The Pursuit of Pig
Our journey to Italy for an intensive course on everything PIG. Learning how to butcher the pigs, make sausage, salami, and of course eat a lot of meat.
After enjoying the pig-handling course, it seemed to make sense to get a better idea of the all the possibilities for our piggies. The perfect excuse to go to Italy and see how every last scrap of the pig is used by artisans with an incredible respect for their animals.
We arrived at Pisa airport on a grey Thursday afternoon, checked into our little hotel in Pietrasanta and went straight into an introduction to Italian salumi with Giancarlo Russo, As a co-author of Slow Food Guide Salumi d’Italia and Lecturer at Universita’ Gastronomica di Pollenzo, his knowledge and passion was overwhelming.
We soon suffered information overload, but later discovered it to be worth every minute. We learnt what to look for and the questions to ask the norcini (butchers) such as the age and weight of the pig, where the pig had come from and when it had been slaughtered. We also learnt the basics of casings, drying and maturing, before heading out to meet the artisans.
For the first evening we were welcomed into the home of Gabriella Lazzarini, where seafood took centre stage. Well aware of the imminent arrival of course upon course, we were still unable to restrain ourselves.
We were greedy, ate far too much too early on and struggled our way through the final courses. Highlights included anchovy prepared 4 ways, mussels stuffed with veal and local fish wrapped with lardo.
The next morning we were up and out to see Massimo Bacci, a local butcher to the northern coastal plain of Italy to learn as much as we could about ‘insaccati’ - meat in sacks, or sausages.
Although Massimo spoke no English, and we spoke no Italian (we had Giancarlo to translate) he was the most patient of teachers, answering our questions and allowing us to practice various techniques until we got the hang of them.
We witnessed the whole process from start to finish starting with cleaning the meat, lean meat to fat ratios, seasoning recipes and ideas, tying techniques, grinding and filling the casings.
A really family business, with the shop next door and the house above, Massimo's father checked in on us every now and then, and came through to get more meat for customers.
We were then provided with a lunch which included the raw sausage we had just produced. These guys eat it as though it is Nutella, spreading it thickly on their bread in all its meaty glory. It was delicious, better than the best steak tartare. It was creamy, fresh, and very delicately seasoned to allow the flavour of the meat to speak for itself.
We were also treated to their lardo, which they cure in huge marble basins, using the marble from Colonnata. This is not lard as we think of it in the UK, but a delicious, delicate and slightly sweet tasting meat. It is aged for at least 6 months in the marble basins with lots of salt and their own special blend of herbs and spices. We bought a huge piece to smuggle home in our suitcase that is still going strong and tasting just as great.
This was only half way through our first day, and yet we felt like we had learnt more in one morning than we could possibly learn from reading books and looking things up on the internet. If you're interested in learning the way artisans in Tuscany make their produce we cannot recommend this course highly enough - but it's no jolly. If you want to amble around tasting some produce and meeting locals, we'd suggest taking yourself on your own adventure. If you want to learn the traditional techniques and gain more information than you thought ever possible, this might be the course for you too.
The rest of our adventures TBC. There are too many interesting stories and photos to stuff into one post!