By: Sara Grazia
In a tiny village in northern Italy, miles away from anywhere, stands what’s left of a medieval farming estate. Some of the buildings have been restored and are now weekend retreats for those working in the larger towns and cities surrounding Milan and Brescia, while others remain architectural sculptures of a passed era. It’s here where I am catching up with a very dear friend of mine, Signor Pierluigi.
This estate looks like something purpose built for an epic gladiator film, it’s hard to believe what’s left of this beautiful picturesque village is hundreds of years old. There is one road that takes you to and through the village. It’s a single lane road approx. 15km long and on either side of the lane is a very deep irrigation ditch. This area is prime farming land, predominantly for corn.
Nestled away behind a large stone arch is a massive courtyard. Unfortunately over the centuries the cobbles have deteriorated, been removed or stolen and now all that remains on a sunny winter’s day is slush and mud…. lots and lots of mud! The scenery however is breathtaking.
The original farm buildings and out houses, storage vaults and the village itself, looks as though nothing has been touched in centuries. The original hay shed still stands, packed with hay from a recent harvest, a few repairs to the roof, but otherwise untouched. The cow shed and stables are still as they were. Walking in you feel a real sense of history, almost like you’ve travelled back in time from the present day.
Between the cow shed and the hay shed, is the diamond in the rough, Pierluigi’s personal meat producing haven. Pierluigi purpose built this production space within the old surrounds of the farms outbuildings.
The heavy and thick brick walls help keep the temperature ideal for processing the meats. In one section he has configured the space into two small curing rooms with the latest computerised technology to control and monitor the curing environments. On the other side of the curing wall is the processing room. It’s a big space with a stainless steel bench in the centre, and a trough for cleaning and washing the fresh intestines… the joyous job that was given to me on my very first visit! In the opposite corner sits a massive pot and a few other bits and pieces for some cheese making that will be happening later on in the week.
We went to have a look at how the latest batch of salami and cured meats were coming along in the curing rooms, things were looking good. It was the ideal time to visit as the previous batch of salami was ready for coming out of the curing rooms ready for today’s batch to be hung. This means I get to hand pick a little something delicious for lunch!
After a little bit of squeezing and smelling and decided which salami we were going to be enjoying for lunch, it was time to pop next door, pull on our very fashionable and stylish plastic couture and get skinning and dicing. Today was salami making day and we were going to be making three different types. The first salami we are making is a very traditional style to these parts, salami Felino.
It all began with Pierluigi, his brother in law, his brother in law’s brother in law and few of their good friends. I’m not sure how many kilos of meat we diced up, but some was diced finely and some was diced in very large pieces. The different grades of meat where put into buckets ready for the next part of the process.
A very old meat mincer was pulled out from under the bench and lifted onto the bench top. I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it! It was originally a manual machine, that like so many ‘handy’ Italians, was hooked up to a make shift electric motor. It was quite a thing to behold! Once it was all set up, I took a few steps back and left the mincing of the meat up Pierluigi and friends. I was a little hesitant about getting my hands anywhere near that machine! Despite my concern it was all good in the end; we had a few laughs about it!
With the meat all minced and seasoned, the boys headed out to prepare some lunch and have a coffee and brioche, I was left to clean the casings.
It must be one of the least pleasant jobs known to mankind. These casings were FRESH, not in the sense that they’ve been cleaned and salted and purchased from the butcher or over the counter… I’m talking directly from the animal fresh. There is a pig farm a hundred metres or so down the road, so all the pork produce is extremely fresh. In this state the casings have a very pungent smell, it’s enough to make your stomach turn. They’re slimy and gooey and no matter how much you cleaned them it just never seemed to be enough.
Soon enough the lunch call was made and I was out of that production room in a flash and into the sun filled courtyard for some grappa and handmade salami panini. The salami was cut thickly and put on bread and it was delicious.
After lunch I was dreading having to go back and clean more of those casings, thankfully someone lost a bet – they didn’t think I would get my hands in the trough and clean any casings at all, but as I did – the casing cleaning was handed over to someone else.
With the meat rested for a while it was time to start filling. The salami was filled on one side of the table and on the other everyone was busily tying.
With the last few salami left to tie, Pierluigi took me on tour of the local village. Just outside the door of his meat processing room he had a small beehive. Apart from the meats and cheeses, this family also produce their own honey! It was amazing to see.
On the other side of the village was the piggery. There were hundreds of pigs and these pigs were huge; a small adult must have weighed between 160 and 180kg.
On the way back to the farm we discussed recipes and different ingredient blends. After returning home, I sat down in my kitchen and blended up one of the recipes we made that day with Pierluigi. A Venetian style cacciatore, with a Calabrian – hot chilli paste – twist.
You can try it for yourself at home as it is now available on the shelf at our Sausage HQ.