Sunday 2 June 2013

Charcuterie and Nose to Tail Cooking in an Umbrian Mountain Village

If you had the opportunity for a long week-end in an Umbrian village learning charcuterie from aficionado Luciano Cecccarelli…. would you be able to say no?

Luciano's welcome lunch -  platters of home cured, dried & preserved meats


Sausage and Salami making.

.... Well of course I jumped at the chance, I was a guinea pig for a newly launched charcuterie & nose-to-tail workshop in a sleepy Umbrian mountain village.  Charcuterie is an essential skill in mastering the now fashionable art of nose-to-tail.  When I grew up, offal consumption generally had begun to decline, save for occasional calves or lambs liver and steak and kidney pie.  As an adult, I have struggled to embrace the transformation of all things internal and of the periphery.  So, no matter how zeitgeist, nor gastronomically revered, nor lauded the fifth quarter is, and despite how secret the marinade, or how slow and low the cooking is, the fact is it had been deeply unappealing to me.

The crunch with this choice is that as a devotee of sustainable food systems, I understand that sweating the assets of the animal’s carcus is a given, and those of us who are a little squeamish need to man up.  I began my journey 'manning up' last Autumn when I attended The Meat Course led by Ruth Tudor, the daughter of a Welsh hill farmer who raised sheep on Snowdonia.  It was inspiring and awareness expanding.  Their creative approach is imaginatively delivered as it tells the story of meat, guiding you on an interactive journey through landscape, animal husbandry, slaughter, butchery, some processing, with much eating and challenging discussion.  The aim of the course is to create a deeper understanding of where our meat comes from and to foster a better connection of how this relationship is symbiotically linked to health of humans and the environment.  

I continued my journey with Luciano, a deeply generous and hospitable host, who makes you feel at home instantly.  His natural authority and expertise with charcuterie resides in an embedded wisdom, the product of an illustrious culinary & agricultural heritage.  The ghosts of his ancestors are present in channeling the age old art of curing and preserving the harvest.  Luciano learned much of his butchery and charcuterie skill from his father-in-law, a butcher in the mountain village from where they have lived for 5 generations.  I had some memorable conversations with mothers and grandmothers who shared stories of yesteryear; poverty, austerity, blood sausages and secret recipes.  It was a privilege to immerse myself in living history through these older women of the family who bring a vivid sense of lineage to every conversation about food.  All tips and wisdom are preceded with " grandfather said...., my great grandmother made it this way".

We started off by making “Tuscan salsiccia”,  though this is a regional generalisation we followed Luciano’s own family version of these sausages, which can be eaten fresh or allowed to dry.

We used lean leg, a salt ratio of 2.5% per kilo, ground black pepper of 1%, approx 4 cloves of garlic and some pig casing.  The casings are rinsed in cold water and chased with vinegar, hung up to drain. The lean meat is put through a fine mincer, thoroughly mixed and pushed into the sausage machine,  Luciano told me his father had made this machine from his own forge.  The whole process is deceptively simple. The salami is the same method, save for the addition of dried fennel flowers, and the meat minced more coarsely and held in a stronger calves casing.  Hung up to dry overnight and then bound with string in the old fashioned way, or more recently, held with a string casing. Rolled in flour and hung in the cellar for 30 days.
Mincing the meat for sausages

Hanging up to dry out

Salami mix - meat, fat, garlic, salt, pepper, red wine

The traditionally bound salami (left) and the modern string casing (right)
We took a detour from our sausage making to a German community established 40 years ago, where we met Barbara who hand makes sheeps cheese from her own herd’s raw milk. She works alone from March through to late July processing up to 56 litres of milk per day.  The cheese is lemony fresh. As it ages, it is not unlike a pecorino.  She makes ricotta with the whey, which I ate daily with coffee and sugar or someone's grandmother's cherry jam.

Separating and cutting the whey

Moulding the curds

Ageing room

Temperature control

Ricotta with espresso coffee & sugar

Ricotta with sour cherry preserve

 ‘Coppa’ an Umbrian dish, though often the name we know for air-dried loin, it is a brawn when all is said and done.  This was particularly challenging for me and I had politely declined the brawn at the Meat Course when Nicky, the talented nose to tail cook, had made this for the participants of my week-end in Monmouthshire.  Very simply, you boil the pigs head, tongues, skin, ears and trotters in water for 3 hours, allow to cool and then go through the spoils of this brew, picking the meat out. My inner Home Counties girl, who has not had to eat these peripheral cuts braced herself. All that is picked and deemed edible is mixed thoroughly with a Christmassy selection of flavours, orange and lemon peel, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, all spice and seasoning, then stuffed into a cylindrical muslin cloth,  weighted overnight to squeeze out the excess moisture and then chilled.  The coppa, cuts beautifully; flecks of tongue, ear, skin, scraps of odds and ends, all repackaged and flavoured into a neat slice of speckled mosaic acceptability.  I have clearly stood on the shoulders of my time at the Meat Course, now able to embace this culinary tradition, which previously would have left me declining politely and inwardly shuddering. 

