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On the Route of Culatello, the "King" of butchery

Once upon a time there was the Pig ... noble and generous creature ...

In the "Bassa parmense" territory the pork represents the central element of a very complex secular ecosystem if we consider that the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano is also closely linked to pork: just to give an example confirming this statement, the scotta, one of the derivatives of the processing of Parmigiano cheese, is historically fundamental for feeding pigs. The pig has therefore always been considered the King animal of peasant life: it is cared for and fed all year round, only to be killed in one day between November and February. Once, in the farmhouses the slaughter's day was a feast, a real sacrificial ceremony officiated by the butcher, with the participation not only of the family but also of neighbors, friends and relatives. Everything was nourishment and sustenance for families when they were very large.

An important iconographic heritage has come down to nowadays from those master sculptors and painters who, along the pilgrims' path to Rome (the Via Francigena), contributed to spreading ideas, styles and traditions. First of all, think of the Romanesque sculptures often present in religious buildings depicting the Calendar with the months between October and January representing activities related to pork and butchery in general (as seen for example on the Cathedral of Fidenza and in the Baptistery of Parma).

The slaughter of the pork is a bloody and apparently cruel but also solemn sacrificial ritual, an image of abundance but never of waste: "nothing is thrown away" of the pork, from blood to meat, from bones to rind.

The cured meats produced by slaughtering are still expertly seasoned in the old and dark cellars of the farmhouses where expert men hand down the secrets from generation to generation, and with the help of the mists that envelop the environment for several months a year a particular microclimate is created: It is necessary to transform the meat of the noble animal into such special cured meats, not reproducible anywhere else on the planet. Thus, according to centuries-old traditions, and secrets never revealed and handed down from father to son, it is right here between the banks of two rivers - the Po and one of its right tributaries, the Taro - that the master butchers of the "Bassa Parmense" land shape the masterpieces of Italian butchery.

In summary, the extraordinary ingredients for the production of Culatelli, Spalle, Salami, Pancette, etc. can be summarized in four orders of factors:

1. the dense fogs that envelop the area for several months a year allowing the humidity and microclimate necessary to obtain cured meats with an unmistakable taste and aroma;

2. the old, damp and dark cellars of the farmhouses, often with raw earth floors that will imprint their ancient memories in the cured meats hung inside to mature;

3. the mastery of the butcher from whose wrinkled and apparently rough, but skilled and wise hands, the finest jewels are born, accompanying the processing with movements and rituals incomprehensible to the layman and apparently useless and, last but not least,

4. the pig, fattened to the right point with natural breeding techniques tested by centuries of experience.

The Culatello: the King who only lives in the fog

When the back of the thigh is trimmed and deprived of the femur bone and its rind, the rear part of the muscle mass (the breech) turns into Culatello after a series of skillful salting, stuffing in a natural bladder and tying. Among all the delights of the art of butchery, there is no doubt that the primacy for rarity and delicacy belongs to Culatello. It is said that its secret is contained in its production area, near the river Po where the seasoning is favored by a particular microclimate ranging from light fogs to dense autumn mists, and from the coldest winters to hot and humid summers.

The first iconographic appearance of Culatello dates back to 1691 in a drawing made by a Bolognese engraver of that time who identified in this salami the gastronomic specialty of Parma. The first explicit mention of Culatello, on the other hand, is much later: it appears in a document of the Municipality of Parma drawn up in 1735, in which the term "Culatelli without bone" is reported. The reason why Culatello appears in iconography before in other written documents is probably to be found in the excessive modesty of the ancient writers towards the term.

There are several historical testimonies that tell the extraordinary fragrance of Culatello. For example, it is known that the Marquises Pallavicino (noble lineage of the Bassa before that of the Farnese) used to send to the Sforza, dukes of Milan, several specimens of this salami as a "rare and exquisite thing". Great admirers were also famous people such as Gabriele D'Annunzio and, of course, Maestro Giuseppe Verdi, a native of Busseto, one of the eight municipalities of the Bassa Parmense included in the typical production area of Culatello.

The preparation of Culatello to be seasoned and then sliced and served

The preparation of Culatello must begin immediately after the slaughter of the pig which takes place exclusively between November and February to take advantage of the particular climatic and environmental conditions of the Bassa Parmense area, that is: the period of maximum frequency and density of the fog, absence of wind, daily temperatures between -2°C and + 8°C.

The operation begins with the enucleation of the muscle mass of the posterior thigh, the removal of its superficial rind and the partial degreasing of the meat, according to a procedure indicated in the specification of the “Consorzio di Tutela del Culatello DOP”. These operations have the purpose of guaranteeing a slight lowering of the temperature of the meat and its natural dehydration due to cooling (in jargon called degassing) in order to increase the safety margin of meat conservation as well as facilitating the absorption of salt. We then proceed with the trimming (grooming) of the Culatello, removing the femur and excess fat, while leaving a certain thickness to keep the underlying meat softer and less salty. We then move on to the binding, in order to give the product the characteristic pear shape.

The aforementioned cutting operations are followed by salting: a few days after the initial salting, the Culatello is gently massaged by the skilled hands of the butcher and possibly salted again. After a short rest, we proceed with the so-called investiture operation: the King Culatello is carefully dried, tied and invested, that is, wrapped in the bladder of a pig or a bovine.

Then follows the long seasoning in the humid cellars of the farmhouses where traditionally rests for at least 18 months.

Even the moment of being sliced and served requires a preparation process which, if done with the necessary care, helps to increase the aroma and fragrance.



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