Chef from Catanzaro talks about “la tradizione del maiale”
Luciano Schipano was born in Toronto, but at the age of three his parents, Maria and Giuseppe, decided to return to their native Olivadi (CZ). He was raised, trained as a chef, and ran a successful restaurant business in rural Calabria before immigrating back to Toronto in 2011.
We recently spoke about the southern Italian tradition of making homemade salumi, and how it can differ between communities abroad (like the one in Toronto) and traditional Calabrian towns like his native Olivadi, in the province of Catanzaro (population 1,500).
Many Italian-Canadians maintain the tradition of curing meat at home, but that’s a few steps removed from raising and slaughtering you own pig – la tradizione del maiale (the tradition of the pig) that goes back centuries in Southern Italy.
Del maiale niente va perduto (“From the pig, nothing is wasted”) is one of many old expressions that proudly proclaim the traditional snout-to-tail use of the animal, which was often a year’s supply of meat (and even a few non-edible products) for Southern Italian families. Another saying goes:
Cu si marita è contentu un jorno, cu ammazza u porcu è contentu tutto l’anno
“One who marries is content for a day, one who kills a pig is content the whole year”
Curing different cuts of meat to make salumi was only one part of a greater process that took days to complete. “Give me a pig,” says Luciano, “and I can make a thousand things.”
Below is our interview, plus two videos we shot of Luciano and Giuseppe making cervellati and ‘nduja at their Toronto home in February 2017. You will also find the helpful (and stylish) Uses of the Pig illustration by anthropologist and visual artist Christopher Sisca.
When we talk about the seasonality of food in a place like Toronto, most people think of fruits and vegetables. But of course traditional salumi are seasonal foods as well. Growing up in Calabria, what time of year did you make yours?
Actually a lot of things you get year round here were seasonal when I was growing up in Italy, like eggs and ricotta – because the hens and sheep would only produce their eggs and milk at certain times of the year.
In our area the farmers would sell their pigs to the townspeople in September. Most families got one, some would get two – one for Christmas and one of the rest of the year.
The season for actually making the salami was in the wintertime, starting in December and finishing in March. It’s the coldest time of the year which makes a kind of natural refrigeration.
When the weather got cold we would talk with our family and friends, quando fai il maiale? (When are you doing the pig?) My aunt, my cousins, my nonna – we would all have to coordinate because we would go to each others’ houses to help out. It was like a social thing.
And my nonna would always say, “Do yourself first, don’t worry, I’ll be the last one.” Because in those few months while the rest of us were doing it her pig would fatten another 10 kilos!
Would anyone buy cuts of meat from a butcher instead of raising their own pig?
Today maybe it’s different, but when I was growing up no one bought pork from a butcher. Back then you either had your own pig or you would pay another family to raise one for you.
My family usually had two pigs, sometimes three, because we would get them for other people in the town. Some years another family would ask us to raise and slaughter a pig for them and they would make their own salami. Other times we’d make everything, the salami and all the related products, and deliver it to them when everything was done.
Killing and butchering a pig is a big job, and then there were all the products you’d make from the animal. How long did the whole process take?
In our town families would take five to seven days to do the whole thing, but every place is different.
There’s a nearby town called Chiaravalle Centrale, they do the whole process in one day, everything. It’s like an assembly line with 15-20 people. And we’d always criticize them. “Non fare alla Chiaravadota (Don’t do a Chiaravadota),” we would say, that means don’t cut corners, take your time and do it right – this is your meat for a whole year! That’s something very important to us.
How many people were involved when you would do it?
Usually six or seven on the first day, you don’t want too many people because it just slows you down! And you needed a combination of men and women because they had different jobs.
The men took care of knives and all the tools and equipment used to kill and butcher the pig outside the house. The women would take care of the clothes, containers, spices, everything that happened inside. As the pig was cut in pieces we would bring them inside where the women were cleaning the intestines for casings and making the cuts we would need for the different things we would be making in the coming days.
