CHIUSDINO, Italy- In a cool basement of Tenuto di Spannochia under a red brick archway, hind legs of Cinta Senese hogs sway. Hooves pointing toward the ceiling are tied tightly with rope. The thick thighs are stamped in red ink, indicating quality and authenticity of the chilled, drying meat.
In Italy it is tradition to use all parts of the pig. This includes not only the fat from the belly, back and head, but also the brain, eyes, blood and other organs. To Americans who love their meat, but usually not cooked any less than medium-rare, the uncooked delicacy of prosciutto and other meats may sound unsettling.
I found plated before me on a round white dish a sensory experience that if I had been at home, I would not have tried. Six meats, all from different parts of a Cinta Senese hog, decoratively circled the plate. Each thin slice of meat ranged in colors of pure cream whites, translucent light reds and grainy browns, sure to offer a signature taste with each unique bite. As a red (and fully-cooked) meat-loving American, I was pleasantly surprised by the flavors of these meats that I would usually turn away from in disgust.
Lardo: Fat from the back of a pig. The fat is cut with skin intact to form a barrier to keep in flavor. Afterwards, the fat is put in a brine of juniper, rosemary and bay to create a salty flavor and smooth texture that melts in your mouth.
Rigatino: This is also known as pancetta and comes from the belly of the pig. It is most similar to bacon found in America. Rigatino is cured with salt and pepper and then hung to dry for three to four months.
Prosciutto: This is prized throughout all of Italy and comes in many variations depending on the type of pig. The cured meat originates from the back leg of the pig and is massaged with salt and left to dry out in cool enclosures. Prosciutto is often paired with fresh cantaloupe or cuts of pecorino cheese.
Cappicollo: “Collo” is neck in Italian, and that is exactly where this meat comes from- the neck muscle of the pig to be exact. Wild fennel is used to season the meat and provides a nutty, spicy flavor.
Salame: Lean pieces of meat ground up and added with cubed fat from other parts of the pig. Salame is then seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and wine and cased in a lining of pig intestines. The combination of meat and fat provides a range of texture and flavors not typical to the thin slices of salami in America.
Soppressato: A mixture of kidneys, head, ears and skin of a pig. The soppressato has an aroma of winter, highlighted by cinnamon and nutmeg. This meat is made right after the pig is slaughtered, which by tradition is done in the winter. Before refrigeration this timing helped keep the meat from spoiling.