Last week the Pig Hotel in the New Forest very kindly offered me free lunch and a tour. As a free loading pig enthusiast how could I refuse? There are a small but growing number of Pigs, if you see what I mean, and their format was familiar from Babbington House, which is the posh boutique hotel / restaurant around the corner from us in Somerset. There were two things that marked The Pig out as being rather different, though.
I do like pigs. Although I’m not a proper swineherd we do buy in weaners, which we grow on and knock on the head, to fill our freezers for months. Pigs are intelligent animals and their treatment by some overseas producers in particular can be terrible. I’m very picky about the provenance of any pork I eat, which is one of the reasons I started to be interested in them.
We keep Large Blacks, which are a wonderfully phlegmatic West Country breed, although The Pig goes for Tamworths, the punks of the porcine world. Tamworths are semi-feral in my book, always trying to escape/knock you over/have a ruck – you get the picture. They’re a good laugh, though, and very tasty. To my delight, at The Pig they sit in a field next to the hotel, opposite the quails and chickens. Good looking, happy pigs staying at the Pig Hotel.
My plant m.o. suggested I should have been more interested in the kitchen garden, which was indeed lovely. There’s some interesting stuff there, but I thought the most interesting thing was the philosophy behind all this. We were eating pork raised on site and veg from the garden, local farms or foraged. By chance I listened to a fab talk by Alys Fowler today, about foraging (i.e. her new book). One of the points she made was the current lack of connection between people and their food, and that by re-establishing it you’re helping re-establish a broader connection with the natural world around them. Forage Wild Garlic (very trendy) and you’re suddenly aware of Ramsons and where they are. Although she was talking about foraging, the same is true of animals and veg. James Golding, the head chef at The Pig, was disarmingly honest about how they plan their menus; they don’t. He uses whatever is ready in the garden.
The second thing that marked The Pig out to my mind was the staff. Like Marcus the head gardener James is in his twenties and fabulously keen. He’s even tattooed with a guide to butchering a pig – this is not a man whose commitment to the cause is in doubt. These guys have enthusiasm and energy as well as vision. Great job.