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Pecorino Canestrato di Castel del Monte

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Gran Sasso in Abruzzo is, at 2912ms, the highest of the Apennines, the mountain range that runs the entire length of the Italian peninsula. In summer its lower slopes are grazed by large flocks of sheep from all over central Italy brought by shepherds who continue the tradition of the transhumance. But this number is decreasing and Slow Food has created a presidium for the unpasteurised pecorino cheese still made on these high pastures of Gran Sasso. There are only 2 producers of Canestrato di Castel del Monte and last week we visited one of them to meet Manuela Tripodi who, together with her uncle Giulio Petronio, runs the Azienda Zootecnica Gran Sasso di Castel del Monte.
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They have 1400 sheep most of which, when we arrived, had recently been taken down to lower pastures closer to Pescara after the first snow fall in mid October. Mobile milking machines ensure fresh milk can be brought back to the farm every day until the spring when the sheep return to Castel Del Monte (1300ms). In July and August they move again and head up onto Campo Imperatore, a unique high mountain plain, 17 miles long and 5 miles wide where they are protected from wolves by the huge Maremmano Abruzzese sheep dogs. The pasture here is the most biodiverse of any in Europe making fabulous pecorino, caciotta and ricotta cheeses.
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The name Canestrato comes from the canestra or wicker basket that was used to drain the curds and it can be aged anywhere from 2 – 18 months. It is eaten as a table cheese or grated onto pasta or lenticchie di Santo Stefano di Sessanio, the tiny, nutty lentils that have been grown on the Campo Imperatore for over a thousand years. From the end of November Spa Terminus will stock their fresh Primo Sale pecorino, a 3 month and a 6 month. Come along for a taste

RARE BREED MORTADELLA DI BOLOGNA

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For 60 years the most famous name in the production of Mortadella has been Pasquini & Brusiani in Bologna. Years ago we tried to buy from them but they don’t export and all the producers we’ve visited since have been disappointingly industrial. Until the start of the year when we met Aldo Zivieri whose family have a butchers shop in Monzuno, 45 minutes up into the Apennines from Bologna.

The Zivieri family also has 40 hectares of woodland around Monzuno where they raise rare breed Mora Romagnola pigs. They have their own small abattoir and slaughter 10-12 rare breed pigs each week. They sell the fresh meat in their butchers as well as making salumi and, in 2015, they worked with Paquini & Brusiani, to become the first producers of a rare breed mortadella.

Their delicious mortadella is made with meat from the shoulder and the off cuts from making prosciutto. To these two are added pork tripe – an ingredient that was for centuries an integral ingredient in mortadella but that is rarely used any more

The meat is very finely minced before pieces of fat from the cheek, salt, pepper and spice mix are added. Aldo uses a mix of cinnamon, mace, star anice, coriander, bay and cumin. Now a paste, it is stuffed in to a natural casing and hand tied

Cooking times and temperatures have an important effect on the final flavour and texture. They depend a lot on the size of the mortadella. Ours spend over 24 hours in a low oven until they reach an internal temperature of 70C.

In 2014 Aldo opened RoManzo in Bologna’s covered market. It’s a tiny salumeria which sells all their charcuterie as well as a simple tavola calda; panini filled with tripe, polenta with mortadella, grilled steaks and involtini with prosciutto cotto. If you go to Bologna join the queue of locals having lunch there. It’s worth it.

CASEIFICIO BERTAGNI

The Garfagnana is a beautiful, remote part of Tuscany that is overlooked by most tourists.It is a river valley with the Apuan Alps along one side and the Apennines to the other and there was a time when Elliott and I went on holiday there quite regularly for the walking and wild swimming but the mountain weather was always unpredictable and I have memories of being very cold and wet a lot of the time. Good weather for cheese making, however, and last week I returned to visit Verano Bertagni who makes pecorino at his small dairy in Pieve Fosciana.
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Verano comes from generations of shepherds but now has no animals himself. Instead he buys milk and transforms it into cheese. He has 22 suppliers and that morning had already been to collect milk from the furthest away: two friends who take their rare breed Massese sheep to over winter near Pisa. From this milk he makes about 300 – 400kgs of cheese a week. A lot of this is ricotta for the local market to be eaten with jam for breakfast, on bruschetta or roasted vegetables as well as cooking in pasta and cakes.
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He makes a small quantity of goat’s cheese and a mixed milk toma. Once taken out of their moulds the cheeses are dry salted by hand instead of using brine and then left to age on shelves made from spruce in his small maturing room for between 1 to 6 months.
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A lot of pecorino is made using commercial starter cultures. Cheese cultures are combined single strains of bacteria isolated from dairies producing good cheese. They are added to the milk at the start of cheese production. The bacteria in them consume the milk’s lactose producing lactic acid which makes the milk sour. The more sour the milk, the easier it is for curds to expel whey. They are also important in the aroma, texture and flavour generated as the cheese matures. Verano has been working with the university of Pisa studying cultures using bacteria from his own milk and I learnt a lot from him about bacteria and how they work
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He makes 3 types of pecorino, all different sizes and ages. Sweet, milky Taula di Mennei, semi stagionato Soraggio and the older Tuada whose name comes from the tuada or cellar where the cheeses are aged for up to 6 months. Tuada is made using the previous day’s whey as the starter, a deliciously dynamic but unpredictable way to get things going and we have some arriving in Bermondsey next week so come to Spa Terminus any Saturday to give it a try

