Pannage, also known as ‘Common of Mast’, is an ancient right going back centuries that was granted to ‘Commoners’ all over the country to allow them to release their pigs into the woods in the autumn to gorge on acorns and beech mast (gluttonously…!). It’s no secret that gluttony equals happy pigs!

The only place in the country where it is still formally practised is the New Forest and here, most importantly, it’s also a safety measure to protect the New Forest wild ponies and cattle from being poisoned by eating the acorns.

Every autumn in the ‘Pannage Season’ pigs are released into the Forest to do their Pannage work and get fat on free food. A century ago the number of pigs released into the New Forest was about 6,000 but this has reduced significantly; now it’s only about 600.

The Pannage tradition in the New Forest goes back to 1079 when William the Conqueror founded the New Forest for Royal Hunting. The commoners were granted the right to turn out cattle, ponies, donkeys, and mules to graze in the Forest, and then during the autumn season the Common of Mast which gave rights to release their pigs into the Forest during the Pannage season. The same rights are still in place to this day.

The diet of acorns and beech mast makes a real difference to the flavour of the pork – it has all the wonderful taste associated with the best Spanish acorn-fed pork, and as you would expect the legs of the pigs also makes delicious Air-Dried Ham.

David (of Slow Food Supporter Capreolus and award winning
Charcutier and Master Epicurean) has been working with Jonny Burrell of Hockey’s Farm near Fordingbridge who, in conjunction with Commoners nearby, have released pigs into the New Forest during the Pannage season.

2020 was one of those special years when the oaks produced a spectacular quantity of acorns, it’s known as a Mast Year. Most years the Pannage Season is normally only 60 days long but in 2020 the New Forest Verderers (who manage the Forest) extended the season by a further 7 weeks. The pigs had the opportunity to really gorge themselves on the acorns and this has, without doubt, helped to produce a truly wonderful flavoured ham. Not only is this fine ham a special edition but it tastes REALLY special!

David says; “This special limited edition award winning ham epitomises our ‘slow food’ commitment. We use rare-breed, traditionally raised pigs and cure each cut of meat separately. The meat is then fermented and air-dried which intensifies the flavour and makes the fat silky smooth. Our ham takes a whole year before it is released for sale. We believe that it is the only acorn-fed air-dried ham made in this country and it’s well worth the
12-month wait!”

We couldn’t agree more, this nutty delicious ham shows the true craft of the charcutier, but also helps in the management of our land. Flavour, biodiversity, heritage, and culture in each slice.

If you would like to try the pannage ham you can buy it at their stall in Borough Market in London, Hockey’s Farm Shop in the New Forest, or online.