The amazing land of Carrara is particularly known for the extraction and working of the precious marble of Carrara. This Tuscan town also distinguish for the production of Lardo di Colonnata, one of the most famous and appreciated cold cuts in the entire culinary panorama, from domestic to professional kitchens of the most important chefs. Actually, the luck of both the products is linked. In fact, Lardo di Colonnata is left to season inside some marble bowls, so famous in the entire bordering territory. The tradition of Lardo di Colonnata is so important and deeply-rooted, that in 2004 it has been recognized the mark of Protected Geographical Indication.
History and curiosities
The story of Lardo di Colonnata is intertwined with the geographical context, so that it is impossible to talk about it, without mentioning the famous marble quarries, which represent the proud and the luck of these territories.
Since the period of the Ancient Rome, in fact, prisoners and slaves were deported in Colonnata, condemned to the extraction of marble. The tradition of lard dates back in this period, despite the first evidences are more recent.
Lard, in fact, was the main food for quarrymen, accompanied with a slice of bread, onions and a little wicker wine bottle. Lard, with its rich nutritional fact, was able to guarantee to quarrymen the useful energy to resist during working.
To better understand the great cultural importance of this cold cut, we should think especially to the ancient local context. Colonnata, in fact, grows on the slopes of Apuane Mountains, an arduous territory if we consider the scarce means of transport and communication of the time.
For this reason, the few inhabitants of this place used to provide alone to every daily aspect, starting from food. Each family, in fact, had just a few animals, in particular two or three pigs, from which they obtained cold cuts, tasteful and durable.
The ancestor of this tradition was in particular lard, nutrient, tasteful and able to give all the energy necessary to resist to the cold climate of mountain.
The sapient inhabitants of Colonnata understood also the importance to use the scarce available objects, and so they started to season lard inside the natural marble bowls present in the mountains, tradition that it still respected.
Anciently, bowls were covered and sealed with heavy sheets of marble, maybe to avoid that other members of the family could steal some pieces of lard.
During the years, the tradition of Lardo di Colonnata has become so deeply-rooted in the local gastronomic culture, that it obtained the PGI mark.
Production and Regulation
Lardo di Colonnata is made using the passages imposed by the Regulation. As for all the other PGI products, it is not required the same strictness of PDO products, but it is necessary that at least one of the manufacturing processes follows the specific rules.
As an example, for Lardo di Colonnata we talk about the area of production, while raw materials can come from different regions, as Toscana, Emilia Romagna, Veneto, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Lombardia, Piemonte, Umbria, Marche, Lazio and Molise.
Another condition imposed by the Regulation refers to the period of production: meat can be worked only between September and May.
It is a very fat cold cut, obtained from the adipose layer that covers the entire spinal column of pork, from nape to buttocks. The adipose layer must be at least 3 centimeters thick.
Once it has been selected, fresh meat is cleaned and massaged with salt. The following passages occur inside the traditional marble bowls and represent a particular vision.
Each bowl is washed with warm water and dried accurately. Then it is massaged with some garlic, whose smell will be absorbed by meat during the seasoning.
Each piece of fat, once it has been salted, is put on the lower part of the bowl, upholstering it. The surface is covered with a layer of sea salt, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, garlic, rosemary and other spices. On this layer are put other pieces of fat, pressing them to avoid the accumulation of air, which would deteriorate the product.
Manufacturers proceed in this way for many layers, until they reach the edge of the bowl. At this point, each bowl is covered with a sheet of marble or other kinds of lid.
Seasoning occurs inside specific rooms, for example in underground cellars, with good humidity and constant temperature. During the 6 months of seasoning, the manufacturer should verify constantly that salt has gradually liquefied, transforming in the typical brine. The finished product has now reached specific features, that are controlled by the certifying body before it is put in the market as Lardo di Colonnata IGP.
Each piece of Lardo di Colonnata IGP receive a label with the product logo, the term I.G.P. and the information about the manufacturer.
Taste and characteristics
Lardo di Colonnata has an inebriant taste, that just those who have tried it can describe. The seasoning inside the marble bowls and the mixture of salt and spices, give to the product a pleasant scent. All the odors, in fact, are impressed in meat by salt during the seasoning.
The thin grey-blackish rind is given from salt and spices, which persist on meat until you taste it. The taste is particularly aromatic, but at the same time it is fresh and delicate.
The original Lardo di Colonnata IGP can be recognized, as well as by the label, even for its aspect. It is flattened, with a thickness of at least 3 centimeters, which can increase especially in the pieces obtained from the central part of the animal’s spine. On one of the two sides, we can distinguish perfectly the rind, the pork skin, while on the other side we find a thin, grey-blackish crust, due to salt and spices.
The internal part of lard is white, because of the adipose tissue, but it can be also crossed by thin pinkish or dark red portions, if there are some traces of meat. The texture is full and compact, but we can cut it easily.
Lardo di Colonnata is particularly appreciated for its great versatility. In fact, it is able to exalt every recipe, if used as topping, but it can also be eaten alone, as we do for the other cold cuts.
Lardo di Colonnata can be cut in thin slices, eating them alone or with a piece of rustic bread, as Pane di Altamura or di Matera, fragrant and tasteful.
For the fact that it is a cold cut made mainly with fat, Lardo di Colonnata requires a few shrewdness at cooking. It is a good advice, for example, to avoid the use of olive oil or butter, if we do not want an excessively grease dish.
Between the recipes that use lard, we find especially those with onions, as Cipolla Rossa di Tropea DOP, sweet and scented, or with some tomatoes, as Pomodori di Pachino IGP.
Lardo di Colonnata is great with Italian sheep milk cheeses, as Formaggio di fossa di Sogliano DOP, which distinguishes for the delicate taste, but it evolves in a pungent and slightly bitter aftertaste.
A particularly elegant combination is the one with Lardo di Colonnata and fish. For example, this cold cut is used especially with fat fishes, as fresh or smoked salmon, and also with crustaceous. A good advice is to wrap some Mazzancolle shrimps with a slice of Lardo di Colonnata IGP, lefting them to cook for a few minutes on a hotplate.
The ideal wines to serve with lard should factor in the sweet and aromatic taste of the cold cut, but also its elevate fatty component.
For this reason, we should choose wines able to reduce the greasy of lard, so especially white wines, slightly acid. This aspect is more intense if we choose to cook Lardo di Colonnata. In fact, during cooking, fat will melt, releasing a greasy component.
For cooked Lardo, therefore, we can choose red and tannic wines.
The more indicated white wines are Colli Piacentini Malvasia DOC, in the sparkling and aromatic version, but also the local Candia dei Colli Apuani DOC, in the dry version.
Between red wines, instead, we can choose a Castel del Monte Pinot Nero DOC, dry and equilibrated, or Colli Piacentini Pinot Nero DOC, dry and lively.