Pecorino from the Sibillini Mountains

Pecorino is a name that encompasses an almost infinite number of ages, flavours and styles of sheep’s cheese made in so many regions of Italy that it would be difficult to choose a favourite to sell. We have thus avoided it completely up until our trip to Le Marche last month when we spent time with Paola and Marino Marchese on their farm in Monte San Martino.
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Monte San Martino sits at the foot of the Sibillini Mountains and we got there at the crack of dawn in time for cheese making. The promised panorama of snowy peaks was hidden in mist and when the door to the dairy opens the wet, low cloud fuses with thick steam from the cheese cauldron to form a thick blanket of fog. Paola ushers us in from the rain and tells us a bit about herself
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Paola and Marino, he from Bolzano, she from Venice, are an unusual couple. Both university educated in the sciences, they came to Marche in the early 1980s because the price of land was so cheap. They weren’t the only ones; many of their neighbours are Sardinians who arrived in the 70s to take over farms that had been abandoned. Between 1951-1971 half the population left the interior uplands of Marche in a tide of depopulation that was amongst the most severe in the Italy.
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Right from the start Paola and Marino farmed organically and, 30 years on, make seasonal pecorino from their 480 razza sarda sheep. They have had up to 600 sheep but over the last year wolves have decimated their flock and on the day we visit Paola is working 350lts of milk. From this she will make close to 60kgs of cheese.
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While she is still talking Paola adds rennet to the milk and heats it gently to 34C. Most cheeses made with unpasteurized milk will be worked at higher temperatures (55C in the case of Parmesan) to aid the extraction of the whey from the curds but even this much heat affects the unique complexity of the raw milk. Paola takes her time, letting the curds lose the whey themselves. The rennet she uses is from their lambs. It’s a muddy looking paste (complete with bits of coagulated milk from the lamb’s stomach) that is dissolved in water to release the enzymes; the water is filtered and then added to the milk. Some whey kept back from the day before is added to act as a starter and, after 3o minutes the curds are ready to be cut.
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The curds are poured from the cauldron into moulds and left to drain before they are turned out into a big brine bath. In the meantime the leftover whey is reheated to extract ricotta. All over the village Paola’s still-warm ricotta, with its sweet, milky taste and silky texture is soon to be mixed with cream and jam and eaten with bread for breakfast.
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At the end of the morning’s cheese making we are guided to the farmhouse and fed. Very quickly the table is covered with baskets of buckwheat bread, homemade hams and salami, Sicilian orange crostata and pecorino. There is pecorino with wild thyme, pistachios from Bronte or Sardinian saffron. There is Primo Sale, a week old cheese that was delicious with fresh mint, chilli and olive oil, sheep’s milk caciotta drizzled with honey and sprinkled with coffee grains, ricotta that had been smoked over juniper and beech. Pearl and Edie, too young for social graces or to have ever seen a table like it, bulldozer their way through a mountain of food and then instantly fall asleep in the car. Elliott and I fight the urge to do the same.

Paola’s pecorino will be available in Bermondsey soon

LINGUINI WITH TOMATO AND RIBS

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Our supplier in Calabria Tonino Sansone lives in Cervicati. Go there in August and many old women from the village are out in the streets sat around wide, shallow saucepans that are balanced precariously on big gas burners. The pans are full of tomatoes (growing tomatoes seems to be mandatory for all southern Italians) and, after a day gently simmering, the tomatoes are bottled, boiled and stored for use over the winter.

The passata they make is so full of sweetness and Italian sunshine that very little has to be done with it in the kitchen. Lorena, Tonino’s wife, makes a sauce by browning ribs from their black Calabrian pigs then adding passata and simmering the whole thing on a low light for 2 hours. The pasta she uses is long, handmade maccheroni but before tossing the pasta with the sauce she takes the ribs out and serves them on a separate plate. The long slow cooking has made them deliciously tender and given body and flavour to the sauce with their rich, glossy fat.

If you don’t have any handy bottles of homemade Calabrian passata use tinned tomatoes but add a chopped onion when you’re browning the meat.

Ingredients for 4
2 tins of Italian plum tomatoes
500g pork ribs
1 onion
400g linguini

Fry the onion and the ribs together for 25-30 minutes until the onion is soft and the meat is browned all over. Then add the passata or tinned tomatoes and simmer for 1.5 – 2 hours adding water when the sauce looks like it is getting too dry. Cook the linguini then remove the ribs from the sauce and toss it with the pasta. Pile the ribs on a plate and serve them alongside.

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR MAILING LIST

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We would love to keep you up to date with our news at home and abroad. We send out newsletters every few weeks, with details about Spa, Borough, our products and our progress, so if you would like to receive these then please send an email to info@thehamandcheeseco.com. You can unsubscribe at any time.

In London, there is always plenty afoot. We are delighted to host our producers at the arch in Bermondsey, meeting customers and sharing their expertise. We also attend events regularly, and like to show off when we’re mentioned in the press (such as April’s Observer parmesan taste test…)

Many of our products, such as Brebis Fermier, are seasonal because of the way they are made. Others, such as Cotechino, are traditionally eaten only at certain times of the year. This means that our product list is constantly changing.

We travel regularly to France and Italy, seeing producers we’ve worked with for years, as well as developing new relationships and finding new charcuterie and cheeses. Each time we go, we deepen our understanding of the regions and their particular traditions.All these things make our news pages a really good way to keep up with the world of Ham & Cheese.

CHRISTMAS OPENING TIMES 2015

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Daylight hours may be diminishing, but the opening hours are going up again to make room for Christmas. Whether you’re looking for gifts, treats or festive essentials, there will be plenty of opportunity to come and visit us.

At Borough Market, we’ll be setting out our stall every day from Thursday 17th until Thursday 24th December. After that, we’ll be back on Thursday 31st, then not again until Saturday 2nd January when normal trading hours resume. Check here for the Borough Market Christmas 2015 hours.

We’re at Spa Terminus as usual every Saturday from now until the 19th, and also from 8am-2pm on Wednesday 23rd. Normal hours will resume in the new year.

And of course, if you’d rather order from the comfort of your own home, we are processing online orders until Sunday 20th December. Visit our shop here.

Order for Christmas by 20th December 2015

The sheepdogs live as (and believe they are) part of the herd

Whether you are looking for cheese for the Christmas feast, ham for Boxing Day, stocking fillers or something for under the tree, please be sure to place your order by midnight on Sunday 20th December for delivery on Tuesday 22nd, between 9am-6pm.

For an Italian twist, Porchetta makes a wonderful, herb-rich and lean alternative to the traditional ham. Parmesan and Brebis Fermier are both excellent on a cheese board and go well with festive fruits and nuts, while large salumi such as a leg of Parma Ham or Culatello di Zibello are great for parties and drinks receptions.

All of these products can be kept wrapped up in waiting at home, so are suitable to buy in advance.

NEW PHOTOGRAPHS BY TIF HUNTER

Tif Parma Spa

We are very excited to launch our new website, with photographs for the shop taken by Tif Hunter. Tif shot our original online selection, and returned to help us show off our new additions, including our famous parma ham.

He made a tin type of this ham a few years ago, which has pride of place on the wall at Spa Terminus and is the image in this post. To see Tif’s other beautiful work, have a look at our shop.

MASSIMO CORRA VISITS BERMONDSEY

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We were delighted to welcome our producer from Trentino to Spa Terminus last Saturday. Sharing information about his traditional smoked charcuterie and slicing for customers, it was a real pleasure to have Massimo Corra back.

Among the things we learned from him was a recipe for risotto with mortandela which sounds delicious, and perfect for a cold winter evening. He explains how to make it on a video we shot during his visit, to be published here soon.

7 NOVEMBER 2015 – MASSIMO CORRA AT SPA TERMINUS

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We are very excited to welcome Massimo Corra, our producer from Trentino, back to the arch at Spa Terminus on Saturday 7 November.

Massimo makes our delicious smoked products, including coppa trentina and his Slow Food Presidium mortandela. Massimo is passionate about his salumi, so this will be a great opportunity to find out more about these products and the culinary traditions of Trentino.

We are open at Spa Terminus from 8am-2pm every Saturday. For more details, check our About Us page.

SALUMI FROM LE MARCHE – A TRIP TO MONTE VIDON COMBATTE

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Last month we went to visit brother and sister Candido and Clotilde Passamonti who make charcuterie in Le Marche. We felt very guilty that it was 4 years since our last visit so, side stepping an earlier resolution never to fly Ryan Air again we got on a plane to Ancona, arriving (surprisingly painlessly) in bleaching Mediterranean sunshine. Soon we were driving through a patchwork of brown, wintery fields that belied the warm heat of the sun.

We were on the road to Monte Vidon Combatte, a village 10kms from the Adriatic coast at Pedaso. Neither of us could remember the way but it was Saturday and, by resolutely following the locals, we found ourselves outside the Passamonti’s butchers shop. Inside Candido and Clotilde’s mum Linda – barely taller than the display fridge – was energetically serving customers, using a terrifying looking electric saw to cut ribs and separate chops. I could hardly look so we went next door to where Candido and Clotilde were making ciauscolo, the traditional spreading salami with fresh garlic and orange peel. Clotilde held the casing onto the nozzle of the mincing machine while Candido carefully guided the salami mix inside to ensure no air got in that would make the salami rancid.

Their shop and curing rooms are in a large 18th century building part of which used to be a convent. Everything in the ground floor kitchen is stainless steel or pristine white tiling but up on the first floor 2 simple brick rooms are used for curing. In one a fire in a large open fireplace helps to dry and lightly smoke the meat for 48 hours for the smaller salamis and 3-4 months for the prosciutti. Next to it a large basket is filled with branches of bay and juniper. These are put on the fire to make the smoke more aromatic. While we were chatting someone came in with a paper bag from the bakers. Bread rolls were roughly sliced to accompany our little put me on: salame all’anice with fennel seeds, fegatino with liver and ciauscolo. We loved the salame lardellato made from loin and shoulder studded with cubes of back fat and seasoned with black pepper. There was a lot of it in our suitcase on the way home.

We flew back the next day but that night stayed at I Piceni, a restaurant with rooms in Ortezzano. Chef Giampiero brought out our antipasto, a ‘misto di salumi Passamonti’ and we told him where we had been that day ‘Ahhh’ he says, ‘Candido and Clotilde make exceptional salumi. Did you try the guanciale? Did you try the prosciutto? What about the fegatelli… ‘and he disappears back into to the kitchen muttering about charcuterie. The Passamonti’s renown is widespread and deservedly so.

