Salamis and Sausages
In the processing of pork, the tradition of the Abruzzi region intersects with that of the nearby regions, starting from the Molise region, the origins of which are identical. The most significant identifying elements are represented by the ingredients which are used in the processing and which are all taken from the foundations of common gastronomy. This explains the frequent presence of chilli pepper, foremost in the flavouring not only of the liver sausage, but also in the composition of the spices used in the curing of ham.
A land of strong flavours, Abruzzi can nevertheless offer gastronomical experiences of rare delicacy, even amongst its salamis and sausages. There are those of so-called fine texture, elegant in flavour and those with an even softer texture which can be spread on slices of warm, toasted bread, such as the unforgettable ventricine which are made in Crognaleto.
The classic Abruzzi liver sausage is a typically winter preparation. To the liver are added salt, garlic and chilli pepper, the mixture is then packed into the finer intestines and tied into single sausages giving them the consistency and the size of small sausages only a little larger than a cacciatorino (small salami). Prepared in this way, the fegatazzo sausage is left to dry out and is then, according to the most traditional method, preserved in oil or, using more modern systems, is packed in a vacuum pack. In some pork-butcher laboratories in Aquila, honey is added to the preparation of the dried liver sausage.
The fresh fegatazzo sausage is generally grilled ; when it is matured, it is cut into slices like a salami. In the first case, it is the main course of a meal, in the second, it is included on the serving dish along with the selection of cold sausages and hams presented as a hors d’oeuvres.
This is obtained from lean meat taken from a leg of pork, minced finely, flavoured with salt and spices, packed into natural intestines and put under a press for some time. The shape of the sausage is somehow reminiscent of an old “fiaschetta portapolvere” - powder bag - , those which were used in the times of muzzle-loading guns.
The sausage undergoes a slight smoking over softwood which serves more for drying it out completely than of giving it flavour. The sausages have a weight which varies from one to three kilograms (two to six and a half pounds).
This is the name used in the Abruzzi for the ham which is elsewhere called capocollo. The cut of meat, suitably trimmed, is processed following traditional methods with the salting carried out both dry and in brine. It is then packed into skins, tied up and left to dry out. The minimum duration for its maturing is two months, after which it is ready for consumption.
It should be served sliced up as a hors d’oeuvres.
MORTADELLA (baloney sausage) FROM CAMPOTOSTO
As well as for a man-made lake pleasantly inserted into the countryside on the edges of the Laga mountains, Campotosto is famous for an exclusive and much appreciated product: the small mortadellas (baloney sausages) commonly known as coglioni di mulo (mule’s testicles). They are, of course, made of pork, the mule only being part of the image. It is a fine-grained salami of choice meat with a square column of lard in the centre. According to some of its admirers, the tri-colour composition (the white lard, the red meat and the black pepper) has greatly contributed to the commercial success of the product, whose fame has long spread past the borders of the region.
HAM FROM BASCIANO
Basciano is a town near the Val Vomano motorway tollbooth, a few kilometres after the Gran Sasso tunnel when travelling from Aquila toward Teramo. The area is caressed by cool breezes from the mountains, making for ideal conditions for the ageing of highly esteemed prosciutto. The method used is the classic one which distinguishes all country style prosciutto. The thigh, cleaned and trimmed, is placed in a press for a couple of days so that it loses its internal humours. It is then salted by dry massage with a mixture of salt, garlic and hot peppers. The prosciutto is then hung to age and is ready to be eaten after one year.
Once quite widely diffused in the Abruzzi region, salamis made from pure mutton has today become a rarity. One of the areas where the tradition still survives is at Anversa in Abruzzi, a small town amongst the parks in the Abruzzi and the Maiella which can be found at the beginning of the climb towards Scanno, a few kilometres from the toll-booth of the Cocullo exit of the Rome-Teramo motorway. The laboratory which produces this salami can be found in the town itself.
It is said that in southern Abruzzi, at the moment of the butchering of the pig, it was necessary to have ready a sturdy chair and a glass of wine at the ready. In fact, the head of the family – it is often his responsibility – after having dealt the mortal knife-wound to the pig, may feel quite faint. He collapses onto the chair and gulps down a good dose of Montepulciano wine to help restore himself up again. This happens because the pig lives in the family’s house almost for a whole year, eating their leftovers and, in the end, it almost becomes part of the family. And so, the ceremony of the butchering of the pig is a moment of festivity and is also, at the same time, a moment of painful but necessary cruelty. The anecdote explains better than any treatise of sociology the strong economic, ritual and cultural relationship which ties the country folk to the rearing and the processing of the pig. This is a tradition which is still very much alive in the South; not by chance, the best artisan-made, dressed pork products in Italy come from the south: Abruzzi, Basilicata, Campania and Calabria. Here survive the processing techniques where the quality of the meat is still the base of the quality of the sausages and salamis, and where no preservatives or chemical additives are used. And the ventricina from the area around Vasto is one of these noble salamis. Not to be confused with the one from Crognaleto in the Alto Teramano (Upper Teramo area), which is a kind of paste to be spread on toasted bread.
The one from Vasto, however, is obtained by cutting up by hand into fairly large pieces just the loin, leg and shoulder, trimmed of the excess fat and tougher parts. Then, without the addition of lard or pancetta, it is seasoned with salt and powdered sweet pepper known as «corno di capra» (‘goat’s horn’), in equal parts, and finally with wild fennel and pepper. It is then packed into the pig’s bladder and is left to mature. The ventricine weighing two or three kilos (four and a half to seven pounds) can be left to improve for more than a year, but they may already be eaten after six months: half-way through their maturing they have to be cleaned of their mould and covered with lard to prevent the process of oxidisation.
An atypical salami, original, ancient, the ventricina owes its name to the fact that at one time, country folk used to put even larger pieces of pork into the pig’s stomach (ventre). Rather than being a salami, it was more a reserve of best quality meat which the people from Vasto considered to be a symbol of their land.
A harsh territory, poor in resources, which was relatively prosperous during the times of transhumance, the seasonal transferral of animals to new pastures, when millions of sheep passed along the sheeptracks from the Tavoliere delle Puglie to the mountain pastures of the Maiella: it is enough to think that, for decades, the biggest tax earnings of the Kingdom of Naples came from the toll on sheep-farming. Then, transhumance fell into disuse and it was the time of the years of emigration, of minimally important agriculture and of the desertion of the countryside.
Can a salami represent a resource for a poor area like the Alto Vastese, which totals twenty six municipalities but only thirty six thousand inhabitants? The question is valid for hundreds of typical products, but in the area around Vasto, they have already ‘answered, “yes”’. The Gal Vastese Inn has invested significant resources to make the territory known and to promote this Slow Food Garrison; and then the Accademy of the ventricina has been founded which protects the authenticity of the product and organises festivals for its promotion, such as the three days in July in Palmoli. On the 27th there is the old festival of the pacchianelle, a pagan custom which culminates in the offering to the santa fanciulla (holy maiden) of a slice of bread and salami. On the same day (and on the next) the Auction of the ventricina takes place, where the best prices are fixed. And it ends on 29th July, in the whole area of the Alto Vastese, with tastings, performances, guided visits and general celebrations.