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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 February 2008, 14:02 GMT
Salami and sausages the traditional way
By Emma Wallis
BBC, Rome

Rural traditions around the world may be dying out but one Italian family still celebrates the annual "day of the pig", when two pigs are slaughtered to provide family and friends with meat for the rest of the year.

Fulvio at chopping board
In medieval times, skilled butchers also practised as surgeons
"This little piggy went to market, and this little piggy stayed at home. This little piggy had roast beef and this little piggy had none. But this little piggy cried 'wee wee wee wee wee wee wee' all the way home."

The popular children's nursery rhyme takes on a whole new meaning after you have attended the Solazzo family's "day of the pig" and watched the pig dispatched to meet its maker.

The temperature is about 5C, with the morning frost still coating the carrots and cabbages in the allotment.

The pig's hot, smoky breath fills the air as it squeals and squirms.

Years ago, I was told, the spectacle was even more gory but the slaughter I watch is still horrific. The huge pink sow lived squealing and grunting through not just one bolt to the head but three.

After the first shot, the butcher quickly slits her throat. Blood stains the gravel below red.

"It's like a child possessed," says head of the family, Pietro Solazzo, happily.

Their babies will know where their food comes from and not just see it wrapped in plastic from the supermarket

Pietro, a stocky retired builder, smiles and darts around, seemingly turbo-charged. I am transfixed, as this tortured and agonising death gives a whole new meaning to the expression "slow food", and the notion of knowing where your food comes from.

Finally, the sow's knees buckle and she falls to the ground, the life blood literally drained from her.

Sausages and salami

The Solazzos quickly demonstrate that there is life after death because it is only after the pig's death that they get going.

The family's allotment
Out there on the smallholding just south of Rome, the family keep in touch with nature

The pig is hoisted from a ladder. The coratella (the heart, lungs, liver and spleen of the pig) are hung from butcher's hooks to be chopped up later.

Fat is sliced off and put into blue plastic buckets, and the hams chosen and chopped for salting and sharing.

In the small brick refuge, I am surprised that there is none of that nauseating smell of raw meat that you find in some butchers' shops.

A roaring fire crackles and spits in the corner, and jokes and tall tales fly around between Pietro and his red-aproned, florid-faced butcher friends Fulvio and Vittorio.

Once the meat has been chopped, it is time to make sausages and salamis: meat minced, garlic ground and wine, herbs and plenty of salt sloshed into the mix.

As Marco - Pietro's tall, dark haired dentist son - turns the handle on the sausage press, Fulvio gradually guides the minced meat and fat into the white sausage skins.

Butchers and surgeons

"I'm a Norcino from Norcia," Fulvio proudly tells me.

Norcia is the Umbrian town so famous for its pig butchers that Norcini - the name for the townspeople - is also the name given to pork butchers around Italy.

Map of Italy

"I started when I was 10. You had to learn quickly in those days as they didn't pay you until you could do the job," says Fulvio.

In medieval times, the townspeople from Norcia were so practised at butchering pigs that they gained an in-depth knowledge of anatomy and were allowed to practise as surgeons along with members of the clergy.

This is something that does not surprise me as I watch Fulvio deftly cut and twist the meat.

'Turning back time'

Ever since Roman times, pork meat has been held in high regard in Italy. Giancarla, Pietro's wife, is a kind-eyed quietly spoken teacher. She explained to me why the tradition is so important.

This is about turning back time and gathering everyone I love around me
Giancarla

"This is about turning back time and gathering everyone I love around me. It's a party because it was a big occasion once upon a time. It's about the basis for life."

As Giancarla speaks, the rest of the family starts to arrive. Children, grandchildren and dogs spill out of the cars and start preparing lunch.

The first sausage comes off the fire and Pietro stuffs it into my mouth.

After the horrific scenes earlier, I am surprised to find the meat is delicious and everyone is smiling.

The liver is cut off the coratella and sliced up to be fried with onions, and we enjoy a nice drop, no, not of Chianti but of Primitivo, the robust red wine from Puglia, where Pietro has his origins.

In touch with nature

The family has managed to update its traditions perfectly for the modern world.

The babies will know where their food comes from, and not just see it wrapped in plastic from the supermarket. Out there on the smallholding just south of Rome, they keep in touch with nature.

They might be happily stroking the snuffling rabbits and piglets now but, in a few months, they will enjoy them seasoned with rosemary. This mix of the old and the new is what life should be about, says Giancarla.

I can imagine what her adaptation of the old nursery rhyme might be for her six-month-old granddaughter Matilde, gurgling happily in her mother Laura's arms.

As if to demonstrate Giancarla's point, Laura tells me that this year the pigs were called Dolce and Gabbana.

Names not just chosen for their comedy value, but also as a kind of personalised thumbing of the nose to an increasingly superficial and plastic-fantastic world.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Thursday, 7 February, 2008 at 1100 GMT on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.



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