Nose To Tail Eating in Tuscany

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.