The was even a job for little kids who were too small to participate. When I was six or seven years old they would give me little packages of loin, pancetta and liver for the people the family wanted to say thanks to. The doctor, the lawyer, my compari (godfather), even the person at the post office. And I would go around town delivering them.
How did you feel about killing the pig when you were that young. Did it bother you?
No, not me, I was always very excited when the day would come, I wanted to be a part of it. When it was my nonno’s turn to do the pig I would get up at five in the morning to go out and light the fire with him, because it took two hours till the water would come to a boil and we could start.
But my brother didn’t like it, he never came with us when we killed the pig. In fact, my nonno was very strict about that – you were not allowed to be there if you felt sorry for the pig. There was a belief that if you felt too much compassion for the animal it wouldn’t die. It was bad luck. There were a lot of little superstitions like that at the time. People took them very seriously.
I guess when you consider what was at stake – a year’s supply of meat – it’s not so surprising they were apprehensive.
Exactly. If something went wrong it could be a disaster! Thank god it never happened to our family.
My nonno would kill his pig very early in the morning, before the other people in the town were awake. Because we had to walk through the street to get it inside the house, and he was worried about people seeing how big his pig was and getting jealous, causing malocchio (evil eye), bad luck.
And when you were working, cutting the meat and making the salami, you always had to say benedica any time you came into the room or left. And if you forgot, someone would say, “you didn’t say the word,” and you had to say it.
When would you make the salami? And what kinds did you make?
We made salami on the second day. You need at least three people. One person on the machine grinding the meat and another tying the sausage. And one of the women – the owner of the house or the oldest one who was the most expert, like my nonna – she would always inspect the sausages and make sure they were packed right, there was no air inside, and so on.
There are so many Calabresi in Toronto, you find many of the salumi we made back home. Soppressata from the leg, although in my town we didn’t press it the way they do most places. And salsiccia – which is basically what you call cacciatore here.
The salsiccia we made for curing was long and thin and you fold it in half and hang it. It’s kind of funny, we used called them “legs” because that’s what they looked like. “What did you eat today? And you would say, ‘Una gamba o salsizz’ (a leg of sausage)!
In my area we didn’t use any fennel or black pepper in the salsiccia like you find in some areas of Cosenza. We just used salt, red wine and a hot pepper paste we make locally during the summer harvest. It’s made solely for this purpose.
Prosciuttino we don’t have back home, I think that’s a Canadian thing. But we made capicollo, guanciale, pancetta, and lardo.
Did you make ‘nduja?
In Catanzaro they don’t traditionally make ‘nduja but my zia Agnese, who was from Vibo Valentia (where it ‘nduja comes from), told me her recipe just before dying. She told me in December and she passed away in February.
I started making it for my restaurant, 30 kilos a year! I love it, but it takes time. You have to mince it twice so it’s nice and spreadable. And then you have to season it and cure for five or six months.
Luciano and Giuseppe demonstrate zia Agnese’s ‘nduja – click here to see the recipe.
What about fresh sausage, did you make that or was it the same thing as the salsiccia?
Same thing, some of it you cure and some of you cook and eat sooner. We would call the fresh ones spaghii, which is kind of a verb that means “to rope,” because they were strung together and hung like a rope. After that first week we would really start to crave the meat, so my father would roast the the spaghii on a spiedino (skewer) over charcoal in the fireplace. You have it with bread – leftover pitta calabrese style bread is perfect, it soaks up the juice. And that’s your dinner that night, pan’e fazzizz’. Oh my god, it’s so good.
What other products did you make?
So many things! There’s another sausage we make, it’s actually my favourite, we call it cervellati or sozzizz’e (di) corata) – a kind of offal sausage.
There’s also a very common Calabrese dish called frittlula that we’d make on the third day, after we made all the salami. It’s made from bones and leftover parts of the pig that are slow cooked for many hours in a big pot. And then we would make the gelatina which is a kind of like head cheese or pâté,
From the hard fat we would make u grassu or grasso (lard) that was mostly used for baking. Or preserving, for example the shank of the pig’s leg we would keep for a few months until fava beans were in season. The impure fat you would get from the bottom of the frittula would be preserved for cooking certain dishes like eggs and onion or leftover pasta.
