and pasta sauces, made into salami, cured into prosciutto and used almost any way that pork might. But in America, it’s far less common to find its distinctly rich, earthy flavors gracing the menu at restaurants or for sale at butcher shops.
Besotted by Tuscany and the mystique of its wild boar that roam the countryside in vast numbers, I plotted a way to witness a hunt for myself.
BY MICHAEL WILSON * PHOTOGRAPHS BY DOUGLAS GAYETON
On the day of the hunt, accompanied by two of my favorite industry insiders, Mark Ladner, chef of New York City’s Del Posto restaurant, and Joey Canpanale, a restaurateur and Italian wine guru, I meet the hunters as the sun starts to break through the clouds on a gray morning. On top of a hill not far from Panzano, forty or more men clustered in small groups, snacking on homemade focaccia and sipping coffee warmed by a bonfire gather in a football field-sized clearing at the end of a dirt road. Clad in quintessentially green and camouflage hunting garb, the youngest person is 13 and the_oldest 92, but the majority are in their fifties and sixties. “Don’t listen carefully to the language today” Dainelli tells me. “These guys have the day off and they’re on the hunt, so you’ll hear a lot of swearing and dirty jokes.” In his sixties with thick white hair that sweeps back from his forehead, Dainelli is the president of La Squadra Chiantigiana, and is in charge of organizing and orchestrating all the hunts for the club’s ninety members.
A small congress convenes around a map that’s been unrolled on the hood of a dusty red jeep, pinpointing the hunters’ posts along the perimeter of a horseshoe-shaped, 200 hectare kill zone.
The structure of a Tuscan boar hunt is regimented. The hunters are stationed around the edge of an active kill zone in which the dogs and their handlers, called canai, are released. Their job is to find the boar, surround it, and frighten it into running toward the stationary firing squad of hunters.
Determining where the active hunt will take place is not as simple as determining the location of boar. This part of Tuscany doesn’t have any public land, and there aren’t any fences marking property lines in the dense woods, clearings and vineyards.
Hunting permission must be granted by regional Tuscan governances that monitor the boar population and environmental effects of hunting, and then by the local landowners. Since the boar roam freely throughout these hills, each hunt’s kill zone within a largerpreviously designated hunting area is determined by the canai with a small group of scout dogs that sniff out the presence of boar early on the morning of a hunt.
Once the kill zone’s perimeter and hunting posts are set, a lottery determines each hunter’s post for the day The lottery ensures that the post appointments are random, which is important for a group of hunters who know the land and which posts may be best for spotting boar. After locating their assigned post on the map, they get into their cars and drive to their positions, while we follow the canai to the hunt house to collect the dogs.
During a Tuscan boar hunt, the dogs are the real hunters, and the hunters are the killers. The club includes a kennel that houses more than forty dogs at any given time, though only twenty are chosen for this hunt. Choosing the dogs is up to the discretion of the canai. Small in stature, skinny and athletic, most of the dogs used by La Squadra Chiantigiana are a breed called Segugio Maremmano, which is known to be fearless, persistent and to have particularly loud barks. The club breeds their best dogs during the off-season and raises the puppies in the kennel.
They also have a small group of rescued mutts that they train to hunt alongside the Segugios. The dogs are cared for and well-trained by the canai, yet they’re not pampered.
Today’s dogs are selected, loaded into cages and then trucked up a bumpy dirt road to the opening of the kill zone. When the cage doors on the truck opens, the dogs, shaking with excitement, spring onto the road, darting in different directions, down the sides of the hill and into the woods.
Within minutes, most of the dogs are out of sight, and the hills are ringing with a cacophony of barking, echoing through the valleys and filling the woods-some you can hear at least a kilometer away. lt's an eerie sound that signals the hunt is on.
THE DOGS AREN’T JUST THE HUNTERS;
they're also the infantry, bold herders who spend the day in the center of the kill zone with nearly fifty rifles pointed their way; and they're the harbingers, signaling the hunt`s beginning and apex. “He will tell us, and the other dogs [when he finds a boar],” says Guarducci
Terzo, a mustachioed canai in his forties with a strong Tuscan accent. “His bark will get high-pitched and loud--I mean, really loud, almost a crying sound.”
With the dogs on the move, their handlers follow them into the kill zone, shouting, “qua, qua, qua,” or “here, here, here,” to make sure they stay within the hunting area. We follow, on edge knowing the animals aim to root out feral boar, and more than a littleunnerved that we`re surrounded by loaded guns.
While walking down a path carved into a hillside, a sharp, solitary bark from above gets aggressively loud and ferocious. The ground above us rumbles.
“That’s a daino (a small breed of Italian deer). The barking, it’s too low, he’s just chasing a daino,” Terzo informs us. “lt’s not a boar bark.”
Just then, the daino springs from the woods, jumps over the road behind us and barrels down the side of the hill. Seconds later, a dog launches out of the trees, four legs outstretched, and disappears after it. “He’ll chase that daino all day,” Terzo says, unphased. “I-le probably won’t find the boar.”
