The origin of the Calabrian charcuterie almost certainly dates back to the period when the Greeks colonised the Ionian coast and the Magna Grecia areas. In the illustrated publication, Della Calabria Illustrata (late seventeenth century), we find the first historical account of how pork was processed here.
Pig breeding and the processing of pork are a very old tradition here, handed down over the centuries. Even today raising pig for domestic use remains a fundamental custom. The charcuterie of the area includes a vast range of products: sausages and sopressate [prized salami made from ham], capicolli [cured shoulder], meat in brine, blood sausages. Even today, this annual “animal sacrifice” is accompanied by a family feast, the frittolata [a special convivial meal based on the trimmings].
Capicoddho (Capocollo di Calabria DOP) [Dry-cured shoulder of pork]
Capocollo is one of the most representative products of Calabria, recognised as a PDO [protected designation of origin] product since 1998. However, the capicoddho azze anca or capicollo of the Graecanic Area, has a rather ancient history and it is no coincidence that in Bovesia – to protect a product with strong historical and cultural connotations – the Slow Food organisation has undertaken to safeguard the Graecanic capicollo. The Graecanic capicollo, made from leg of pork, is a highly prized product, unique, handmade, the result of careful manual expertise.
Nearly every family breeds its own pig in a zimba, a large pen which, while enclosing the animal, is large enough to allow it sufficient freedom of movement.
Preparing the Graecanic capicollo starts with the deboned leg of pork, covered in sea salt and then left to stand for three or four days in a cool place. During these few days the leg is regularly rubbed with salt. The second step requires that the salt be removed from the capicollo which is them wrapped in thin layers of fat (from the same pig). it is then sprinkled with shredded hot chilli pepper (to pipeddhi), wild fennel seeds (to màtharo) and black pepper. At this point, it is wrapped in the pig’s bladder held firm by a mesh and tied with string.
Seasoning (a crucial phase lasting about 150 days) follows the age-old tradition, when sausages and salami were seasoned in well-ventilated, cool basements which provided protection from the hot sirocco wind, which could prove deleterious. The cured product has a pinkish colour, an intense aroma enhanced by the spices, which, with the salt help balance the sweetness of the meat.
Buccularu [Graecanic belly of pork; a kind of streaky bacon]
Buccularu is Greacanic belly of pork. It is trapezoidal in shape, has a rather pleasant fragrance and a bland flavour. It is produced using the flesh beneath the pig’s throat, from which the rind is not removed but only cut away from the snout and ears. The belly is salted and allowed to stand for about 70 hours, during which time the meat is massaged and later washed with wine and flavoured with black peppercorns and red-hot chilli pepper. The next phase is the curing, which takes place slowly in temperate, humidity-controlled premises.
The meat used is pork from animals raised in Calabria, the outcome of cross-breeding between the Calabrian Black and Large White pigs. The meat is treated in the period between December and January. When cut, it is pink in hue, with alternating streaks of fat and lean.
Curcuci (Ciccioli) [Pork trimmings]
Pork processing is one of the most important events of the food-production year of Greek Calabria. It is a ritual whose origins go back to the very dawn of history.
Curcuci are the trimmings of pork left over after the prime and second cuts have been processed. They include the ears, nose, trotters, parts of the head and the bones, all of which are boiled up to melt the fat. When the liquid has been strained, the lean parts that remain on the bottom of the pot are salvaged (this process may be repeated several times).
Carne di maiale salata [Salted pork]
The parts cured in brine are prime rib, bacon and pork rind which, having been cut into pieces, are salted and sprinkled with chilli pepper powder, fennel seeds and other herbs such as peppermint, sage, rosemary and oregano. They are then placed in terracotta containers (with a heavy solid wood lid with a weight on top) and left untouched for about 18 months.
These products were once (and even today) the basis of many a meal prepared by peasants and shepherds obliged to eat away from home during their working day.