11.3.15 – THIS WEEK’S SPECIAL – PANCETTA ARROTOLATA

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Literally “pork belly rolled up”, this week’s distinctively attractive special is made in Emilia Romagna. We often have Carlo Pieri’s pancetta arrotolata, which follows the Tuscan style in being crusted with strongly flavoured fennel and herbs. By contrast, the famous products of Emilia Romagna – including parmesan, parma ham and Culatello di Zibello – are noted for their short ingredients lists, often adding only salt to make their salumi. Our culatello producers, the Magnani family, also make a pancetta arrotolata according to this tradition.

Alfredo Magnani and his two sons belong to a consortium of only fifteen producers of Culatello di Zibello, who work in the humid area of the bassa parmense. The elder son Fabrizio is a vet and selects the pigs, which are raised in Emilia Romagna according to strict guidelines that ensure the wellbeing and slow maturation of the animals. The pigs are all local breeds, and fed on a diet that includes whey from the production of parmesan.

His brother Amedeo controls production in the family’s shop in Roccabianca, right next to the Po river. The particularly humid climate here facilitates the slow ageing of the pork belly, which sits in salt and spices for two weeks before being rolled and hung. It is important that it is tied tightly to prevent air from entering, then the layers of fat and the damp air allow the pancetta arrotolata to be aged for up to two years without drying out. The heat in summer, which can reach 25C in the Magnanis’ cellars, further causes a ‘thermophilic’ fermentation that contributes to the particularly sweet and somewhat lactic flavour of the resulting salume.

25.02.15 – THIS WEEK’S SPECIAL – PROSCIUTTO TOSCANO

Tuscan salume

Among the many reasons why our parma ham remains so popular, must be that it is one of the most famous Italian salumi. Like the hams of San Daniele, a region the Ham & Cheese Co. visited a couple of weeks ago, prosciutto from Parma has a reputation that precedes it – and no wonder, because it is delicious.

However, there are no small producers of Parma and San Daniele hams. The San Daniele producer we met makes 7000 hams a year, which is still a relatively low number and allows him to control the process from selection to salting himself. By contrast, in Tuscany Carlo Pieri makes only 400 hams a year.

His Prosciutto Toscano attracts customers from across the region. Tuscan salumi, such as salame toscano, is traditionally more spiced than its counterparts in neighbouring regions. Carlo’s ham, accordingly, is cured with a mix that includes pepper, juniper, cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic, bay and coriander, as well as salt.

There is in fact a Prosciutto Toscano DOP, although Carlo has chosen not to be part of it. Most of the hams in this DOP are aged for 12-14 months, whereas Carlo ages his for 18-24 months. His shop is in the Val d’Orcia region, a UNESCO world heritage site where the microclimate around the Orcia river provides conditions that allow him to age his hams for the extra time.

As you’d expect, Tuscan ham goes particularly well with mozzarella, in sandwiches, or as part of an antipasto board.

28.01.15 – THIS WEEK’S SPECIAL – SOPRESSA ALL’AMARONE

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We’re still full of excitement about our new products from Negrar, so this week’s special comes from the same butcher and is as famous as last week’s porchetta. However, unlike porchetta which is produced across Italy, sopressa is particular to the north-east, and especially the Veneto region. It is also the multi-award winning speciality of Macelleria Caprini, and the product they are most proud of.

Sopressa is made with the best cuts: the Caprini brothers use meat from the loin, ham, shoulder and coppa for theirs. Eugenio Caprini butchers the meat with a knife to remove all the tendons and sinews, and then minces it finely. He adds salt, pepper, garlic and Amarone wine, another traditional ingredient which is produced by Luciano Caprini. This is then put into natural casings and bound by hand with needle and cord.

The sopresse are hung to dry for 4-5 days in a room heated to 20-25C, then mature for a further 6 months  in 16-20C, with 70-90% humidity. This slow, gentle ageing, and the relatively high fat content, makes the resulting sopressa so tender that it is almost spreadable, with a very rich flavour. Like the porchetta, it also goes extremely well with polenta, or on bread as a mid-morning snack.

The brothers slaughter the pigs themselves, at a rate of only five a week between October and May. However, they start a limited production earlier in September to have some ready for christmas. The locals like it fresh, but we waited an extra month and now have some of this first batch at the arch, just ready to enjoy.

21.01.15 – THIS WEEK’S SPECIAL – PORCHETTA

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We are very excited to announce the return of porchetta to Bermondsey this week. This herby, flavoursome slow-roasted pork is popular throughout Italy, but ours is made by Luciano and Eugenio Caprini of Macelleria Caprini in Negrar in Veneto. The brothers have been making it for over forty years, with people coming from miles around to buy it fresh.

The brothers slaughter up to 150 pigs a year, when the animals are 18 months old. They are fed on polenta, which is first cooked to help them digest it and thus preserves the excellent quality of their fat. This in turn makes the lean more delicious, although much of the fat will be lost during the long, slow cooking process.

Laid out flat, the loin and belly are covered with rosemary, fennel, garlic, coriander and bay.  Copious amounts of both fine and coarse salt are added at this stage too, since the meat will absorb all of the former and take only what is needed of the latter. The meat is then rolled and roasted.

