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The Tuscan wild boar – or 'cinghiale' – has the dubious double honour of being a local emblem and a local delicacy. It enjoys a measure of protection, particularly in the densely forested slopes of the Maremma and in other regional parks, but the snuffling and foraging which usefully aerates the woodland floor is less welcome in village gardens - or in Tuscany's famous vineyards. Tempted down from the hills by the scent of ripening grapes, wild boar can rip through rows of vines in minutes, causing damage counted in the millions.
Given the animal's reputation as a pest, few locals argue with the need for population control. The hunting season – between mid-September and late-January – remains part of the rural year, particularly for the older generation, and provides a prime ingredient for rich and sustaining recipes. When simmered, the lean meat lends a subtly gamey flavour to the sauce for pappardelle cinghiale: the closest thing Tuscany has to a national dish. Savouring it on a winter's day with a fine wine may demonstrate why many in the countryside are reluctant to abandon their tradition.
Fortunately, Tuscany's visitors tend to take a gentler interest in these creatures. Your best chance of spotting a wild boar is when driving along a winding country road at dusk. Look for a blackish-grey back, with a slight bristly ridge, hidden in the undergrowth; if the boar ventures out, you'll notice the distinctive, wedge-like silhouette, the animal's long snout and its surprisingly dainty trot. The young are more or less as Walt Disney would have drawn them: cute piglets with pale stripes running through their chocolate-brown fur. Be aware that their mothers may attack if they feel their family is threatened; however, this is probably the only time that you have anything to fear.