In the test kitchen we develop recipes for cooks across this great land and pride ourselves on using supermarket ingredients that anyone can find. I believe there’s something inherently American about this egalitarian approach. The food we make may not be trendy, but it’s definitely delicious and accessible to any home cook willing to read and appreciate the details we put into our recipes. The flipside is that we work with a lot of pre-portioned chops, boneless skinless chicken breasts, cellophaned spinach, and boxed broth.
I think most of my colleagues would agree with me that our work is deeply satisfying (and that our self-imposed limitation on ingredients is a genuine catalyst for creativity), but it doesn’t change the fact that, for many of us, we’re no longer dealing with the raw foodstuffs that seduced us into the world of professional cooking in the first place: primal cuts of beef, wild game, whole fish, soil-caked vegetables with roots intact, foraged mushrooms, and stock-making animal bones. I don’t wish to return to the restaurant life, but I do need to cook with these bigger, dirtier, and wilder foods from time to time. It was during one of these logic-blurring moments of itching that I was convinced by photo team test cook Daniel Cellucci that we should travel to upstate New York to stalk and kill a boar. We’d field dress it, butcher it, and bring it back to the test kitchen where we’d grind, smoke, cure, and cook to our hearts’ content. Here’s the story.
Boar aren’t native to North America, and while there are a few regions of the country where feral populations thrive (and even achieve nuisance status), most specimens on this side of the pond are found in preserves. Daniel located one such hunting ground in upstate New York called Big Boar Lodge. Run by proprietor Mark Clark, the lodge sits next to a 280-acre game preserve with a sizable population of wild Russian boar. For seasoned deer hunter and Cook’s Country assistant test cook Nick Iverson, the idea of hunting a game preserve bordered on sacrilege, but for the rest of the city-slicker hunting party (myself included, plus Cook’s Country senior editor Bryan Roof, staff cameraman Steve Klise, and Daniel), it was deemed an appropriate level of challenge. The lodge’s location near the Finger Lakes offered us two great stops on our near-six-hour journey from Boston: Rubiner’s Cheesemongers and Grocers and The Meat Market, both of Great Barrington in the Berkshires region of Western Massachusetts.
At Rubiner’s we picked up a couple excellent offerings (Saenkanter Gouda, Prairie Fruits Farm Angel Food Goat, and Cricket Creek Farm Tobasi) for the trip. The Cuban sandwich at adjoining cafe Rubi’s was a group favorite, offering a hit of spice and a porky prelude to the upcoming hunt.
As we pulled into the parking lot of The Meat Market, crisis struck: It’s closed on Mondays. We’d come for dry-aged rib eyes, housemade porchetta, and chicken liver pâté, but instead bit into a meaty helping of dejection. Daniel, trip organizer and die-hard optimist, persisted and managed to gain us access to the shop and its awe-inspiring dry-aging chamber (no, we did not break and enter).
At a quarter to six Monday evening we pulled off a dirt road onto the gravel driveway of the Big Boar Lodge. In the fading Spring sunlight we acclimated ourselves to the sloping green hills, bullet-torn hay bale targets, and countryside quiet of our destination. Tomorrow, we’d hunt.
Stay tuned for the thrill of Day 2′s tusked, bristle-filled expedition.
Photos by Steve Klise