Salted Pork meats

Today the classic appetizers of Tuscan cooking are formed by crostini (toasts) of various types (but above all liver) and sliced cold meats: other than the most classic salami sausage, hams and pork sausages, in Tuscany there are produced a characteristic variety of salted pork meats, from lardo of Colonnata, to finocchiona, biroldo, to soppressata, and mezzina. Tuscan ham is left to mature over a long period, highly salted and peppered. It is therefore tasty and dry, very different from other Italian hams, even those more “blazoned”. According to tradition it abhors the slicing machine: a ham like this is sliced by hand with a very sharp knife, in not very thin slices, without sheering off the fat that, as it is well matured, melts in the mouth... The finocchiona is prepared from the meat of the stomach of the pig (that which is used to prepare the bacon or mezzina) flavoured with various spices, a lot of pepper, garlic, red wine, wild fennel seeds that are found everywhere but above all in the pastures of the hinterland along the coast. All is grossly mashed, mixed together well, salted and then formed into sausage in a “zucchetta” , which is the gut. After a maturing of about six months it is ready to be sliced and eaten. But, whether it is cut by hand or by slicer, the slices must be thick to avoid it breaking into pieces making it look less inviting, whereas it is very tasty. The pork sausage (like the lardo and bacon), other than being eaten raw with a nice slice of dark bread (hopefully cooked in a wood fire), is also a precious cooking ingredient: with the pork sausage in fact may be made an excellent risotto, a tasty sauce for pasta, and then, what would the beans all’uccelletto” be without the pork sausage? It seems to have been created to enhance beans and to also exalt the taste of meat kebabs. It is prepared with a mixture of shoulder and meat taken from the stomach of the pig, flavoured with salt, pepper, garlic and stuffed into the gut of a pig. Afterwards the small gut is “tied” every fifteen centimetres with twine and here is formed the delicacy, pork sausages that in various parts of Tuscany are called “cornocchi”. They are best eaten fresh and spread on bread made without salt of Altopascio, or roasted on the embers of a fire or also grated on crostini made creamy with a little stracchino (a mild, soft cheese). The biroldo (or mallegato) is a delicious dish for refined palates that appreciate particular tastes even when the part comes from the less valued part of the pig. It is perpared with the meat from the head of the pig, boiled together with the heart, tongue, pork rind and fat; all of it is chopped by hand, mixed with the blood and seasoned with all the spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc., etc.) salt and pepper. When it is all well mixed it is stuffed into the stomach of the pig and boiled very slowly. It is eaten when cold, spread on a piece of bread. The soppressata is another delicacy of the pig that is eaten fresh, and just made. It is prepared - like the biroldo - with the meat from the head of the pig, the tongue and pork rind cooked slowly for three hours, then chopped by hand and mixed with spices, salt and pepper, garlic and a little of the cooking broth. Stuffed into a sack of raw cotton, it is tied with twine and left to drain. The day after this operation it is ready to be eaten, in rosy slices, with a marble and nearly granitic aspect, but with an incredibly soft consistency. These are some of the salted pork meats present throughout Tuscany: but it is precisely defined that every zone has its speciality that sometimes is used throughout Italy, another remains within the confines of the territory where it is packaged and where only there it is possible to be eaten. The pork sausages of Sienese wild pig, for example, is well known, whereas the “cooked shoulder” typical of Lunigiana can be eaten only in the houses of the people of that place. Such as in Maremma the ham of the wild pig is famous, the salted wild pig and other specialities tied to the presence in that territory of many wild pigs and the fact that the hunt is widely practiced on the reserves and also on the common land. So, whereas generally the sliced cold meats are accompangied with bread, it should not be forgotten that in some zones such as Lucchesia and Lunigiana they are often accompanied by “quarti fritti” or “sgabei”; which are made from bread dough well chopped, and cut into squares, fried and sprinkled with salt. The quarti are eaten when hot. The sgabei are distinguished by the white flour mixed with yellow flour which makes it more crunchy and dry.