A dip into an italian households fridge is enough to spark a veiled streak of jealousy; vegetables are part of the daily repertoire, espresso coffee grinds remain hermetically sealed in plastic containers and the idea that salami or prosciutto shouldn’t have a prominent place is naturally a design flaw with the equipment. Nothing matters more in a world of uncertain times. How an Italian stores their salumi is ‘a thing.’
For the contadino who spends years rearing, feeding, mucking out and then ultimately leading the animal to slaughter, it’s a universal truth and consideration that the average Italian can understand that what they’re eating is not just a cured meat but something grander.
It’s an exercise in mental fortitude, an inherent belief in economic theory. It is a simple yet appreciated idea of supply and demand because for each and every pig that reaches the shelves of the average Italian fridge, it is something that has taken a precise calculation in time.
Prosciutto crudo cannot be rushed. It is perhaps a culinary sin to do so. Salami, even more of a sin if you have cured the meat yourself. It requires skill to understand the curing process, each a master with the leg, the belly, the full selection that is given during the slaughter phase. For each season, there is more knowledge, more know-how, more connection with the prime ingredient.
And there are issues, nothing is naturally perfect. In 2015, stories of “cancer causing” red and processed meats affected farmers, especially those in the Po Valley. They were exposed to a new threat; medical science. Headlines and sensationalism were rewarded over accurate reporting. Whilst there were detractors, including ever loyal town mayors and naturally the trade bodies, this was more than an attack on an industry, it was a violation of culture. Italians were always consumers of red meat, but small consumers. Red meat was expensive and became cherished, only modern life has seen that consumption grow.
So where does this leave the farmer? How can rearing an animal for so long, to wait even longer be fruitful or a business model that exists in a time of fast returns and even faster IPO buyouts? What makes being a pig farmer in Italy special or unique?
Maybe it’s that first try. From the sneaky unfolding of butchers paper to smelling the greaseproof parchment with all of its salty afternotes. Maybe as youngsters it is a refined way of dining even if it is done in what becomes a much practiced silenced hurry. Or maybe it’s that Italian food culture is anything but wasteful.
Look across the peninsula for recipes where some offcut isn’t used, whether it be for a sauce or a filling. Look at how pork belly and neck are used in salami whilst the head is used in stock, the ribs for sauces. The animal is cherished, not discarded, considered not profilgated.
So we should be patient, because Italy’s farmers are. The contadini are the masters of slow. A movement that is actually life to them, and a marketable idea elsewhere. The idea that modern life today is fast and that theirs can not be. They know that their work is 48 months away from that space on the fridge shelf.
This is a bet on them, their perseverance and their finesse. The whole animal is a product and equally their profit. It’s not just the leg, not just the belly, it’s everything. There is something poetic and yet angst ridden about the whole approach yet, it works. For that one space on the shelf is perhaps the only thing that matters in households, and the Italians know it.