The Italian pig is revered. One of Italy’s most famous salumi comes in the form of seasoned, salt-cured, air-dried hams known as prosciutto crudo. The hams of San Daniele, Parma, Toscana and Norcia in Umbria are so valued for their flavor, aroma and method of preparation that they are given PDO/DPO (Protected Designation of Origin) status, the Italian government’s seal of approval that they are a product of a food tradition that can occur nowhere else.
Government certification sets up strict rules regarding the genetic make-up and breeding of the animals, their feeding, curing and processing. For pigs that will be wearing the ducal crown (the trademark of Prosciutto di Parma) there are 10 Steps to Perfection beginning with healthy, rested pigs and that must have fasted for 15 hours before they are slaughtered. The resinous scents of the elegant Stradivarian violin-shaped prosciutto of San Daniele in Fruli are said to be due to the microclimate of the Alps and the Adriatic and the traditional making of the “cello” shaped prosciutto of Norcia goes back to Roman times.
Porchetta, a garlic and fennel scented spit-roasted (girarosto) wood-fired suckling pig, has a gastronomic reputation in Italy that is second to none. Just about every sagra or street fair in Italy will have a porchetta on the spit with a long line of Italians waiting for packets of sliced pork (maiale) to eat on the spot or take home.
Signore Pig is treated very well in Italy. He is respected as a symbol of plenty.
The Cinta Senese or Sienese Belt Pig (named for the white belt around the chest) is pictured in a famous fresco by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in Siena’s Palazzo Comunale (town hall). The fresco titled L’Allegoria del Buon Governo reflects a good and wise government. In the contra fresco il Cattivo Governo (the bad government), the pig is missing.
The prosciutto of Tuscany is spicier, darker and more seasoned, often with pepper, garlic, rosemary, and juniper. When eaten as the quarryman’s cured lard of Colonnata (Lardo di Colonnata) thinly sliced and served on a piece of warm Tuscan bread, you can experience an intoxicating aroma and incensual flavor of spices and herbs that surely must have inspired Michelangelo as he searched the quarries of Carrara.
So when you’re seeing and savoring Italy make sure to arrange an introduction to Signore Pig at the local trattoria. He is dressed many ways (salumi, salame, prosciutto, arosto) and although he may be called Stinco (braised pork shank) in Bolzano he is most congenial and not to be missed.