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Umbrian Pork - Salt, Pepper and Time
Letizia Mattiacci and Tharani Sivananthan
The art of preserving pork in Umbria, and in particular the Valnerina area close to Norcia, stretches back to the 2nd century BC. Because of the poor farming conditions in this cold mountainous area, the inhabitants of Norcia relied on animal husbandry. This art was perfected under the Roman Republic and Roman Empire, and continued to thrive under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church State until modern times. The meticulous selection of livestock, the expert dry or humid curing, the distinct and diverse flavoring, the personal care and attention by specialists of this art, all contribute to the production of these exquisite delicacies.
Prosciutto umbro (Norcia-Valnerina)
Umbrian Cured Ham. Prosciutto di Norcia is the king of Umbrian delicacies. The most famous of Central Italian ham is unmatched in quality and taste. The prosciutto is made of salted and naturally aged meat from the hind-quarters of heavy mature animals. A Prosciutto di Norcia will generally weigh at least 9 kilos.
Prosciutto di Norcia is savory but not salty in both smell and taste; each slice presents a variety of shades of garnet. The unique nutty taste of this ham is a perfect companion to a side dish of Mediterranean fruits or grilled asparagus.
The animals are raised in high mountain ranges over 500 meters above sea level in the Valnerina district. The calciferous rock of which the mountains are mostly made filter rain water to create natural cellars with perfect conditions for the slow ageing process (14 months or more) resulting in top quality cured meats.
Also known as lonza, ossocollo, capicollo, coppa. Capocollo is the famous Italian sandwich meat, characterized by its tenderness and aromatic flavor. Umbrian capocollo is made from prime cuts of pork neck, which is salted and flavored with fennel, garlic, salt and black pepper and cured in a red wine brine. The craft of capocollo preparation includes storage in fresh cellars where the capocollo is painstakingly massaged by hand for at least 30 days. The capocollo is bound with natural string and allowed to air-dry. It is then wrapped in brown-paper and hung for 45-50 days at a temperature of between 10 and 14°C.
A slice of Umbrian capocollo is compact and has a savory but slightly sweet taste which improves with age and adds refinement to any appetizer. Also delicious as a cold main course together with a salad of rucola (arugula) dressed with olive oil and lemon and wedges of pecorino.
This soft sausage has a bold and assertive flavor and tenderness. It is made with shoulder and bacon meat, which is repeatedly minced to obtain a creamy texture. It is stuffed in natural gut casing and allowed to air-dry for 2 weeks.
Delicious when spread on a slice of crusty Italian bread and accompanied with slivers of green apple, grapes or a little forest honey.
These spicy, pear-shaped sausages are characterized by their small size and intense flavor. They are made from coarsely ground lean pork, seasoned with good amounts of black pepper and garlic. The fiaschette are dry-cured in rooms heated with natural log fire for 40-50 days.
The spiciness of this salami is a perfect balance for delicate, close textured Umbrian bread. Can also be added to a rustic meat-based risotto.
The original and most famous of Umbrian salami is made from the best cuts of pork following a traditional and age-old recipe. The meat is expertly hand-cut to obtain the correct balance of meat and fat. It is flavored with whole and crushed black peppercorns, garlic and salt, hand-tied in the pork gut and aged for up to 40 days.
This authentic delicacy can be served as a starter with grilled vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes and olives.
Aged Guanciale or Barbozzo
Meat taken from the cheeks of the pig are cured in a red-wine based brine for 20 days. It is subsequently hung for 10 days in a room with a fragrant wood-fire that maintains a steady temperature of 25 C and encourages the curing process. It is then seasoned with either crushed chilies, fennel or black pepper and left to mature in a cool room for 45-50 days.
The guanciale is of a soft-white color with a ribbon of pink running through it. It has a variety of uses - for basting roast meats, to add intensity of flavor to gravy, delicious when melted on top of minestrone or polenta, or as wafer-thin slices placed over bruschetta or freshly baked bread.
A speciality rolled pancetta made from the belly of pork. The fat is removed from the pancetta, which is then stuffed with crushed chillies, fennel, black pepper and sea salt. The pancetta is rolled, tied with jute and pressed between planks of wood. It is stored in a cool place for approximately one month and as the curing progresses, the planks of wood are tightened to compact the layers. The finished product is dense and when cut appears as rosy-pink with white spirals.
The taste is spicy but delicate. The softness of this pancetta lends itself to goat cheese, black olives, peas and other legumes. Can be used as an alternative for classic pasta dishes such as pasta alla carbonara, pasta all'amatriciana and pasta alla carrettiera.
Coppa di testa (testa in cassetta)
Hand-cut meat from the head of the pig, seasoned with garlic, black pepper and salt, and steamed in a jute bag. The cooked product has a marbled terrine-like appearance with a delicate aromatic taste.
It can be served in thin slices with rucola and mature pecorino or with fried eggs. Goes well with a glass of robust red wine.
Slow Travel Italy - My Visit to Norcia: A visit to the meat capital of Italy - Norcia, in Umbria. Chandi J. Wyant (RedRedWine)
© Letizia Mattiacci, 2004
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