The cinghiale or wild boar is a famous wild animal in Tuscany and many other parts of Italy and yet often quite elusive. In the last four years since living in Lucca I have read in the daily papers much about this animal and that they have increased greatly in numbers and can often be seen in the more populated areas of the countryside close to towns. Whilst driving around the Lucchese hills I have spotted little wildlife, just the occasional small deer at dusk or late evening and, although it is a nocturnal creature, never a cinghiale.

This has not surprised me as Lucca’s hills can be densely wooded, often steep hills and lush green valleys, particularly in the region of the Garfagnana that is crossed by the Serchio river as it flows past Lucca towards the sea. This type of wooded terrain is the ideal habitat for the cinghiale to flourish and to hunt them is on the increase as their numbers grow.

My only encounter with the cinghiale has been in the civilised atmosphere of a trattoria or ristorante where pasta courses often have it on the menu in the form of a ragu, similar to the more famous Bolognese meat sauce.

Ragu or salsa di cinghiale has a more intense flavour than pork since the meat is classed as game, generally shot individually in the wild and not killed and processed in numbers like most meat products. Using the shoulder cuts that carry more flavour, the ragu is marinated and cooked very slowly using varied recipes, ingredients and seasonings. The wider ribbon-shaped pasta known as papadella is traditional with meat sauces, as is polenta but in Lucca the tordelli or meat-filled ravioli with a meat sauce is the classic dish.

I have witnessed the ‘traces’ of the cinghiale at various friends’ properties in the Lucchese hills around Moriano and Aquilea. Here we spotted tell-tale signs of footprints and earthworks made by cinghiale rooting around olive groves, vineyards, orchards and root crops and have heard the sound of dogs barking and single gunshots at dusk as the hunters or cacciatore stalked their prey.

On the 5th January I and some friends had a pleasant evening meal celebrating the eve of Befana, the Italian folklore of the old lady that appears at Epiphany. As we left the Hotel Carignano around midnight and drove along the Via di Sant’Alessio, that runs close the flood plain of the river Serchio, the headlights of picked out an amazing sight. Standing in the road just a few yards away was a cinghiale! My friend Eddie slowed the car down and to our astonishment this single cinghiale that crossed the road was followed by another seven or eight of them. To us this was a rare sight indeed as we thought they were mostly solitary creatures. Unfortunately, the encounter happened too quickly to record it on our phones but it was an unforgettable experience nonetheless.

As is often the way, I had waited four years hoping to get a glimpse of this notoriously shy, and often thought of as an aggressive animal and yet, in one moment I saw a whole family, happily from the safety of a Range Rover.