Porchetta is an ultimate indulgence, so while it goes well with a potato salad and a dish of verdure gratinate for lunch, it is even better in a polenta sandwich….

Whole porchetta can be carved by hand or with a domestic slicer. We sell them online here.

14.01.15 – THIS WEEK’S SPECIAL – CARNE SALATA

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Since returning to Spa on Saturdays since the new year, we have certainly noticed a shift in taste towards the leaner salumi. While our regulars have been back to top up their ravaged parmesan supplies, we were struck particularly by the popularity of our carne salata.

This smoked beef is made by Mario Cardinale Bosio in Lanzada, in the mountains near the Swiss border. The process of making it begins in the same way as the more famous bresaola, with the tender salmon cut, or eye of the silverside, which Mario rubs with salt, cinammon, nutmeg and juniper. He leaves the beef in this mix for one week for bresaola before hanging it to cure, but the carne salata stays in for a further week before it is smoked and becomes ready to eat.

This produces an incredibly tender, moist and lean salume with a complex flavour. At this time of year, carne salata is often cut a bit more thickly, brushed with olive oil and balsamic on both sides and quickly pan fried. However, it is more common to see it served thinly sliced on rocket and parmesan, drizzled with olive oil and lemon. Mario also recommends arranging carne salata on a platter with grapefruit and chicory.

Both bresaola and carne salata are extensively produced throughout Italy, so Mario is unusual for only producing a total of 70 a week. Since his butcher’s shop is at altitude he is also able to use less salt in his production process, and being only 500m from the ski lift keeps him busy at this time of year too.

7.1.15 – THIS WEEK’S SPECIAL – SALAME TRADIZIONALE

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Staying in Italy’s cold north for the beginning of the new year, the first special of 2015 is salame tradizionale from Piedmont. Agrisalumeria Luiset near Asti performs every stage of the salumi-making process from growing the animal feed to selling the salumi, prioritising traditional methods and ingredients. Brother and sister Mauro and Chiara Cassetta took over the business from their father who started it thirty years ago.

Their large white pigs have space to roam on their farm, and are given a healthy diet to produce the best quality meat. The Cassettas slaughter on average eight pigs a week, once they have reached about 200kg, which is very big for a pig. The abattoir is close to the farm, minimising the distress of travelling for the pigs, then next door to this is the kitchens, where the whole animal is used to make a range of products.

Salame tradizionale is a lean salame made from the hind leg and belly, with barbera wine and peppercorns. Unlike the salame al barolo, which contains significantly more barolo wine, only 1.5 litres of barbera is added per 100kg of meat. No garlic or other spices are added.

It is then stuffed into a thin casing, the same as would be used for fresh sausages. Thinner cases allow for faster ageing, so it is hung for only two months before it is ready. The Luiset shop also sells these salame at one week old for grilling – unlike their British counterparts, Italian fresh sausages are usually cured with saltpetre and are therefore good to eat both raw and cooked.

CHRISTMAS TRADING – BOROUGH AND SPA ROAD

salumi charcuterie at Spa

The Ham & Cheese stalls will both be open on extra days over the festive period as follows:

Borough Market – open every day from Friday 19th to Wednesday 24th

Spa Terminus – open on Saturday 20th from 8am-2pm, and also on Tuesday 23rd from 8am-1pm

As usual, Spa will be selling a wide range of salumi and cheeses, including traditional Italian winter treats such as Carlo Pieri’s soppressata and the New Year’s Eve speciality cotechino, with different styles from Tuscany and Piedmont.

Alongside our cheeseboard-staple parmesan and Basque rare-breed charcuterie, the specials at Borough will be a range of salami from the Cassetta kitchen in Piedmont. This northern region’s humidity makes it hard to cure large meats, so it is particularly famous for its small salumi (and uncured cooked meats like the cotechino). The Cassetta family favour traditional methods and flavourings in their production and have won prestigious awards for their salami. We will be selling them vacuum-packed from the stall, as they are the perfect size for a stocking filler.

11.12.14 – This Week’s Special – Guanciale Calabrese

With no saltpetre or other kind of preservatives, all their charcuterie are slowly aged for a long time

Tonino Sansone’s Guanciale Calabrese is steeped in the traditions of southern Italy. La guancia is the cheek, a cut favoured particularly for its tender fat. Sweet and delicately spiced when served as is, it is also classically used in carbonara and amatriciana sauces, and the Nero Calabrese pigs are famous for it.

As late as the 1960s these pigs roamed villages across southern Italy, though they are now a rare breed. However, farmers in the province of Cosenza in Calabria are starting to farm them again. Deputy mayor of the village of Cervicati, Tonino keeps four hundred nero calabrese pigs which live outside all year round in thirty hectares of woodland comprising holm oak, buckthorn and strawberry trees. Once a day they are fed a mix of barley, beans, bran and maize, all sourced locally to support struggling Calabrian agriculture, and they are slaughtered at 24-26 months.

Like the well-known Spanish pata negra, the pigs’ acorn diet and ability to practise their natural foraging habits make the meat fattier than pigs raised in confinement, and particularly rich in omega-3 and monounsaturated oleic acid, known to promote LDL (‘good’ cholesterol) and lower HDL (‘bad’ cholesterol). These unsaturated fats are also meltingly tender, giving the guanciale its distinctive texture.

