Dear Ace: Is there was any connection between Charlottesville’s Boar’s Head Inn and the Boar’s Head Brand of delicatessen meats and cheeses? And if not, just what is it about the head of a boar that makes me feel so danged refined?—Glazed-and-Confused-in-Charlottesville
To answer your first question: Nope. And even less so now, since Boar’s Head Inn’s Executive Chef Terry Sheehan has pledged to serve up more locally sourced dishes at the esteemed resort. To be honest, though, this is one of those questions that Ace has wondered about for nearly as long as he’s lived in Charlottesville, but was never motivated to ask. And it would make sense. Both the Inn and the Brand occupy a certain lofty, storied aesthetic space, a burnt color scheme of auburn, sepia and gold that doesn’t really have much to do, per se, with the hairy, mud-loving, wild ancestor of the pig.
But as a symbol, the boar’s head has likely attained its regal standing in our collective unconscious due to its role in one of the oldest continuing festivals of the Christmas season: the Boar’s Head Feast, an ancient pagan and Roman pageant. In pre-Christian times, the boar was considered both the sovereign of the forest and a public enemy to be feared and hunted. Following its successful slaying, the boar would be the first dish served at a feast, often with its severed head ceremonially dressed and garnished. In time, the custom would spread across Europe and the Americas. Contemporary Boar’s Head Feasts—you know, with mince meat and plum pudding—follow protocols that originated at Queen’s College in Oxford, England in 1340, when according to legend, a scholar once killed a charging boar by shoving his metal-bound copy of Aristotle’s Metaphysics down its throat.
But that broadly traditional flavor is about the extent of the connection between the UVA-owned Boar’s Head Inn, which traces its name to a series of eponymous 16th-century London hotels, and the Boar’s Head Provision Company (a.k.a. Frank Brunckhorst Co., LLC), which began distributing products under that brand name to New York City delicatessens in 1905.
You can ask Ace yourself. Intrepid investigative reporter Ace Atkins has been chasing readers’ leads for 21 years. If you have a question for Ace, e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.