It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the pig in southern Italy.
We have an excellent abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, and we do eat a lot of them, but “u porcu” is definitely King. In fact, many Calabrian families still raise at least one pig a year, and from that animal comes all the salumi, including supressata and salsiccia, for the year.
As I recently learned, the really large pigs are used more for these insaccati (literally meat in sacks/casings), and smaller pigs are slaughtered for the “ordinary” pork that you’d use in a ragù or for porkchops and the like.
There is a true ceremony regarding the pig from the daily feeding and cleaning (you do have to keep up with the cleaning because they are absolutely the stinkiest creatures I’ve ever been around) to the slaughter and packaging of the meat, which is often a two-day family affair held up in the campagna, or countryside.
There is plenty of work to be done, of course, but it’s accomplished through teamwork (everyone has a specific job), joking, stories of times past, gossip, laughter, wine, and, of course, plenty to eat. And nothing — I mean *nothing* — is wasted.
Whatever isn’t cut up or ground into sausage meat is boiled and eaten as a dish that people here go absolutely crazy for — “frittole.” I’m personally not a fan, but there’s no denying that the pig doesn’t die in vain; there is the utmost respect for each and every part of him. The rough economic times especially after World War II are still fresh in many minds here, so there’s not a whole lot of waste in general.
For frittole, parts such as ears and feet are chopped if necessary, skin is shaved free of hair with disposable razors, and all gets thrown into an enormous pot to boil. Serve with a squeeze of lemon and salad, and you have a Calabrian feast.
Bits of fat and meat are also added to gelatin, vinegar, and hot pepper to make suzzu, which is eaten cold on bread.
In times past, even the blood of the pig was collected to make sanguinaccio, a dessert made with pig’s blood, cinnamon, orange zest, and vino cotto. While some people still make this, it does seem this tradition is fading a bit.
As for me? I prefer the liver sauteed with onions in white wine. And yes, I now feel a little like Hannibal Lector having written that, but it’s *so* tasty.
Several months ago, P and I and another couple bought two enormous pigs together; this way, we split the feed and chores, and each get couple gets half of each pig. We’ll sell one half and use the other half for our own use.
Our big boys haven’t gone to slaughter yet, but they will soon. I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll attend. I’ve heard pigs being slaughtered from a distance, and I’m not sure it’s something I really need to see up close, but we’ll see.
This past weekend, P helped another friend with a pig slaughter and then we all ate up in their campagna after they had packaged all the insaccati for the year. Most of their family was there, men and women working together on the project; they found it rather funny when I told them that in America, the men are usually the ones who make the insaccati.
“Here the women do everything while the men smoke and drink,” replied one of the woman. Ahem.
Back home, the men in my family were definitely in charge of making “soupie” as we call them in the Coal Region, but this year, P and I will be learning the ropes from his aunt as we work with the products from our very first pig together.
And in Calabria, this is right up there with a wedding or birth of a child as one of the biggest milestones you can have in a relationship.
*That* is how important the pig is in southern Italy.