Story by David Thompson
Photo by Matt Mallams
Before the summer of 2009, if you wanted a taste of wild Hawaiian boar, your best bet was to don camouflage, grab a rifle and head into the forest. Now you just need a table at the right restaurant. A handful of local chefs have realized that behind the black bristles and yellow tusks of Hawai‘i’s feral swine lies a tasty alternative to commercial pork.
It’s a sign of the times. “In the old days you probably couldn’t give wild boar away,” says Brady Yagi, third-generation owner of Kulana Foods, the Hilo slaughterhouse that supplies USDA-inspected wild boar to high-end restaurants. “People only wanted commercial pigs.” Then two things happened: Consumer demand for wild and sustainable foods rose, and macadamia nut prices crashed. As unharvested mac nuts littered the orchards, wild boar trotted in to snarf them up. An enterprising and cashstrapped farmer in Waiakea trapped one of the animals in a cage and brought it to Kulana Foods, which was already supplying restaurants with Big Island beef, pork and lamb. Word got out that Kulana had mac nut-fed wild boar, and just like that a new Hawai‘i food phenomenon was born. A small network of trappers now delivers live boar to Kulana, which sells the meat either as fifty-pound cases of Portuguese sausage or as a whole animal: snout, tail and everything in between.
“It has an earthy, almost umami flavor, depending on the size of the pig, what it’s been eating and whether it’s mating season,” says Mark Tsuchiyama, executive chef at Kona Village Resort, who puts boar into both his ragu sauce and white bean stew. At the Four Seasons Resort Hualälai, boar has gone into adobo, onto skewers, atop flatbread, even inside of corn dogs. Roy’s Waikoloa Bar & Grill has stuffed the sausage into quail and deep-fried dumplings, and the French toast with wild boar bacon is a top seller at Merriman’s Waimea, which goes through a whole animal a week. Merriman’s has put boar into daily specials ranging from roasted pork loin with pineapple chutney to headcheese (a type of cold cut). “Because we’re using the whole animal, we have a different item every day,” says owner Peter Merriman. “A lot of what we’re doing is rediscovering the lost art of using the whole animal.”