Pigs, it seems to me, have been involved in keeping cultures alive through the long winters for hundreds if not thousands of years. They require little maintenance; pigs often eat happily from the scraps of the family table. They do need a lot of drinking water, which keeps them out of deserts and gets them called out in the bible, but all in all, they are an easy way for country poor to survive. They stay where you put them, and unlike sheep or chickens, you don’t worry so much about predators. When the time comes, all you need is salt and some very sharp knives.
In the rural Lunigiana life goes on like it did. My neighbors plant their vegetables by the phase of the moon, and pigs are slaughtered in early winter before it gets really, really cold. And the salted pig parts that result are a welcome addition to the family larder. My choice to live among these people was a good one. It’s living close to the land.
The story I’m going to tell via a recent podcast I did with Wendy of Flavor of Italy (link to start the podcast below), revolves around my friend Armando—may he rest in peace—who, besides once providing his family with prize-winning salami, also made his own wine, an activity not uncommon in this territory. Here he is at the worm-eaten wine press in 2009, squeezing grapes.
Watching the process was a teeth-chattering treat, as the butcher efficiently dispatched the pig and prepared all the pieces for use. The pictures of this part of the work came from an open shed, and the steaming water used to clean the exterior of the pig produced evocative images.
The next day we met in Armando’s mother’s garage. In 4 or 5 hours the place began to fill with pig transformed into food.
If the process intrigues you, even if you prefer your pig parts in Styrofoam trays that belie their horrid treatment in industrial death mills, you may wish to hear the whole story: