They weren’t called Bull Boar sausages at the time. But when Italian and Italian-speaking Swiss immigrants formed a community on the Victorian goldfields around the Jim Crow Diggings (now Daylesford and Hepburn Springs), they brought with them their traditional sausage-making skills. What they simply called “salsicce” were eventually dubbed Bull Boar by their English-speaking neighbours. It was a reference to the mixture of beef and pork the sausages contain.
There are many recipes for Bull Boar sausages, handed down through the generations in local families. As well as beef and pork, they contain red wine in which garlic has been steeped and a mix of spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. The spice mix varies from family to family. At least one version I’ve seen includes Chinese five-spice, which would originally have been purchased from Chinese merchants on the goldfields.
There is some controversy about the origins of these recipes. Some make a case for the Bull Boar being a completely local development, asserting that the rich-tasting sausages would have been beyond the means of the impoverished immigrants in their home countries. Others have drawn a link to a sausage called Probusto, and specifically to Probusto di Rovereto. Rovereto is a town in the Trentino–Alto Adige region of northern Italy. However, since most of the Italian speakers in the area came from the region around Ticino, the Bull Boar sausages may have links to the Luganiga sausage traditionally made in that area.
Luganiga is a cured meat made with pork, lard, salt, pepper, spices, garlic and Ticino Merlot. The grind size is slightly bigger than that of the ground meat. The casing in which the mixture is stuffed is made from beef intestines. After being cooked in boiling water, the Luganiga is served with boiled potatoes or Risotto.
It’s not clear when the salsicce were first called Bull Boar. An account in 1916 talks simply of Italian sausages being boiled in wine or beer. Whatever their origin, Bull Boar sausages are now considered to be a unique local product, in danger of disappearing as the families with Italian heritage disperse beyond the Daylesford region. As a result, they were among the first Australian foods to be included in the Slow Food Ark of Taste.
While the time and effort involved in making the sausages may have discouraged their production by individual families, there are butchers in the region who are keeping the tradition alive. Their strong garlic taste may not be for everyone and their relatively lean composition may not be ideal for the barbecue, but their status as an iconic local food will surely guarantee their survival.
For 25 years, from 1993, the region celebrated its heritage at the Swiss Italian Fiesta. It was scheduled to return in 2021 but owing to the COVID-19 pandemic was forced to take place mainly online.