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Ode to Emilian cured meats (and fried gnocco)

Emilia Romagna has made pork processing a gastronomic highlight. A gluttonous world with many facets

The first month of the year is when, traditionally, pork sausages are made. In fact, ancient customs called for stocking up on protein and fat before the fasting period of Lent, the time leading up to Easter. Today, we are no longer so strict with fasting, but the habit of eating pork has certainly not been lost. Every area in Italy has its own traditions, its own cured meats, and its own recipes for the preparation of pork. But it is in Emilia Romagna that tradition is almost a religion, with sausage, mortadella, salami, prosciutto, coppa, and so on.

An ancient history

Modena and its province are the heart of this industry. Yes, because in modern times, the farming custom of processing and stuffing meat in casings to keep them for the entire winter has become a flourishing industry, selling delicacies all over the world. Apparently, the first people to develop a passion for ham were the Etruscans, followed by the Romans who did not miss out on this delicacy and turned it into a prized food. In the late Middle Ages, then, around the 14th century, the art of charcuterie started to diversify, exploiting all – really all – parts of the pork, of which “nothing is thrown away” is so good.

This is why all of Italy boasts a long tradition of cured meats, prepared using many different methods and true recipes, handed down and perfected over the centuries. They are rooted in experience, but also in the characteristics of livestock, the different tastes of the population, the varying availability of spices and the need to come to terms with the climate of the various areas, which affects the preservation and taste of meat. 

But it is in Modena that cured meats are now a magnet for gourmets from all over the world. Strictly subjected to quality controls and specific curing protocols, here you can find everything ranging from Prosciutto di Modena DOP, to Culatello di Zibello, and Mortadella di Modena that rivals that of Bologna IGP and many other specialities. 

Buy and taste cured meats, on the spot

Planning a visit to farms and charcuteries is a must, when you come to this area, to stock up on supplies directly from the producers. 

Our selection this time rewards the Cà Lumaco farm, located in Montetortore, a small village in the municipality of Zocca. This is where they raise pigs of the autochthonous Mora Romagnola breed – one of the oldest in the area – that grow wild on the farm full of oaks, graminaceous plants and chestnut trees. Here, in the in-house laboratory, high quality charcuterie is produced.  

A visit is an absolute must, also to verify the strict compliance with the short production chain and the welfare of the animal, whose life is spent outdoors, respecting the natural fertilisation and reproduction times. 

Cà Lumaco’s pigs grow freely for about 24 months, with nutrition always under control but never forced. No stress means not only respect for the animal and its entire life cycle, but also better meat, which is perfect for this niche production.

The farm was acknowledged for this with the Agrimanager 2021 award for innovation, having introduced livestock traceability systems and remote control. Before that, it received the Miglior Salame Naturale d’Italia award, the Oscar Green Nazionale per Stile e Cultura d’Impresa, and ‘tre fette’, the most important award for the category, from the Gambero Rosso food and wine guide.

Taste the cured meats, as in Modena

After having studied, selected, and purchased them on the premises, all that remains is to eat them. Indeed, cured meats have an irresistible aroma and flavour, and the rich Emilian cuisine has done its best to invent endless mouth-watering ways to accompany these delicacies.

Gnocco fritto is one of these specialities. Actually, if you would like to be seen as an expert or a local, call it ‘il’ gnocco fritto, as per the local dialect and as it has been known since the 17th century. 

Regardless of which language form you prefer (the Accademia della Crusca admits both), just order it in abundance, together with a mixed platter of cold meats and cheeses (Parmigiano Reggiano, what else?).

At breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it doesn’t matter: gnocco fritto is always good, as well as always available on tables in Modena and elsewhere. 

To wash it down and seal your love with Emilia Romagna, be sure to order a sparkling, dry wine, choosing from the many Lambrusco labels available. 

By the way, making gnocco fritto at home is not at all difficult. We made it with chef Zanoni directly in Modena, inside the magnificent Acetaia Giusti cellar, where the delicious balsamic vinegar matures. To try making it at home, just consult our video recipe for gnocco fritto and follow the procedure step by step. 

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