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Rare breed salumi made with home-grown chillies, from Mediterranean woodlands by the coast.
EMILIA ROMAGNA – BASSA PARMENSE
Culatello di Zibello and slow-aged charcuterie from the southern plain of the river Po.
EMILIA ROMAGNA – TORTIANO
Parmigiano Reggiano, made in a small village between Parma and Reggio Emilia.
From 140,000 pigs in 1929, the number of Cochon Basque pigs had declined to just 20 in 1981 when the breed became designated as endangered. A few years later a group of Basque farmers, led by Pierre Oteiza, decided to save the pig and return to traditional methods of husbandry and curing. The breed is now in the process of obtaining AOC status and numbers are back up to 5000.
In 2007, Oteiza was made a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur – France’s highest award for achievement in military and civilian life – for his services to the Cochon Basque pig.
After their first four months, Oteiza’s pigs live outside all year round, foraging for food on the valley’s wooded hillsides. Their diet of nuts and roots is supplemented by a daily helping of grains to stop them straying too far from the farm.
We sell a range of his traditional Cochon Basque salami, which reflect the region’s own culinary heritage and its position at the intersection of France and Spain. Piment d’espelette, a mild chilli, is often used in the Basque country instead of black pepper: Oteiza uses it in his saucisse seche to add a gentle warmth to its flavour.
Our products from the Basque Country are available to buy online.
Jean-Francois Nouqueret keeps 160 Basco Bearnaise sheep above Lescun, a tiny village high in the Pyrenees. Between December and June Jean-Francois makes only 30 wheels of cheese a week, heating the milk over a simple camping gas burner.
His octogenarian father still looks after the land while his mother sells the cheese from their one point of sale (apart from us): her front door! During the summer months, the annual transhumance sees Jean-Francois take his flock even higher up into the mountains where they enjoy rich pasture while the grass lower down is cut for hay. We wrote about our last trip to visit the Nouquerets in our news section.
This addictive cheese is aged for five months. It is a seasonal product, with notable variation during the year – mild and creamy in May, by the end of the season the cheeses have developed a considerably stronger, highly complex flavour.
For the last three years running Jean-Francois has won gold at the béarnaise Fete du Fromage and, in 2013, bronze at the Salon de l’Agriculture in Paris.
In season, Brebis fermier is available to buy online.
In 1981, Noir de Bigorre pigs were on the verge of extinction, with 34 sows left, and just two boars. There are now 52 breeders working in the Haute Pyrenees, Haute Garonne and Gers regions.
Noir de Bigorre pigs are good walkers, and live outside from two months of age. Roaming about the woods gives their meat a deep red colour, and a nutty taste from the acorns, beech and chestnuts they forage for. These foods are high in oleic acid, so like the Spanish Bellota their hams are high in polyunsaturated fat which melts at low temperatures. Their diet is supplemented with barley, wheat and rye, but maize and soya are forbidden as these would diminish the quality of their fat.
Only two companies transform the raw hams, producing 15,000 a year (compared with 10 million Parma hams in the same period). We buy ours from Jean and Nadine Phalip who, working with their sons Jean Gael and Jean Ronan, have been curing hams since 1997.
The Phalips are based just outside of Lourdes, where the hot air from Spain hits the Pyrenees then descends into France colder and drier. This mixes with humid air from off the Atlantic, making perfect curing conditions. Historically, the salt for curing the hams has come from nearby Salies-de-Béarn’s naturally saline waters.
The hams are salted for two weeks, then the salt is removed and they stay at four degrees for four to five months. After this, they stay at 12 degrees for a further two months. Finally, they can be left to cure. Our hams are aged for a total of 24 months, when they become rich, dark and fudgy.
The geography of Abruzzo has dictated a food culture in this region that ranges from peasant fish soups near the coast to the ventricina del vastese that shepherds would barter for during the winter transhumance, when they led their sheep down from the mountains to the plains.
Luigi di Lello has memories of the shepherds passing the family farm from his childhood. Since then, he has established the Accademia della Ventricina to protect the quality of this artisan product, as well as making ventricina for us.
Luigi has a smallholding with olives, vines and fruit trees. For his charcuterie he sources free range large white pigs locally. He hand cuts the meat and mixes in spices including chilli and fennel, which also give his salumi their striking red colours. Production is almost entirely seasonal among the smaller producers in Abruzzo, and Luigi makes charcuterie only during the winter months, working about 150 pigs a year.
Unusually, Abruzzo also has no tradition of using saltpetre as a preservative, so meat products from here, including Luigi’s, are generally free of nitrates.
A selection of our products from Abruzzo are available to buy online.
The salumi typical of southern Italy are notable for their spice. While the historically wealthier regions of the north – such as Emilia Romagna – adopted expensive black peppercorns, the poorer southern states made use of locally growing chillies to spice their products.
