Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Porcine perfection

From Sausage Fest in Basel to a pork feast in Tuscany, Sibilla's birthday at Villa Paterno was a true celebration of all things pig.  The spit roasted Cinta Senese adolescent in the photos was a gift from her half brother Tillo and the offspring of two Cinta Senese pigs serendipitously found wandering around his garden a few years ago. 

This ancient breed of Sienese pig, native only to the Chianti region since at least the 14th century, is identifiable in life by white forelegs and shoulders (cinta is Italian for 'belt' in reference to this distinct stripe of white skin) and in death by an extremely high proportion of fat to meat.

Reared semi-wild on a diet consisting mainly of grass, chestnuts and acorns, both flesh and fat are highly prized, being rich, fragrant and highly flavourful.  The Cinta Senese almost became extinct when farmers shunned the high production costs involved and opted to raise modern breeds of white pigs, seen as more economical and suited to today's market demand. Thankfully a few dedicated breeders in the Sienese Mountains refused to give up, and a recent revival of interest in Cinta pork has helped to prevent this unique breed from disappearing altogether. 

Today there are roughly eighty Cinta breeders in Tuscany. With creatures this special it feels all the more important to ensure that not a single part of the animal is wasted.

Our little pig was spit roasted on Saturday night by Marinella's husband. Great chunks of fatty, tender meat and crisp blackened skin were piled onto wide shallow dishes and served with raw marinated courgettes, melted courgettes and courgette parmigiana, thanks to a garden glut of guess what? 

Being me, I noticed that the head, split in two, was left untouched in favour of less intimidating cuts and pounced, like a cat. First the brains were scooped out and eaten with a sprinkle of salt.  They tasted like an unctuous, creamy, mild pâté. Two halves of a tongue swiftly followed suit. Finally a pair of cheeks, soft and porky, smeared with a whisper of sweet and sour chutney. It was a heaven-sent dinner.

The nest day leftovers were boiled into a meaty broth, rendered for lard, crisped back to the last slivers of crackling and shredded for a cold lunchtime salad with sliced red onion, fennel, tomatoes and lettuce, combined with a lemony mustard vinaigrette to help cut through the fat embalmed meat. Any further remainders were given to Clare and Matilda, white, fluffy Maremmano dogs who's ancestry dates back to the same period as the Cintas. 

In my mind it doesn't take much to recall the the musky sweet scent of Cinta fat. We cooled it to a creamy white consistency and used it for days later, in wild boar cacciatora, to baste a roasting chicken, and for spreading over toasted Tuscan bread, rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with salt.

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