Think of how generations have changed. These days if you ask a child which is the best day of the year he/she would probably say: “My birthday” or “Christmas time”.
During post war days when my dad was at school and the teacher would ask the same question to her pupils, they would reply in unison:“It’s when we slaughter the pig, Miss!”.
After to second world war Italy, like the rest of Europe, was left quite poor. Most people would rarely eat meat and usually they had to wait until Sunday to get a more substantial meal. Most families would keep animals, like chickens, cows, rabbits and pigs in order to feed themselves.
So can you imagine when the family would slaughter the pig; That was the day when there would have been plenty of food on the table and all the family, relatives and friends would gather for a real feast.
In Italy there are still families in the countryside who keep their own pig and make their own sausages, salami, ham and steaks.
If the pig has had a good life, has been fed with good quality food and has been killed humanly, the meat will be delicious and it will taste completely different to what you can buy at a supermarket.
So here we are again, in north eastern Italy, in the region of “Friuli Venezia Giulia” where every year in late December, our friends known as “the brothers” host the traditional mega pig festival in celebration of all things that are PIG.
The guys, all strong, tough country men, work very hard to make fab salami, sausages and cotechino from scratch and in a completely natural method. No additives or preservatives: just meat, salt and pepper and more spices.
It really is hard work: first you chop and select the meat and then you mince it to create all sort of different cured specialities.
To make Italian sausages the meat used mostly is the pancetta (bacon), some fillet and 25 % of fat.
The meat is being minced twice at 8 mm or 0.3 inch and then it is weighed in order to know how much salt and spices (pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon) to add.
The guys give it a good mix (by hand of course)
And they add some wine for extra flavour
The bowel of the pig is washed and used to encase the mince so it is all completely natural. These days, to save on some extra work, butchers buy cow’s and sheep’s bowels too which have already been washed and cleaned.
The mince is then stuffed into the bowels
The stuffed bowels are cut with a cotton string and turned into sausages, salami, sausages, “ossocollo” which is made up of cured pork on the inside surrounded by sopressa salami, flavoured with spices and aromas and matured over a long period in the cellar.
They are then prickled so that the bowels will lose some liquid.
Fresh sausages will last in the fridge for a few weeks after that they need to be kept in the freezer.
Nothing is wasted: the fat of the pig is kept to melt over a source of heat and used in cooking.
Sopressa is made with just about everything: the hams, shoulders, sides, and so on. About the only thing that doesn’t go into it is the skin.
With the skin chopped into pieces, the meat and the fat they will make cotechino which is traditionally eaten on New Year’s party with lentils and polenta.
The name “Cotechino” derives from the Italian word for pig skin; cotiche, and as you might imagine, it contains a fair amount of them.
The ribs are kept for delicious summer barbecues.
Zampone has the same recipe of cotechino, except the mixture is stuffed into a deboned front pig leg, instead of casings. These sausages are supposed to bring fortune in the new year (with the lentils bringing money).
The best way to enjoy zampone and cotechino is by barbecuing them so they will release some of the fat. This makes them even more tasty.