Tonino Sansone grows the two types of chilli – pepperoncino dolce and piccante – for his salume on his own farm. His 300 nero calabrese pigs live outside all year round in Mediterranean woodlands of holm oak, buckthorn, juniper and myrtle, and are slaughtered at around two years old. The farm was certified organic until 2010, requiring Tonino to source grains for the pigs’ feed from northern Italy; now, he sources instead from local “contadini” all of whom had stopped harvesting their crops as the prices were too low.
Unusually, Tonino uses no additives or preservatives in his products, which are all made just from pork, salt and chilli.
A selection of our products from Calabria are available to buy online.
The best buffalo mozzarella comes from the Piana del Sele in Campania. The wet, marshy lands are ideal for the water buffalo that have grazed here since they were introduced in the 16th century.
Since 1996, when the buffalo mozzarella consortium allowed the use of pasteurised milk, many dairies have adopted this practice because it is so much easier. However, it is the unpasteurised milk in our mozzarella that gives it its distinctive creaminess and slightly sour flavour. The two casari (cheesemakers) at the dairy stretch the curds themselves, so that they can judge the acidity and timings to create the cheese’s velvety texture.
Mozzarella is wonderful as an antipasto with parma ham and olive oil. It also highly recommended in aubergine parmigiana, and of course on pizza.
Our mozzarella is available to buy online.
Hot and humid in the summer, cold and damp in the winter, the basin of the river Po is notoriously difficult to cure meats in. Yet this region also produces one of Italy’s most prestigious salumi. Only fifteen members belong to the consortium of Culatello di Zibello producers. Ours in made by the Bergonzi family at Podere Cadassa in Colorno, just 3kms from their lifeblood, the Po River.
The culatello is the heart of the ham. The bone and rind are removed to prevent spoiling in the humidity, then the meat is stuffed into a pig’s bladder and hung to age. Very few culatelli are aged for more than 18 months – but ours are aged for up to 30 months, which is only possible due to the unique climate in this area of the Bassa, and the small numbers produced. This long ageing, and the thermophilic fermentation (the fermentation that occurs when ageing at higher temperatures) gives the Podere Cadassa culatelli their fudgy texture and rich, intensely savoury flavour.
Culatello is the Bergonzi family’s most famous product, but they also make Spalla Cruda di Polesine by air curing pork shoulder, and long, thin Strolghino salami, made with the offcuts from the Culatello. All three products are only found in the Bassa Parmense.
Culatello di Zibello is available to purchase through our online shop.
“In forty years we haven’t changed our production: everyone else has.” So says Stefano Montali, who with his father Piero and brother Raphaele produces our much-loved parma ham. Piero chooses the hams himself from two abattoirs on the Padano plain (pigs from elsewhere are “too lean”), looking for larger legs with a thicker layer of fat. These will withstand the unusually long ageing process – the Montali family hang their prosciutti for at least 28 months, as opposed to the minimum 12 months required to qualify as parma ham.
The Montalis’ attention to detail is astonishing, even grinding the Sicilian sea salt to the perfect size themselves. The salting process is crucial to the final quality of the ham, so instead of calculating the right amount according to the weight of the ham, as is common practice now, the family individually assess each ham for both texture and size.
The parma ham as it arrives with us is longstanding favourite with our customers. Nutty and sweet, in its native Emilia Romagna it would be paired with parmesan. It is also excellent with mozzarella, figs, wrapped round asparagus spears or all by itself.
Our parma ham is available to buy online.
The Caramaschi family makes 20 wheels of parmesan a day in their dairy at Tortiano. They buy milk from different farms, but unusually they work them separately in order to maintain the distinct characteristics of each herd. They therefore make parmesan in a range of styles to suit different tastes, from spicy and friable to soft and sweet. We like ours soft and sweet, and open the wheels after 24-26 months of maturing. At this age the parmesan is both creamy and crystalline, and delicious as a table cheese: Italians might serve chunks of it with prosecco before dinner, or as a dessert with fruit and honey.
Our parmesan is available to buy online.
Between the Apennine mountains and the Adriatic sea lies the region of Le Marche. In the hilltop village of Monte Vidon Combatte, siblings Candido and Clotilde Passamonti continue a family tradition begun by their grandfather a hundred years ago.
Butchering just 4-5 middle-white pigs a week, they work in an 18th century former convent, with pristine white-tiled kitchens below and two brick curing rooms up on the first floor with a large open fireplace for smoking their charcuterie. Read about our latest visit in our news section.
The Passamontis’ products are highly regarded in the area, and include regional specialities such as ciauscolo and fegatelli, delicious spreading salamis seasoned with orange peel and garlic.
Our ciauscolo is available to buy online.
The area around the village of Lanzada, 1000m up in the Malenca Valley, is famous for bresaola. Mario Bosio Cardinale makes ours, using techniques passed down to him by Emilio Nano, a very old salumaio from the valley. Mario is now one of the few remaining artisan producers of bresaola, producing only 70 a week from mature, grass fed beef sourced from France and Italy.