Tonino’s wife and sisters-in-law salt the cheeks for 12 days, then rub them with peperoncino they grow on the farm and age them for six months. This chilli is also strongly associated with the region, having quickly become the poor man’s black pepper after its introduction in the 15th century. It lends both spice and sweetness to the guanciale, and is also used in Tonino’s nduja. Unusually, the family use no preservatives of any kind in their salumi production.

02.12.14 – This week’s specials – Soppressata Toscana and Salame Rustico

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The beginning of December has brought with it the first nip in the air, and also some seasonal comforts including Carlo Pieri’s soppressata.

Only made between November and March, this brawn (also known as head cheese or formaggio di testa) uses the head, tongue and rind of the pig, which are boiled in water for up to five hours before being mixed with garlic, orange and lemon peel, cinnamon and nutmeg, then stuffed into cases and chilled until set.

Many regions of Italy have their own styles of this traditional winter dish. The version typical of Marche includes olives and almonds while in Piedmont brawn is made with pine nuts and peperoncino; this is thickly cut and served warm on a bed of roasted onions as a main course. The citrus in Carlo Pieri’s brawn is particular to Tuscany, where it is served thinly sliced with bread.

From the Asti province in Piedmont comes our other special, Mauro and Chiara Cassetta’s salame rustico. Due to its damp climate this region is known for its small salami, and the rustico is the largest the sibling butchers make. Weighing 1kg and cured for five months, it is seasoned with garlic and the local barbera wine, which is also used in their popular salame al barbaresco.

The Cassettas also use honey to aid the fermentation of their salame. While a sugar is traditionally added to feed the lactic acid-producing bacteria early in the process that will fight off bad bacteria as the salame dries, honey is very unusual.

 

Salamella 16/10/14

salamella

Like all of Italy Abruzzo has its own distinctive culinary heritage and a meal often starts with an amazing selection of hams and salami. Our supplier there, Luigi di Lello, has a farm just outside of Scerni and makes traditional Abruzzese charcuterie from free range pigs, using no saltpeter or other preservatives

At the moment we are in love with his Salamella al Fegato. The main ingredient is pork liver (fegato), which is cut by hand, mixed with fat from the guanciale (cheek) and then seasoned. As well as sweet chilli and a pinch of fennel seeds, Luigi uses the peel of bitter oranges (cetrangolo in Italian) and, the last thing to be added, a 20 year old vino cotto

Vino Cotto comes from grape must, the freshly pressed grape juice that still contains the skins, seeds and stems of the fruit. Making must is the first step in making wine or it can also be slowly boiled down to make vino cotto, a dark, sweet syrup that has been used since Roman times as a sweetener (or souring agent if mixed with sour wine). Today Luigi uses it to balance the strong flavour of liver and for its properties as a natural preservative.

After 5-6 months of ageing the salamella is ready to be eaten with some good bread and any mix of antipasti. In Abruzzo (and the photo) we had it with pickled persimmon and foraged agretti (saltwort – salsola soda – in English) but that might just be a tall order in the UK.. Bruschetta or buffalo mozzarella, a frittata, olives or other salumi would be just as delicious.

We sell a selection of Luigi’s other products through our online shop.

Cotechino 8/10/14

cotechino

There’s a tangible sense of foreboding in our house at the moment as we anticipate the end of all the lovely weather we’ve had and this cold rain setting in for the next 6 months. In Italy too suppliers are lamenting  ‘il cambiamento del tempo’ (the change of seasons) that brings with it coughs and colds.

But there are, as I keep having to tell myself, still plenty of things to look forward to over the winter and one of them arrived this week: cotechino from Carlo Pieri in Tuscany. Not a lot of it but enough for Elliott and I to do some ‘quality control’ yesterday.  Carlo’s cotechino is rich with nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, red wine and a high percentage of ‘cotenna’ or ‘cotica’ (the pork rind) which gives it a texture quite unlike any of those ubiquitous, foil wrapped sausages that are sold as cotechino elsewhere.  In the past the rind would have made up 50% of the ingredients but our changing eating habits mean that industrial cotechino will contain very little rind at all. Carlo’s cotechino is 30% rind. In Italy it is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve: only the cold of midwinter would make you want to eat a meal of sausage, lentils and mash. Is there really any point in waiting until then? No, so let the rain keep falling– the weather is perfect.

We sell a selection of Tuscan products through our online shop.

Sopressa Veneta 18/6/14

sopressa veneta

Valpolicella is a such familiar name even if, like me, you’ve never drunk much of the wine.  The production area spans a considerable chunk of western Veneto, stretching north into the bucolic hills above Verona for approximately 10 miles and east to west for twice that.

The finest terroir is to be found in the north around the villages of Fumane, Marano and Negrar and this is where we were at the end of May – not for the wine but because Negrar is also the home of Macelleria Caprini run by brothers Luciano and Eugenio Caprini and people come from miles around for their delicious sopressa veneta salami

The Veneto is well known for its sopresse especially those from Vicenzo (sopressa vicentina), Treviso (sopressa trevigiana) and Verona (sopressa Veronese). Each will have a slightly different way of working due to different climactic conditions and traditions but all have the same crescent shape and beautiful mottled grey mould.

