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Douglas Gayeton
My shoes are caked with mud: a Tuscan photo diary

Part 2: La Giuseppina » 

Part 1: Un Vero Macello
Monday, Apr 5, 2004 (02:31 PM)

One evening, over dinner with friends in Pistoia, a Tuscan town set between Lucca and Florence, I realized I was the only person at the table who didn't know what I was eating, how it was made, or where it came from.

When I pointed this out, my friends were amused. I proceeded to say that I was no different from most Americans. My meat comes in neatly packed Styrofoam trays, wrapped with cellophane. I like bacon but have no idea what part of the pig it comes from, or what makes a t-bone steak different from a porterhouse. With corner grocers and butchers having disappeared across most of America twenty years ago, the making of food has been chiefly left in the hand of multinational companies who practice various forms of factory farming. The end result? As a nation we are entirely disassociated from what we eat.

In this regard we have a lot to learn from Italy, a country that dedicates a full five minutes of their national TV news each day to food and wine. The result is that Italians are well informed and mindful of the cultural role food plays in their country. They are gifted with one of the most balanced and versatile cuisines on the planet, and remain closely connected to what they eat.

The next week -- not entirely by chance -- I found myself standing in the rain, filming a macellaio butcher a Cinta Senese pig. Here's what I found:

Launches in a new window (176 K).
Note: graphic material.

EPILOGUE: Over the next two days I documented Domenico's labors. Every part of the animal was used. The head was boiled, with its meat (snout and all) used to create a special salami (coppa). The blood was set aside for both pancakes (migliacci) and a type of salami made with pieces of boiled fat stuffed into the cow's stomach lining (called mallegato, buristo, or sanguinaccio, depending on where you are in Italy). Pork chops were cut. Ribs were set aside (and actually cooked on a grill and eaten as we worked). Legs were trimmed and hung to dry (prosciutti). The intestines (le budella) were thoroughly cleaned, then filled with hand chopped pieces of meat and fat to become salsiccie. Salami was made from the finer, leaner pieces of meat, with diced fat added for flavor. A cow's intestine was used as a casing (it's stronger). The pig's skin was cut into strips, rolled up and tied with string (when dry it can be used to polish one's shoes). The feet were boiled and served cold. Even the pig's hefty layer of fat (three inches thick in places) was cut into large slabs and cured for use as a special type of cold cut (lardo).

Two days later I returned home, left my clothes and camera gear outside (the stench was overpowering), took a long shower, made a hot vegetable soup, then sat down to write these words.

A most unusual slow food journey had begun.

Here are a few books to consider if you have further interest:

"Cooking by Hand" by Paul Bertolli. My favorite Italian cookbook features detailed explanations on how to prepare salami, prosciutto, and sausage (includes photographs).

"Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser. Details the complex interplay between America's meat and fast food industries. A required primer for anyone interested in the Slow Food movement.

"Dead Meat" by Sue Coe, Alexander Cockburn. This hard to find graphical book details the inhumane practices of modern day slaughterhouses.

"Domani S'Amazza il Maiale" by Giovanni Franceschi and Sirio Maccioni. This Italian language book explains in simple terms how to butcher a pig (and yes, it's the same Sirio who created Le Cirque restaurant in NYC).

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Part 2: La Giuseppina » 
Past Entries
04/05 Part 1: Un Vero Macello
04/08 Part 2: La Giuseppina
04/12 Part 3: Una Scampagnata
04/20 Part 4: Vino Biodinamico
06/01 Part 5: Me Viene Latte Alle Ginocchia