I covered the highlights of Emilia in my last post, but for those of you keeping close watch, you may have noticed an important omission – our morning at Cicciolo d’Oro. This was by design, as there is no way this wonderful place could share space with even the most enlightening, interesting, delicious, and fascinating of stage visits. Cicciolo d’Oro was an experience apart, mind-expanding, tastebud twirling, sending my hands to places I never thought they would go (namely, pig rectums).
In short, Cicciolo d’Oro is an association of charming and adobarable retired Emilians who really like pork. In long, it’s really basically the same thing. Since their establishment in 2000, they have become the keepers of Emilian cuisine, and the de facto caterers for the countless town festivals throughout the year.
Our day there started with a warm greeting as they ushered us into a clean white room where half a pig carcass lay sprawled out on the table. After a brief overview of what we were about to do to that pig, we took a short break to head up to the barn and take a peek at Cicciolo’s namesake – ciccioli. Ciccioli are essentially Italian chicharonnes, and are made by boiling down hacked up lard over a period of 4-5 hours. At this point, the ciccioli had just gone on the stove (metal pot suspended above an open flame) and mostly resembled a massive amount of uncured bacon (which it’s not – the lardo used for ciccioli comes from the back of the pig, above the loin, whereas bacon/pancetta comes from the belly). With several hours left until we could taste this delicacy, we ambled over to the other part of the barn where a charming old gent was sitting in front of a giant pot of rendered pork fat and dropping in slabs of dough that puffed up into something called gnocco fritto – basically just giant, fried dumplings.
Our eyes and noses followed the steaming trays of gnocco fritto back into the first room, where the big carcass awaiting butchering had been accessorized with an assortment of local cured meats, helpfully laid out according to their respective body parts of origin (ie – the coppa was near the head, pancetta by the belly, lardo at the back, prosicutto at the hind leg, etc). Throwing the health concerns of consuming food that is literally next a dead pig to the wind, we ripped open our gnocco fritto pouches and ate them like Emilians – stuffed with meat.
Meanwhile, next door to the pig room, a group of ladies – the resdore – were getting to work on their project for the day – stuffed pastas. They lined up at two long tables, rolling out sheet after sheet of eggy dough to be cut and folded into the traditional Emilian stuffed pastas – tortelli, a square-shaped pouch that we might think of as ravioli, stuffed with either a sweet pumpkin mixture or a cheesy spinach mixture, and cappelletti, named for their hat-like shape (I’m talking papal hat, here, not Newsies hat), and filled with a blend of meats. We took turns helping them form these delicious trinkets, but our nimble young fingers were no match for their years of experience.
With our stomachs full and out pasta-making skills augmented, we turned our attention to the star of the show – that dead pig that had been lying out all morning and playing serving tray to our mid-morning snack. The master butcher of Cicciolo d’Oro whipped out his knife and immediately began hacking away, breaking the side up into the hind leg, the belly, the loin, the head/neck, and the front leg. We got a quick lesson in pancetta-making, then moved on to what we all both desperately wanted to learn about, and what finally gave us an understanding of that old phrase about bills and sausage – salami making. It started out simple enough – a giant mountain of ground pork – probably 30% fat, 70% lean. Salt, spices, and such were all mixed in, as well as a decent amount of Lambrusco, the fizzy red wine typical of the area. Then, they brought out the rectums. I always knew on some level that most salamis and sausages are housed in a casing made of animal innards, but there is something about seeing a basket full of pig rectums that have been soaking in vinegar for 3 weeks that just made me want to raise my hand and volunteer to stuff one of those rectums full of ground meat. That’s right, I made my own salami, and it’s currently hanging in my garage, aging to the proper flavor and consistency, at which point I will cut it open and determine whether or not I think it’s safe to eat. At this point, there are really no guarantees.
Our day at Cicciolo d’Oro ended in a whirlwind – a quick lesson on salami tasting, a lambrusco-fueled lunch of all those pastas we helped make earlier, and a dash back into the barn to acquire a liter and a half of rendered pork fat that has featured in at least 4 meals since I’ve been back, including, yes, fried chicken.
It was a magical day, and as we piled back onto our bus, the cicciolians emerged, gathering around to wave us off, and will us to come back, preferably on December 8th when they do their big ciccioli festival, complete with a giant chain of sausages that people hold up and down the streets. Yep, we’ll probably be there.