Neither do we. Not after hours of walking up one hillside and down another, not through fields of thick bramble, dense woods and along the edges of vineyards. Every so often, we spot a speck of an orange' vest in the trees when we pass a hunter at his post--sitting and waiting in a way that challenges the definition of what we’re doing as sport- but we never hear the “boar bark.”
By midday, Dainelli's voice comes over the radio to' say we’re moving the kill zone slightly ro the east. The hunters hike back to their cars, reconvene, consult the map for new postings and return to the woods.
Dario Cecchini has packed us a picnic of sandwiches made from his finocchiona, the delicious Tuscan salami infused with fennel, as well as slabs of pecorino Toscano, a delicate yet pointed local sheep’s milk cheese.
We wait with the canai as they whistle for the dogs to return to the trucks, move them to our revised kill zone and pick up the hunt again.
Hiking back though the hunt zone, two canai grumble about the lack of boar today. As the afternoon goes by and the sun lowers in the sky, we are led to' Dainelli’s post on the perimeter of the kill zone.
He tells me this is the most unfortunate of his hunts, and that they usually average about seven boar per hunt, about 200 a season. The most they have killed in one day is 28.
As l consider that we are now zero for seven for the day-and Mark Ladner tells me that sitting on a hunting post today must be as exciting as ice fishing in Wisconsin-we hear ir. A high-pitched wail from a group of frantic dogs, cold, clear and haunting, comes through the thicket on the hill in front of us. It`s the unmistakable boar bark.
ONE OF THE DOG HANDLERS RAD|05
it in. "Cinghiale.” Dainelli straightens his back. pulls his rifle to his shoulder and says, "They`re bringing it here.” The yelping of frenzied dogs becomes deafening and the Forest in front of us fumbles with ferocious commotion - they can`t be more than fifty yards away. The thundering of the boar and yelping dogs moves toward the post to our left, and l fail to see anything through the trees. Then gunfire from a local policeman hunting at the next post over rings out. Three shots are fired... for three misses.
The sun begins to set, and Dainelli radios out that today’s hunt is a wrap.
The hunters are deflated by the lack of boar. We begin our descent down the dirt road, jammed into the back of a Range Rover.
Unexpectedly, our radio blasts with the news that a boar was just spotted near a hunter’s _Ieep as he drove down the hill, and he hit his mark.
“Che Fortuna!" What luck, is repeated over and over with regard tothis fortuitous turn of events. I wonder if this is really possible. Did the hunter see the boar by the road? Did he shoot it out the window of his car? We arrive on the scene to find a dead boar nestled in the grass, surrounded by three hunters as more show up. One bullet wound- square between the boar’s eyes-reveals an almost impossible shot. I ask who gets to claim this kill, and am mer with confused looks from the hunters kneeling by the boar. Cautiously, they praise “Il Capitano,” our hunt master Dainelli, for the day’s win.
THAT MORNING, NEAR OUR FIRST
rendezvous point, I had met a farmer who raises Cinta Senese pigs, an
ancient and particularly delicious breed of Italian pig that’s quite rare. While talking to him, he admitted that he has trouble with the local boar getting onto his land and mating with his sows,creating a sort of hybrid.
Probably, it`s the kind of animal he would be happy to part with, and certainly one that could pass for a boar in a pinch-a suspicious coincidence.
The day’s trophy is transported back to the club house, where it is skinned, beheaded, its organs removed and the body hung overnight to let the meat settle. The next day it will be broken down into cuts and chops divvied upamong the day’s hunters.
With the sights, sounds and smells of gutted boar in our heads, we convene for a hunters’ dinner on long benches at wooden tables that fill the main room of the clubhouse.
Members of the club cook and serve the meal from a small kitchen next to a large, cartoonish mural of a boat being chased by a dog. Tonight’s dinner is a special occasion, because it is close to the end of the hunting season, and eighty people from Panzano are invited as a thank you to the local landowners for allowing the club to hunt on their property over thelast few months.
It`s a wonderfully Tuscan affair, with local winemakers serving stellar Chianti Classico as plastic plates piled with penne dressed with a wild boar ragu arrive fromthe kitchen.
Made of boar meat from last week’s successful hunt, the ragù was cooked for hours, and is soft, oily and robust with hints of game meat. A classicsauce made from a battuta and ground boar, I relish this pasta unlike any other I’ve had because I am there, in Tuscany; in the La Squadra Chiantigiana club house, finally getting my hands on the ingredient we spent all day chasing.
The next morning, while checking out of my room at Panzano’s lone hotel, the woman behind the Front desk asks me how the hunt went. I explain that we didn’t find a boar, but not for a lack of effort or artillery “You should have just had lunch here on the patio yesterday with your rifle,” she says. “There was boar rooting around in the backyard causing trouble. I would have appreciated you shooting it.”