The pigs head, tongues, skin, ears, trotters - boiled for 3 hours

Picking, chopping and sorting. 

The culinary disguise, as citrus peel, spices and seasoning is added & mixed

Packed into cylindrical muslin moulds

Weighted overnight

The next day, the Coppa di Testi is unleashed.....

The coppa, cuts beautifully; flecks of tongue, ear, skin, scraps and ends, repackaged into a neat slice of speckled mosaic acceptability.  
Poverty and austerity are in the collective consciousness of the older generation.  Speaking with Luciano’s mother and mother-in-law, their recollections of food shortages are firmly rooted in their memories.  The notion of rural idyl, fecundity and abundance amongst happy, earthy peasants is a picture constructed by marketing campaigners and residing in our imaginings.  The culinary creativity of Italians comes more from their inherent respect of food and making limited food go as far as possible to feed large families, than that of a long gastronomic tradition. 
This lovely woman, Rina,  ran a butcher's shop with her husband for 40 years.  
A mine of knowledge, here she shares her sanguinacco recipe (spiced sweet blood sausages)
An old chocolate box contains all Rina's personal recipes, written in 1970's by her hand
Rina, showed me the needles used to sew up porchetta. 
3 generations share stories of food, family and village life.
Mother Marisa made bread, pasta, gnocchi and has created loving memories of wonderful food for her children and grandchildren.
Adele was one of 13 children, she recalls life at home was happy.  The landowner was generous. Food was plentiful. 
 Old family heirlooms.  These devices roasted the 'Orza' or barley over the open fire to make the morning hot drink.

 Handmade knives

This butcher's needle was made from an old umbrella spoke!

Fegatelli is the Italian expression of ‘Faggots’. The pigs liver is trimmed, seasoned, anointed with fennel and wrapped in caul fat.  Threaded on a skewer with lardo, bay leaves and slices of old bread; this is truly delicious.  The flavours of the fat tone down the strength of the liver, with the bread giving contrasting texture.  I was proud of myself for really enjoying this.

Seasoning the pigs liver

Caul fat

Seasoned liver, wrapped in caul fat
Threaded on a skewer with lardo, laurel and oil, this truly is a transformation of nature to culture. 

Porchetta is a dish we all know and I’m glad to be reminded of how impressive this humble dish is.  A 4kg belly of pork will feed 20 people and is a great choice for feeding a crowd economically and with a respectable, but manageable element of culinary prowess.  It can be made ahead of time and is a good cold cut dish.  The belly is butterflied, by simply cutting horizontally and opening the piece of meat, stuffing the open space with fresh fennel fronds, garlic, copious seasoning, rolling up and sewing the roll together.  Cooked up high to start and then low for 2.5-3 hours. Slice and serve, Yummmmmm.

Butterfly the belly
Spread with garlic, fennel fronds, seasoning
Roll it up
  Sew up securely and into a hot oven for 40 minutes, then low oven for 2.5 hours.  Serve hot or cold. Delicious.
Important note about nitrites....
Luciano does not use anything other than salt, air and natural microbes as his preserving tools.  It must be noted that the salt he uses, is a one which contains natural nitrites and is different from British salt.  According to my favourite pig mentor, Peter Gott of Sillfield Farm who has spent much time researching the alchemic process of charcuterie and notes that different salts and the airborne microbes in the rural reaches of the Italian mountains will produce different results from our damper and colder climate.  Therefore, for my endeavors in London, I will use nitrites sourced from a sausage maker's supplier Weschenfelder where quality casings and cures are available, along with a traditional and warm Northern service.

If interested in joining Luciano, please get in touch with me and I will link you up.

Sights of Montegabbione, Montegiove & Monteleone


Monteleone, village well.

One of many lunches


  1. I feel a holiday coming on...Thank you for sharing this blog post with us all, I just want to be there right now!


  2. Looks amazing! I'd love to go...

  3. What an amazing experience Sarah. Fabulous.

  4. Nourishing traditions...lovely

  5. Hi Sarah. Missing you terribly. I hope you are well. I just sent an email to Luciano and it brought back too many fond memories. I wish I was in Montegabbione instead of in the library. The four days spent with you, Thida, Mei, Jess, Kat, Giulia and Orlena were the best I've ever experienced in my short life. Besides my future wedding and probably the birth of my first child, the weekend with Luciano will remain to be the best. I don't think I've hugged and thanked you enough so I'm gonna say it again. Thank you so much for introducing us to the lovely man and his family. I can't possibly repay the kindness you and Luciano have shown me but I will try the best I can to do so. I wish everyone can have the privilege to experience this! The trip was almost a moment of enlightenment for me and I require more to reach food nirvana. A bit cheesy there but I can't help it. I hope I can make the trip again in the future. Much love to you xx


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