Eugenio uses pigs that are reared locally and slaughtered at 18 months. He slaughters the pigs himself: up to 5 a week during production time (October – May), and uses all the best cuts to make his sopressa. Meat from the loin, ham, shoulder and coppa, is mixed with salt, pepper, garlic and Amarone wine (grown by Luciano) then put into natural casings. Each salame is bound up by hand using a needle and cord.

For the first 4-5 days the salami are kept in a room heated to between 20-25C to slowly dry.  For the rest of their 6 months maturation they are hung in rooms at 70-90% humidity and a temperature of 16-20C. When they are ready 90% of production is sold from their shop but some are sent to local restaurants and, as of this week, a lucky few get sent to Bermondsey.

Brebis Fermier 30/9/14

making brebis nouqueret

Jean Francois and Marie Helene Nouqueret live in Pyrenean village of Lescun at the head of the Aspe valley, a village surrounded by the high peaks of the dramatic Cirque de Lescun that form the border with Spain.

Today Lescun has just 180 inhabitants but in the 19th century it was a busy base for cheese production. The pasture of the glacial bowl where Lescun sits is perfect for cheese making: it is rich with alpine milk vetch (that’s wild liquorice or reglisse in french) and alpine clover both of which give the cheese a hint of hazelnut, wild thyme and other herbs.

So fertile is this land that the shepherds around Lescun can cut hay 3 times, the first cut generally in May and the 2nd and 3rd cuts (called the regain in French, it’s the rich, herby hay the animals like the best) later in the summer.

Jean Francois farms 160 Basco Béearnaise sheep and 12 Abondance cows (to make his fromage mixte) and between December and June he makes about 30 wheels of cheese a week. His 87 year old father still looks after the land and his mother sells the cheese from their front door during the summer months.

Together we squeezed into the tiny, pristine dairy and watched Jean-Francois making his cheese, heating the milk over a simple gas burner. In the photo you can see the way he uses traditional long metal needles inserted into the curd help drain it of whey. We talked about the problems of making this very special cheese and what the future holds for shepherds like him.

Ossau Iraty AOC, the other cheese made in the area, is a modern cheese that was invented in the late 70s when Roquefort producers pulled out of the Pyrenees. Industrial fromageries stepped in and said that they would buy the excess milk but part of the deal was to be the creation of a new AOC for the area and Ossau Iraty was born. It has become a big business cheese generally made with an artificial rind, artificial starters and pasteurised milk from the Lacaune sheep whose annual yield has increased over 400% in the past 40 years. There is very little artisan Ossau Iraty made now and even less fromage de brebis as shepherds like Jean Francois struggle to compete with this kind of production.

When it is in season, Brebis Fermier is available to buy online.

Brebis d’Estive

brebis cheese

Brebis Fermier is a creamy, sheep’s milk tomme made all the way up the Ossau, Baretous and Aspe valleys in Béarn. Brebis d’estive is made by farmers who continue the traditional transhumance of their animals during the summer months. On a given date in June, they walk their flock to high Pyrenean pastures and make their cheeses in mountain refuges until the end of September.

This seasonal moving of livestock has been practised all over Europe for thousands of years and probably goes back to the domestication of the animals themselves. In Béarn the reasons for it remain the same today: during the animal’s stay in the mountains the lower pastures can be cut up to 5 times over the summer to provide hay for the winter months thus enabling the farmers to keep a bigger flock.

On her family’s farm in Bescats we spent an afternoon talking to Severine Carriorbe who, at 25, is the youngest of the 46 Bearnaise shepherds who continue the transhumance. Hers involves 90 minutes in a lorry to the end of the road and then a 75 minute walk with her sheep to a cabin some 800ms below the Pic d’Ossau (2454m). There she has no electricity or hot running water and only very limited contact with her family. She gets up at 5am and spends 6 hours a day milking all the sheep by hand (3 hours in the morning and 3 in the evening) and 3 hours a day making cheese. Then there’s all the washing up and the care involved in looking after a 200 strong flock that needs shepherding to different pastures to graze. At 1600ms, nighttime temperatures plummet and thunderstorms are common. I doubt there are many 25-year-old girls who would take on such a responsibility.

Severine makes 3 cheeses a day that are transported down the mountain by mules and into one of the regional saloirs or aging rooms. The production is very small because the sheep are nearing the end of their milk cycle: at the end of September they stop producing milk altogether before lambing again at the start of November. Production is small but is still fabulous. And every single one of Severine’s cheeses that we tried was completely different: the rich biodiversity of the mountain meadows, the weather, a north or south facing pasture: all will have an effect on the milk and the final cheese itself.

Cured Beef Briefing

portrait buffalo

We all know the Italians love pork: roast pork, grilled pork, cured pork and cold pork. In the north of Italy, however, beef is king. This is partly due to the relatively cooler climate: cows don’t like heat which is why olive oil, not butter, is the fat of choice in the south of Italy and also why sheep’s cheeses replace cows cheese the further south you go.

We went to Lombardy recently and there were lots of beef dishes on menus but, with no knowledge of Italian beef or butchery, it would be hard to know what you’re eating so I thought I’d start with a bit of an Italian lesson. Firstly vitello: this is always translated as veal but nowadays it generally only means milk fed veal if vitello di latte is stipulated. Vitello is usually an animal that is reared outside and slaughtered at about 6 months of age, similar to our rose veal. Manzo is beef and usually comes from bullocks killed at about 2 years of age. Occasionally you see Manzetta which is meat from a heifer. It is much less common and, maybe because of this, is more highly prized (it is supposed to be more tender). Cattle that are older than veal but younger than adult beef are eaten in countries where the climate is too hot to permit hanging the meat without extensive refrigeration. This is called vitellone in Italian (bouvillon in French).

