Lardo di Colonnata, a special food of Tuscany
Today I would like to introduce to you a special food that probably is the best natural accompaniment to the bruschetta. Mainly thanks to its seasonality and unique compatibility of taste – the Lardo di Colonnata, basically strips of cured pork fat.
Something about Colonnata and its Lardo
Colonnata is a small town of no more than 300 inhabitants, situated among the Apuan Alps at around 540 meters above sea level, near the white marble quarries. Thanks to the Lardo, the number of visitors sometimes exceeds the number of residents who come by car up through the Alps every year to see this small imprisoned village wedged between the white facades of rock.
View of Colonnata
Colonnata is a Tuscan fraction of the town of Carrara. It is surrounded by great marble caverns, the same sheer white marble used for centuries in sculptures and for some of the greatest architectural monuments in Italy and even in the rest of the world. But marble is not only used for sculptures. Even Michelangelo, 500 years ago climbed the Apuan peaks in search of the finest marble, knew of the marble’s other end-use. From immemorial time the marble cutters have used the smallest chunks of marble to make shell-like molds in which Lardo, a fundamental part of the local’s diet, is conserved.
The Lardo di Colonnata, famous, and often emulated with somewhat disappointing results throughout Italy, is made by curing strips of pork taken from the pig’s back. The meat is traditionally cut in January into rectangular slices with a width of at least 3 cm and a weight between 250g to 5kg. The slices of Lardo di Colonnata are left to cure for a few months in the marble molds, in cool and dry cellars.
How the Lardo di Colonnata is prepared
The storage and curing of the Lardo di Colonnata are unique. The marble mold is made of a specific type of marble that comes from one marble-cutter, called Canaloni, in the region of Colonnata. It is considered the best for curing the Lardo. The marble is washed with hot water and then cold. Before the lardo is enclosed in its marble case, the inside of the case is lightly brushed with garlic. Then the Lardo is arranged in layers, each layer separated by spices like black pepper, sea salt, little pieces of garlic, rosemary, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, cloves, aniseed, sage, and oregano. Watching the preparation, you get the distinct impression of being in an Oriental spice market.
The precious marble boxes and their contents are covered by heavy marble blankets and left to cure for about 6 months, carefully watched over by an artisan butcher who can tell when the product is ready to be eaten or sold.
Slices of Lardo di Colonnata
The Lardo di Colonnata, famous throughout the whole of Italy, is usually served in fairly thin slices, just like prosciutto ham. The Lardo takes its color from the marble, a creamy white, veined bronze. The upper surface is covered with salt and spices that have been enclosed with Lardo for the last 6 months giving him a unique taste. The result is a soft and almost sweet flavor when you taste.
Going back to the bruschetta, one of the best ways to enjoy the Lardo is to let a thin slice melt over a fresh, lightly toasted slice of bread.
The cut slice of bread looks like a sole of a shoe. Traditionally it is lightly roasted – only the outer layer – on a bed of coals. The firewood (oak, chestnut, and olive) gives the bread a taste similar to the pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven. Something that electric oven could not ever do.
Lardo di Colonnata is a true winter specialty and though considered a poor man’s dish. It is substantial and energy giving, and thus has been the classic diet of the marble cutters for centuries providing the energy for their back-breaking work. Today, Lardo, which by law cannot be called by any other name, is protected by the IGP certification (Protected Geographical Origin) and is used by all the best chefs and not only in Italy.
The village of Colonnata with the marble quarries on its back.
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