Jan 8, 2013

Lardo di Colonnata | Pork fat nirvana

Belonging to the municipality of Carrara, considered the world's white marble capital, and the place where Michelangelo used to shop the raw material for his sculptures, Colonnata is a small village perched on a ridge between two marble quarries in the Tuscan Apennine Apuane Mountains, which is mostly known for another kind of white marbling, the one in the lardo.
Lardo di Colonnata © Massimo Zivieri
This smooth and delicious cured meat should not be mistaken with lard. What in the English-speaking world is commonly referred to as 'lard', is a rendered white paste that's used for cooking as a shortening, and named strutto in Italian, and sugna in the south of the peninsula.

Some folks are still nervous when it comes to eating fat. I personally am more suspicious of whoever rips the white part off prosciutto, but that's me. Lardo di Colonnata is a delicious cured "affettato" that should not be eaten with distraction. Each morsel of silken pork fat is a precious, melt-in-your-mouth, mystic experience, and the complexity of its flavor should be savored religiously.

Until recent times, lardo in northern Tuscany was considered a poor-man's meal, that cavatori –– the marble quarrymen of the area –– would stuff it in crusty homestyle bread sandwiches, along with sliced onions and tomatoes. This humble panino was prepared early in the morning before the men went off to carve statue staple out of the Apennines at 6200-ft altitude, a snack that had to last them all day. The calorie content, along with the vegetables and a nice flask of local wine, assured the necessary sustenance in the long and strenuous shifts at the quarries. In time lardo has become an exquisite gourmet item, and a highly sought foodie must.

Lardo di Colonnata is a beautiful white –– or sometimes pinkish –– slab of thick pork fatback, which is cured with a mixture of salt, spices, herbs and minced garlic. In the curing process the salt extracts moisture from the fat, creating a brine that preserves it from air and bacteria, and flavors the tissue. 

Alpi Apuane © Lucarelli
According to a local legend, Michelangelo could have never managed to extract his own marble or even sculpt his statues, were it not for the local lardo, of which he had grown very fond of during his stay in the Apuane.

Marble conca © lardodicolonnata.net
The procedure to make lardo dates back to Ancient Roman antiquity, and the secret has been handed down through generations. The seasoning magic happens in vats of various sizes called conche, carved out of marble blocks commonly stored in caves, or in underground cellars. The concas are initially rubbed with garlic, and the bottom scattered with sea salt, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, sage, bay leaves, rosemary and more garlic. The trimmed fatbacks are placed in the conche and layered with more salt, herbs and spices, and so on; and closed under a wooden covering for about a week. Then the concas are flooded with a salt-water brine, sealed with a marble lid, and the lardo is aged in the brine up to 6 - 10 months. The natural humidity of the caves, and the porous surface of the marble basins create a perfect habitat for the lardo's maturing process. Chemical and bacteriological tests on the lardo have determined that the ancient curing method is extraordinarily efficient and safe, and the pork doesn't require any chemical treatment, nor preservatives.

Image @ culinarytypes
Thin slivers of lardo arranged casually on warmed slices of bread... see it melt slightly, before tasting the life-changing goodness. Perfection.

A glass of wine, a view, some pig fat on bread. Life is good.

Some like to wrap thin slices of lardo around filet mignon, go overboard with foie gras pairings, or prefer it employed in novel seafood recipes. Tuscans use the leftover lardo rind as a flavor booster in hearty soups and minestrones.

On one of my regular shopping spree trips to Colonnata, I learned a wonderful new way of enjoying lardo. Here is the recipe that –– besides the star ingredient –– also employs leftover polenta, and lightly seared radicchio.

radicchio tardivo
Ingredients:
Leftover polenta, cut in thin slices
1 head of radicchio tardivo, ribs separated
Lardo di Colonnata
Olive oil
Salt

Film a skillet with olive oil and lightly wilt the radiccio ribs.
Place the polenta slices on a greased oven pan, or on the grill, and toast 5 minutes on each side.
Dress the toasted polenta crisps still hot from the oven, with a generous amount of thinly sliced lardo. It will go translucent and melt beautifully.
Top with the grilled radicchio, uncork the vino rosso, and relinquish all inhibition.


To learn more about Lardo di Colonnata visit lardodicolonnata.net

13 comments:

  1. amelia from z tasty lifeJan 9, 2013, 4:24:00 AM

    Melted on the best bread you have.... it's better that butter

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    1. Concordo! Provided the bread is warm... I'm drooling as I write this

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  2. che buono! I love this and I love radicchio too!

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    1. I know, me too!! And they go so very well together! Thanks for stopping by and leaving your comment :)

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  3. Obviously as I live in England , Lardo is not on our "have" list, but when I was in Italy I did try it, and liked it too.. Do as Romans do (is that the saying) , anyway , what I am trying to say, Go to a country and eat as they do .. you cannot go wrong :-)

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    1. You can never go wrong if you apply that philosophy! Thanks

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  4. Eleonora--I stumbled onto your blog via another blog I love, Rachel Eats. What a fabulous piece on lardo! Great information, great photos. My wife and I love Italy--most recently we spent a week eating and biking through Puglia. Your recipe for polenta sticks topped with grilled radicchio and lardo looks and sounds exquisite. Thanks. Ken

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    1. Ciao Ken, sorry for this late reply! But thanks for your kind comment. Wow biking thru Puglia sounds dreamy, I want to do that too. It is among my favorite regions :) Rachel is a good friend and such a talented writer. She inspires me every day :)

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  5. Ah, yes it does taste like Nirvana, probably the closest I will ever get to it! I love the process I had no clue it was so 'complicated' or timely. Goes to show you that some simple ingredients take lots of prep work. YUM!

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    1. Indeed! And if you want to know of the EEC controversy, read the piece I link to by Kyle Phillips, it's very interesting, how the consortium had to fight to maintain the original method. Thanks for your comment and for stopping by!
      Ciao

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  6. I have never played golf, its just one of those sports that don't appeal to me. and I LOVE sports ha. You guys look great!

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  7. Salve, volevo far sapere a tutti gli appassionati che nelle dal 23 al 25 Agosto ci sarà la "Festa del Lardo di Colonnata" direttamente nel paese di Colonnata. Se vi può inetressare potete cercare l'evento su facebook.
    Saluti

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    1. Grazie Anonimo del suo commento! Ottima notizia, se sarò ancora in toscana farò sicuramente un salto!! Evviva il Lardo di Colonnata!!!

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