The Italians butcher their beef in a different pattern than we do, dissecting muscles to provide a higher proportion of meat for grilling and frying. For instance, a cut from the fore rib, which in Britain would be used exclusively for roasting, is divided by the Italians into the tougher muscles, which are sold for stew and tender ones, sold as best quality steak.

Why am I giving this anatomical lecture? Just because beef has been on my mind as well as my plate quite a lot recently: as we head towards summer Elliott and I can’t stop eating Carne Salada from Trentino. This piece of beef (from the salmon cut) sits in a tank of salt, bay, rosemary and thyme for 40 days and is then ready to eat. More like a raw carpaccio of beef, it is incredibly tender and perfumed with herbs. Massimo who makes it loves it with mozzarella. We love it with anything.

The Mythical Culatello di Zibello

culatello di Zibello

In between Cremona and Ferrara the Po river winds its way through an area of fertile agricultural land called the Bassa Parmense. It is famous for 3 things: Verdi (who was born in Busseto), fog and Culatello di Zibello.

Our jaw droppingly expensive Culatello di Zibello is made in Polesine by l’Antica Corte Pallavicina. This beautiful, 14th century estate sits on the banks of the river Po and is made even more imposing by the relentlessly flat landscape of the Bassa that surrounds it. More precisely, it stands on the dikes that protect it from the waters of the Po when the river is in spate. The rest of the year the course of the Po is some 50m away. The 15th century cellar is unusual because it was built for curing meats, with just one original north-facing window to let in the river fog and a small west facing one to enable the air to circulate inside.

The idea of thick river fog doesn’t immediately conjure up ideal conditions for dry curing meat and this is why Culatelli di Zibello all have the bone and the rind removed: only a thin pigs bladder protects the meat from the air to ensure that they don’t spoil. The fogs that blanket the area throughout autumn and winter prevent them drying out too much and even in summer when temperatures in the cellar reach 25ºC the air is still humid.

They have counted over 1000 different types of bacteria in the cellar, each one of them friendly (mainly lactobacilli and leuconostocs) and working its own bit of magic on the 5000 Culatelli di Zibello that hang there, helping break down bland meat proteins and fats into smaller, intensely savoury and aromatic molecules.

Every four weeks the younger culatelli are brushed of their moulds to stop too much bacterial action in the meat but the older ones are left untouched in the stillest, dampest part of the cellar. Intricate webs of grey-brown mould hang thickly from their casings and this was where we found this sign. S.A.R stands for Sua Altezza Reale or His Royal Highness: Prince Charles has got a taste for the good stuff.

No other culatello producer can age for as long as l’Antica Corte Pallavicina (ours are up to 30 months old) because none can match the unique conditions of their medieval cellar or the experience of Massimo Spigaroli who makes them. It is unique among Italian cured meats and, as such, is worth a try. Even if, at £150kg, you decide to stick with Parma ham..

Nose To Tail Eating in Tuscany

tuscan sausage stagionata

Long ago black pepper shipped from the Indies was a hugely expensive spice to use in making salami so Tuscan contadini found a perfect alternative in the aromatic wild fennel that grows like a weed in hedgerows across the region and salame finocchiona was born.

Such thrift in the kitchen is characteristic of Tuscan cooking: their food is very simple – never poor because their raw ingredients are so incredible – but free from the rich sauces and condiments of northern Italy. This is why there is such respect for the pig: it was made for eating nose to tail.

Carlo Pieri, our butcher in the Maremma, uses the head (with the tongue but without the precious cheeks) to make soppressata or brawn. Other ingredients include the cotenna (rind), orange peel and  nutmeg.

The cheeks get a lot of work over a pig’s life, which makes the fat firm and compact. They are thus an indispensable part of any finely minced salami like Carlo’s finocchiona – more tender fat would mince into a sticky gloop. The rest of the cheeks are salted and aged for 4 months to be eaten as guanciale.

Joining the head to the neck is the capocollo and then the spalla (shoulder). The capocollo is loved by salumieri all over Italy for its beautiful marbling of fat, which makes it so perfect for curing (this is the same cut of meat that is called coppa in Trentino). The shoulder can be cooked (spalla cotta) or cured (spalla cruda) but Carlo uses the meat in his salame toscano. It is lean but has lots of tendons and needs very careful butchering.

Carlo makes his delicious lombo from the loin and his lardo from the layer of sweet, tender fat that sits above it. Below, the belly is used to make pancetta stesa for cooking or pancetta arrotolata for curing as well as in his finocchiona.

The hams are used for prosciutto and also minced in salame toscano. The heart and blood are used to make burristo, a tuscan sausage that also includes the brain and is seasoned with lemon, garlic and parsley then stuffed into a pigs stomach and cooked. The liver and lungs are used in salame al fegato, the ears are fried and make the most delicious porky scratchings.  Anything else you can think of (ribs, chops, filet, tripe etc) is sold fresh.

The lesson ends with an old dustpan and brush: the brush is made from pig bristles.  Long before Fergus Henderson was advocating nose to tail eating those Tuscans, famous for their frugality in the kitchen, were pioneers in the art.