Among the most ancient and deep-rooted traditions of rural Italy, we find pig breeding for family consumption. Until the 1950s and 1960s, pigs were bred in the countryside in a domestic way, then, starting from that decade, they then moved on to industrial farms aimed at the mere view of profit.
For centuries, pork has been the pantry of many families, a guarantee of fat and protein; in fact, until a few decades ago, pork meat was the main, and perhaps the only, contribution of animal protein in a mainly vegetarian diet, and not by choice.
The meat was consumed only during anniversaries and on holidays, and not always. To make a brief jump into the past, wealthy families who had the opportunity to buy a pig, generally in village fairs, entrusted it to a farmer.
The farmer who raised him on his own farm, feeding him naturally, mostly with the waste from the harvest. He is killing the pork usually between the months of December, January, and February, the cold period of the year when it was believed that the animal had reached full maturity, that is, it exceeded the quintal and a half by weight widely; the technique provided that the pig was divided into 2 equal parts: one half to the owner, the other to the farmer.
When then the era of the owners ended, the farmers began to independently raise the pig and, at the time of his killing, the custom of sharing meat with the whole family and often also with the neighborhood spread, as a reason party and sharing. After the killing of the pig, a part of the meat was eaten fresh while for the remaining part the need arose to keep it for several months, and, in an era where there were no freezers or chemical preservatives, the skill of working and drying the meat acquired vital importance and here the Norcineria finds its place.
With the term Norcineria, in fact, we mean both the art of processing and slaughtering pork by the Norcino, a real professional hired by the families who raised these animals, and the shop where he prepared and sold all products derived from processing. Although these terms are now in common use throughout Italy, it is easy to guess their origin.
The use of the term Norcino is very ancient, there has been evidence, since the year one thousand, of the extreme ability of men, from Norcia and the neighboring areas of the province of Perugia, in the slaughtering and processing of pork. They had to undertake an apprenticeship period at other pork butchers in which they learned such skills in meat processing which, in some cases, not rare, allowed even surgery.
Even today, in those territories, this tradition is still alive, carried on by small companies that process meat as in the past, with unchanged passion and skill. The cured meats that are part of the Norcina tradition are many and each of these retains its own recipe and processing and seasoning procedure.
The Prosciutto di Norcia PGI, the Norcia guanciale (pork cheek), the Norcinella sausage, la pancetta (bacon), but also unique cold cuts with colorful names such as the "Bastardone", the "Coglioni di Mulo" (literally the bull balls) and the "palle del nonno” (literally the grandfather’s balls), are all products that fully testify to the absolute excellence of Italian food and wine.
However, we cannot say that all cured meats on the market, although produced in Italy and perhaps also by companies located in those areas where the Norcina tradition was born, are of excellent quality. It is enough to read the labels of the products present in supermarkets, even the noblest ones, to find in the ingredients the omnipresence of the abbreviations E249, E250, E251 and E252, which refer to sodium and potassium nitrites and nitrates.
The huge diffusion of these substances could lead us to believe that they are indispensable in the production of cured meats, but in reality, this is not the case. In fact, as we have seen, the production of cured meats is much older than the creation of these preservatives, obviously, a preservative-free salami requires more skills and time to be produced, in addition to a better quality raw material. So if chemical preservatives are not indispensable for the production of cured meats, for that they are used? They are used instead to satisfy the huge demand for cheaper and long or very long shelf life products, coming from large retailers and the mass-consumption of daily meat.
But what are nitrites and nitrates and why are they bad for our body? Nitrates and nitrites are used as preservatives and add flavor and color to processed meats. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an organ of the World Health Organization (WHO), has classified ingested nitrates and nitrites as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A). Nitrates and nitrites in themselves are not carcinogenic but can undergo, both because of the action of the metabolism and through cooking, a series of chemical transformations that convert them into N-nitrosamines, compounds that are instead considered dangerously carcinogenic.
It is obvious that a piece of guanciale, for example, which contains these preservatives, as almost all those on the market, is not suitable for the preparation of a Carbonara or an Amatriciana, when, undergoing cooking which allows the melting of the fat and that is precisely moment of conversion of nitrites and nitrates into N-nitrosamines.
We at The Italian Club, in our careful search for true Italian food excellence, we could not miss a real Norcineria. We, therefore, found a fantastic family-run company located in Campi di Norcia, in the heart of the Monti Sibillini National Park. It is in this corner of unspoiled beauty that the company produces top-quality cured meats that keep the tradition of real pork butchery high.
It all starts with the semi-wild breeding of Cinta Umbra pigs, an ancient and indigenous breed. The animals are slaughtered only in adulthood to guarantee mature and extremely tasty meats. The company still processes the meat in a complete artisan and natural way. All cured meats are absolutely free of nitrite, nitrate, dyes, milk powder or gluten.
In the first phase of drying, the meats are placed in front of a fireplace powered by oak, beech, hornbeam, and juniper woods. After 3 or 4 days they spend in an ancient cellar where they finish their seasoning, calmly, naturally, respecting the right times.
You can try now one of the greatest food excellence of the Norcia’s tradition, such as the guanciale (o pork cheek), which we have carefully selected for you. The Guanciale is the common element of two great Italian recipes such as Carbonara and Amatriciana - discover the original recipes by clicking on the name of the recipe.
Discover the Norcia’s Guanciale in its different forms: