In my last column, I extolled the virtues of grey striped mullet, our local sustainable treasure that is under appreciated. I want to, once again, remind our readers to try this super-healthy, great-tasting fish and that now is the time to enjoy it. This is the time of year that the local mullet are getting fat. If you haven't tried it yet, it's time you did. Local fishermen including Capt. Anthony Manali are supplying our restaurants, and we are featuring it daily on our menus.
About another passion of mine is wild pigs. I love meat and poultry, but I am not crazy about the way it is raised conventionally today. I love to hunt, and I'm very serious about harvesting the right kind of game and making sure to be very careful about the way it is processed, stored and prepared. It makes a huge difference.
I'm fortunate to be able to eat a lot of deer and elk, and even some buffalo, but my favorite by far of all of the game is wild pig. You heard me right -- wild pig. It's interesting, wild pig and grey striped mullet actually have a lot in common. Many people don't appreciate either one of them for how delicious and nutritious they are, not to mention the positive impact they can have on our local economy. Wild pigs, when cared for and prepared properly, have incredibly tasty meat. The finest hams in the world today come from Spain. They come from a two-toed, black Iberian pig that is known for its beautiful, rich meat. Iberico Belotta are the top-of-the-line Iberian pigs. Berlotta is the Spanish word for acorn. They are free-range pigs with a diet heavy on acorns, which the Spanish say produces a rich fat that is very
heart healthy. A two-year-old aged ham of Iberico Belotta sells for $100 a pound.
Guess where our wild pigs came from? They were personally delivered in the early 1500s by Hernando de Soto from Spain. Guess what they eat? They eat grubs, shoots and lots of acorns, and that makes their meat really tasty. But there's a serious problem with wild pigs in Florida and most other states in the country. They are an invasive species that wreaks havoc on sensitive environmental lands, not to mention a lot of our local golf courses and some of our residents' back yards.
Native parks such as Myakka State Park and Duette, our beautiful county preserve encompassing 28,000 acres, have a serious problem with wild pigs. The parks manage them by shooting them, but they are required to leave them on the ground. Doing so makes for a bigger coyote problem and fatter vultures. So we've got a great-tasting meat, but we've got a big environmental problem.
It's time to take lemons and make limoncello. You see, this is a great opportunity. It took me meeting with Keith Mann of Three Suns Ranch to finally figure it out. Keith has 6,000 acres in the Punta Gorda area where he is raising 2,300 head of bison organically. He recently became the first USDA-approved wild pig processor in the state. Thanks to Charlie Hunsicker, who manages all of the environmentally sensitive lands for Manatee County, we now have a pilot project where we can create valuable jobs and produce top-quality meat instead of leaving the pigs on the ground. The pigs are trapped and brought in live and then processed at Three Suns Ranch. Our three restaurants -- Sandbar, Beachhouse and Mar Vista -- are the first restaurants in the state now using his wild pig product.
Chef Ian Fairweather at The Sandbar is making a great Cuban sandwich with the wild pork. Chef Will Manson at the Beachhouse is doing an outstanding roast wild pig with organic sauerkraut (made here locally with organic cabbage from our Gamble Creek Farm) and potato cakes and a pork sandwich on a ciabatta roll with red onion and pepperoncini. Chef George Quattromani at the Mar Vista is doing a wild boar pot pie with a flaky golden crust with a Lola pinot noir demi-glaze and truffle mashed potatoes. Honestly, I haven't had a chance to try this yet, but our guests are loving it, and just the sound of it makes my mouth water.
So here's to taking an environmental problem and turning in to a foodies dream and to one more great, local, fresh-from-Florida, wild, healthy product. Talk about a win-win.
Ed Chiles, owner of the Chiles Restaurant Group comprising the Sandbar, BeachHouse and Mar Vista restaurants on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key, can be reached at 941-778-1696.