We take his Bresaola Punta D’Anca, which is made from the most famous cut for this salume – the eye of the silverside (or “salmon cut”), which Mario rubs with salt, pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, bay and garlic before curing. Throughout the spring and summer, Mario hangs his bresaola outside at certain times of the day to profit from the sweet mountain air. His carne salata comes from the same cut of beef, also spiced and brined in the same way, but not cured so it remains moist and tender.
Brother and sister Mauro and Chiaro Cassetta took the business over from their father Luigi, who worked with pigs all his life. They do everything, from keeping their own large white pigs, and even growing some of their feed, to slaughtering around seven a week which they work in their kitchen next door to the abattoir.
Mauro and Chiara uphold many local traditions in their salame production. Due to the damp climate, salami from Piedmont are traditionally small, and therefore aged for much shorter periods. They also make their salami with local wines, including barolo, nebbiolo, barbera and barbaresco. Their truffle salame is more novel, but uses black truffles for which their area is famous. Highly unusually though, the Cassettas use honey rather than sugar to encourage lactic acid-producing bacteria in the early stages of the process.
Since the pigs are slaughtered at 12-14 months, weighing up to 230kg (which is very big for a pig!), the prosciutto cotto they make for us is big and meaty. Cooked to order, the ham sits overnight in a bain marie and is sent to us 24 hours later.
Many of their salami are also suitable to cook with, as we discuss in our news.
A selection of our products from Piedmont are available to buy online.
Third generation butcher Massimo Corra makes our smoked charcuterie, working just five pigs a week.
His speck trentino is particularly special because he hangs it for 12-14 months, which is more than twice as long as usual for speck. He is able to do this because the pigs reared for him on a local farm are so big: they have plenty of space to move round in, and are slaughtered at a minimum of 14 months (also twice as long as for industrially farmed pigs). The extra maturing time allows the meat to become tender and the fat meltingly smooth. The texture of his speck is like none other we have found.
Massimo also makes large salumi for us including coppa and schiena, and a small, pebble-shaped salame called Mortandela. Smoked over beech and hazel mixed with juniper berries, this unusual-looking salame is a Slow Food Presidium, and delicious.
A selection of our products from Trentino are available to buy online.
Up in the Apuan Alps, the village of Colonnata is famous for two products: its marble, and its lardo. The quality of stone and fat here are not unrelated: traditionally, the protective layer from the pig’s back is layered with salt and spices, then aged in marble tanks. Fausto Guadagni makes our lardo di colonnata according to this technique, producing a distinctive, smooth and sweet salume crusted with a thick layer that includes peppercorns, rosemary, sage and of course, salt.
Our Lardo di Colonnata is available to buy online.
Not far from Montalcino lies Carlo Pieri’s farm, and the butcher’s shop run by his wife Milva. This business is very much a family affair: their daughter Eleonora manages the smallholding, where vines and olive trees share with 200 white pigs who are looked after by Carlo’s father. He is proud of the herd: they are raised extensively, fed on cereals from his smallholding and slaughtered in the local abbatoir that Carlo has invested money in to have reopened, ensuring his animals don’t have a stressful journey at the end of their lives.
Carlo works just four of these pigs a week for his flavoursome and deeply traditional salumi, using wild fennel pollen collected by his octogenarian mother each September. This reflects the rustic style of Tuscan fare: when peppercorns were first introduced to Italy they were so expensive that resourceful farmers found an effective substitute in fennel, which grows wild across the region.
A selection of our products from Tuscany are available to buy online.
Just north of Verona, brothers Luciano and Eugenio Caprini have their butcher’s and production kitchen in the village of Negrar. Eugenio slaughters the pigs himself, at up to ten per week, while Luciano makes the amarone wine for their award winning sopressa. The brothers have worked together for over forty years, and their porchetta attracts customers from miles around.
Porchetta is famous all over Italy: however the Caprini’s sopressa all’amarone is particular to the Veneto. It contains the best cuts of pork, which Eugenio butchers with a knife to make an almost spreadably tender salame. It is seasonal, with the Caprinis only making it between October and May. Their version is award winning, and the product they are most proud of.
Our San Daniele ham is quite unusual. On average, San Daniele producers make nearly 100,000 hams a year; however, one of the main producers still allows smaller operations to use their space and work on a small scale. Our producer Levi Gregoris uses this space to make only 8,000 hams a year.
According to Levi’s reckoning, the quality of the final ham comes 70% from the raw materials, and 30% the skill of the ham maker. He therefore pays extra to a single abattoir in Piedmont to receive only the best hams. He then chooses among these himself, rejecting roughly a quarter.
In the first stage of the process, the hams sit in sea salt for a couple of weeks. According to tradition, the amount of time for this stage in the process is measured at a day per kilo. But because Levi works on such a small scale, he can decide when each ham has spent enough time and remove it from the salt. This means that his hams are amazingly sweet.
During the different phases of curing, conditions are designed to replicate the climate back in times when there was no air conditioning: from cold rooms, the hams are made gradually hotter until the last phase of curing which is at an ambient temperature. The windows of the curing rooms open when the weather permits to make the most of the famous San Daniele climate.