And of course sanguinaccio, the sweet pudding you make from the blood of the pig. When I was a kid we made it with just vincotto, walnut and raisins, though now it’s very common to add chocolate as well.
And if you want to go way back to when my dad was kid, they would even make some non-edible products. He still knows a recipe for making soap. And there was an old practice where someone would go around collecting the hair from the pig’s chin for making barber’s brushes!
Luciano and Giuseppe share their family recipe for cervellati, a traditional “offal” sausage made in their hometown of Olivadi, Catanzaro.
When you moved to Toronto, did you notice a difference in taste between the pork you find here and the one back home?
Yes for sure. It’s a different diet and breed of pig.*
Plus the salami you get in stores here has more nitrates and chemicals, and its aged in a closed room. Back home we just used salt, peperoncino and wine, and we aged the salami in a cantina where you can control the temperature and air-flow, because there were little windows. So you open it in the morning, close it at night.
And we would smoke the cantina during the first week after making the salami to dry and sanitize the casings. That way there’s no bacteria, and if mosquitoes or flies get into the cantina they can’t deposit any eggs on the dried casings.
What about diet – what did you feed the pigs?
The same thing we would eat, whatever was in season. When I was a kid, every day I’d have to go around our property and collect whatever had fallen on the ground – apples, figs, pears, chestnuts, acorns, and put them in cold storage for the pig.
We would also feed them a mixture of chickpeas, corn, and wheat that my father would make with the small mill we owned. But you have to be careful what you feed pig because it effects the taste. Too much chickpeas or acorns and the meat is bitter. Cabbage or corn on the other hand make it sweeter.
* Large White, Landrace and pietrain are the most pupular type of pork raised in Calabria. Yorkshire is the most common breed in Canada.
Timeline – Tradizione del maiale in Olivadi
- Prepare the clothes, linens, containers, lemons, spices, salts
- Sharpen the knives
- (Day before) start fasting the pig
- Fill the large pot with water for boiling first thing in the morning
- Gather and preparing the wood for the fire
- Light the fire
- (3-4 men, first thing in the morning) gather outside the house of the pig’s owner
- Have a few shots of coffee and/or sambuca to stay warm
- (Owner) tie and ready the pig for slaughter; when the water is boiling, kill the pig by slicing its jugular with a large, sharp knife
- Catch the blood in a container, continually stirring so it doesn’t coagulate. For use to make sanguinaccio.
- Pour hot water poured over pig (1 person); shave its hair (2 people)
- Hang the pig by its hind legs; wash again with hot water, then rub with lemon and salt before rinsing with cold water
- Cut open pig, carefully remove intestines and bladder (to avoid contamination)
- Remove organs, cut pig into sections
- (Women) go to the river or public aqueduct to wash the entrails, rub/treat them with lemon
- Remove the pig’s veils from its meat and organs; to be used for wrapping cappicolo
- Debone legs, shoulders
- Delivering “parcels” of meat to say thanks – doctor, post office, compari
- Clean bones
- Mince the meat for the salumi
- Season the meat for the salumi
- Make the salsiccia and soppressata
- Put aside leftovers cuts for cervallati
- Make cervellati sausage
- Make the ‘nduja – equal parts meat, soft fat and spices
- Marinate meat for pancetta, capicollo and guanciale
- Re-clean bones, soak in water
- Make the frituli
- Cook the bones
- Put aside shank for later use (with fava beans when they are in season)
- Hang the salumi
- Smoke the cantina for the first time
- Make gelatina from leftover meat from frituli
- Make the grasso (lard) and ciculi (impure fat)
- Encase capocolli in the veils and elastics
- Hang the capicolli, pancetta and chiappareddi
- Make the sanguinaccio
- Clean, tidy, organize all tools, linens and containers, and put them back in storage for next year