ON A WINTER’s day in July a group of Slow Food Perth members and friends gathered and, under the tutelage of our host and chef Vincenzo Velletri, we embarked on the process of transforming pig to sausage. Five days ago Annie and Neil Kavanagh’s 120 kilo organically raised pig from Spencers Brook Farm had been specially selected and slaughtered. Our aim was to reproduce the Slow Food Presidia Monte San Biagio sausage. Armed with knives, aprons and chopping boards we followed Vince’s instructions. No easy mincing in machines but cutting the pork by hand into very small pieces. What a production line, slabs of pork were cut from the bone, sliced by one group and diced by the next. Little did we know that we were not making plain Italian sausages but a special sausage whose recipe has a long traditional history and has been brought here by Vincenzo.
The main ingredients of the Monte San Biagio sausage are small pieces of hand cut pork containing no more than twenty five percent of fat to meat, chilli, coriander, salt and some Moscato wine, from Valle Marina.Â Because of its microclimate this wineÂ has a unique flavour and it helps to impart extra flavour to the sausage. Because of the crawl of urbanization where vineyards reach down to the sea, the Moscato from “Valle Marina” is under threat and very few remain. The sausages can be used fresh but they are usually hung to dry, often smoked and can last for the whole year. They can be preserved under olive oil, pork dripping and even under ash. It is said that during the occupation of the Saracens coriander seed was added to disguise the taste and smell of the pork which was a forbidden food to the Muslims.
Vincenzo Velletri was born in Fondi, in the Province of Latina, not only famous for its agriculture because of its abundant water supply but also because of its sausage whose fame is shared with the neighbouring town of Monte San Biagio. Last year Monte San Biagio had their sausage registered in the Slow Food Presidia. Fondi and Monte San Biagio are neighbouring towns, Fondi lies on the plain between the Ausoni and Auronci Mountains and Monte San Biagio is located nearby on the slope of Monti Ausoni. Fondi has a long and ancient history having been settled for thousands of years BC. The famous Roman road, the Appian Way passes through the centre of the town and was the chief highway that connected Rome to Greece.
The Presidia is the working arm of the “Ark of Taste” The Ark has listed hundreds of extraordinary products worldwide. This has made an important contribution to the cataloguing of diverse traditional foods. The Presidia can work in different ways to help save them from extinction. It may be enough just to help build a slaughterhouse or reconstruct an oven, but in the long run its aims are constant, to help bring the product to public attention, to promote the artisan, to stabilize production techniques and finally to guarantee a viable future for traditional foods
To be inducted into the Ark, a product must conform to the following five criteria; It must be linked to the memory and identity of a group; have outstanding taste quality; be linked environmentally, socio-economically and historically to a specific area; be produced in limited quantities by farms or small scale processing companies and its continuity be potentially threatened.
The origin of sausage making dates back to antiquity but probably began when man learned that salt was an effective preservative. The word sausage derives from the Latin ‘salsus’ meaning salted. There are hundreds of varieties, from recipes handed down in families to local and national ones. As soon as mankind was able to achieve a regular surplus of meat he began to look for ways to preserve it. Cutting up meat, salting and sealing it in casings made from the intestines was one of the first discoveries of early farmers. Pig was the main source of most sausages and most sausages were developed locally, depending on what food sources were available and the climatic conditions. Early sausage makers used herbs and drying and smoking as a source of preserving. Spices were later imported from the east.
From the communal library of Monte San Biagio it is documented that the breeding of pigs occurred in the 7000 hectare of oak forest that surrounds the two towns of Fondi and Monte San Biagio where pork was a main source of food and economy for the local inhabitants. There are still to be found hidden in the forest some old straw bundles and small round circular stone constructions withÂ shrub roofs and a central fireplace which was used for drying the meat. It is said today that some people still prefer to dry their sausages this way.
After a morning’s work in the kitchen, lunch was our reward and, of course, pork was on the menu. During the morning tea break fresh pasta had been made by Vincenzo and some willing helpers. While this busy team worked to make the pasta, morning tea was served with Rosalba’s scrumptious crostata and spiced apple cake. The pasta was hung to dry while we completed the meat preparation and then finally Vincenzo added the spices and salt. No scales to measure just a small amount cooked over the fire to test for the correct seasoning. Our 3 course lunch was simply delicious – a ragout of pork to go with the fresh pasta, which had been slowly cooking for some hours. A huge pot of polenta was stirred by helpful kitchen hands all eager to partake of lunch after the hours of preparing, chopping, slicing and dicing. The polenta was served with some of the pork filling which had been tossed in oil and cooked over the fire. And to complete the lunch Vincenzo barbecued some of the pork steaks which we ate with green salad and a typical Fondi dish of wildÂ broccoli, stir fried with extra virgin olive oil and garlic, collected earlier that morning from Vincenzo’s uncle’s nearby farm.
The afternoon passed very quickly, while many of us helped to carefully wash the cow intestines destined for the casings of the sausages, by passing water through, from one end to the other, others prepared the strings for tying off the ends. Yet others cleaned the myriad of boards, knives and benches used in the making. Then we waited while Vincenzo added the white wine needed to blend the mixture at this stage to ensure the sausage would not dry out. Two rotating teams of 3 people worked to fill the skins, pushing the meat into the mincer, turning the handle and holding the skin firmly onto the nozzle. A 120 kilo pig made roughly 60 kilos of pork sausages.