The Story of Boar Taint: Or, when good pigs do bad things 

Taint It So

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The setting: A popular American chain, one of the better than average ones, a real five out of seven stars kinda place.
The time: A kid-free Friday night.
The players: Anonymous Wife and her spouse Chris Haire.
The drink: A super-sized domestic light that refreshes the soul with an ice-cold ineptitude, reminding you that you are better than this, better than this place, better than this life, and yet here you are.
The mood: Hangry.

Haire: Rib-eye? Prime rib? Cheap-ass sirloin? Ah fuck it, I'll get the pork chop.

Wife: Really? I've never seen you order a pork chop. Ever.

Haire: Well, there's a first time for everything.

Narrator: And a last.

Following a belching regret that Haire should've ordered a Jack and Coke instead of this watered-down bottle of rice-brewed Pox Americana and a limp salad, the kind that's so drunk on dressing it can hardly stand, the pork chop arrives, as does whatever it is that the Wife is having, which is meaningless, in part because it's inconsequential to the story and in part because she's a vegetarian. Excuse me, pescetarian. Damn hippies.

Haire dives into the meat with all the finesse of Donald Trump drinking a glass of podium water. He's pleased with his dining choice. Overjoyed in fact. And then it happens, the unthinkable. Haire takes another bite and is hit by the smell of urine and six-feet rot. He grabs the napkin from his lap and spits out a half-chewed wad of meat.

Haire: Oh my God, ugh ...

Wife: You OK? [Note: She is only half-concerned considering her neurotic husband is prone to magically discern which foods have been infected with the Ebola virus and which drinks have been laced with rabies.]

Haire: Yeah, yeah. I'm cool. But that meat, man, that shit's rancid.

Narrator: It wasn't. It was just a victim of boar taint.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of how I first learned about boar taint. More importantly, it was the moment when I finally began to realize there was a reason why I sometimes ate a piece of pork and it tasted rotten to me.

Like that time I was in the City Paper breakroom and we were eating subs from a now-defunct downtown sandwich shop. I'd ordered an Italian or whatever clever or not-so-clever name the establishment had come up with for its cold-cut combo of salami, capicola, pepperoni, etc., etc.

The sandwich looked delicious and it was supposed to be made of top-quality ingredients. I'm sure it was. But when I first took a bite, I thought I was going to gag. Again, it tasted like Market Street urine and roadkill opossum.

Thinking I was mad, or at the very least that my tastebuds were on the fritz, I turned to Scott Suchy, the City Paper's resident art guru, thrust my sandwich toward his face, and said, "Dude, taste my salami."

He declined. And that poor choice of words stuck with me for years.

So did the memory of that wretched taste.

But like I said, many moons later I finally learned the awful, horrible truth about boar taint.

Before I go any further though, and before I tell you what boar taint is, let me tell you what it isn't: It is not what you think it is. It has nothing to do with that spot between Object A and Object P. Get your mind out of the gutter.

As for boar taint, I'll let Dr. Tiffany Wilmouth of the Clemson University Department of Animal Veterinary Sciences tell you all about it:

"Boar taint occurs in meat from postpubertal boars. The perception is that the meat is rancid. The odor and flavor are both offensive. The two compounds responsible for boar taint are skatole and androstenone. Skatole is naturally occurring in feces, produced by the breakdown of tryptophan in the digestive tract. Androstenone is a testicular steroid that functions as a pheromone and accumulates in adipose tissue. While skatole is capable of being perceived by everyone, androstenone is not. Some people lack olfactory receptors for androstenone and will not detect it. The majority of people 75 to 80 percent can detect boar taint."

Fortunately, there's a solution, one that's employed by most farmers. Wilmouth explains:

"Currently, the best thing to do to prevent boar taint in meat is to castrate the male early, prior to puberty. The industry standard is to castrate anytime from Day 3 to Day 7 of age; however, some small farms will castrate later. The idea is to do it before the male enters puberty and the testes start producing significant amounts of steroids."

Unfortunately, Wilmouth says, earlier castration isn't always the cure all:

"However, there can be instances where the immunocastration immunization fails and there is a fine line between having anabolic steroids be beneficial to muscle accretion and tipping the scales toward androstenone production. The amount of taint seems to differ based on breeds, so selecting breeds or even specific animals that have less of a taint effect could be beneficial from keeping it out of the food supply. Management can also affect boar taint, confined systems where animals interact with their waste more frequently can have higher incidences of boar taint."

Thank you, Dr. Wilmouth. As a person who loves to dine on swine daily but whose olfactory system is highly attuned to the smell of boar taint, you are truly doing the Lord's work.

No one wants that taste in their mouth. And no one ever wants to taste my salami. Ever.

Learn more about pigs at SEWE's QDMA Lecture Series: Clemson Extension Forestry & Natural Resources and the latest advancements in feral swine management at 2 p.m. on Sat. at Brittlebank Park.



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