Back in November 2011 I placed an order for an Italian made air drying cabinet to produce salami. Through many months of tests, breakdowns, tears and swearing, said cabinet made its way back to the distributor on Tuesday morning. Like many relationships, the cabinet and I have had our highs and lows, but now there’s a sense of utter relief now that the divorce is final. So where does this leave me? Well, I’m planning to move salami production to the Food Centre Wales (subject to approval) and hopefully I can start actual production this side of Christmas. It’s a starting measure as I’m desperately seeking a bigger production space. If anyone knows of a food processing space or a commercial kitchen for hire in South West Wales, please do get in touch.
It does feel a little as if I’ve been committing technical infidelity on the poor cabinet as I made a whistle-stop tour of Italy to visit another equipment manufacturer last week. I’m sure I could chuck in some cheesy comparisons here about choosing younger models, with sleeker lines, but I won’t. All I need to say is that the trip was effing awesome. The new machinery is just what I need. The company obviously had immense pride in their machinery, and had been producing equipment for the salumi industry for over 30yrs. We had a full factory tour, perfect explanations of the technical specifications, production turnaround, supervisory technology and we managed a visit to a local salumi factory who use the same machinery.
When I mention ‘we’, an old college friend of mine came with me for the trip. My better half was tied up with a presentation and couldn’t get the time off work. So, as the saying goes “what happens in Norcia, stays in Norica”. I will however mention a few titbits. We had an afternoon free on Wednesday, pretty much our only free time, so ever the ‘meat head’ I decided we should make a pilgrimage to the mountain town of Norcia.
En route, and hungry from our early start we stopped at a roadside van to buy a panini con porchetta, at €2.50 it was an absolute bargain, it beat any roadside burger van here in the UK. The equipment company that we visited also make ovens to cook porchetta, and showed us an incredible little video of one of the staff in a local company de-boning a whole 100kg pig in one piece. Once de-boned the inner cavity was rubbed with garlic and filled with trim, liver and a dusting of salt, pepper, fennel and rosemary. The whole pig would be sewn, tied to a cooking bar and slow cooked for around 8hrs.
And so, to Norcia. Why visit such an unassuming little mountain town? Well, firstly it’s the birthplace of St Benedict, and an obvious stopping place for pilgrims. I had my own vested interest in Benedict, but I’m by no means religious. Our farm, Felin y Glyn is part of the old Glyn Estate, some hundred years ago a group of monks from the Benedictine order populated the main country house (which strangely had already been renamed as Glyn Abbey prior to their arrival). Although they were only here a few years, their legacy remains. Pig Aderyn (Birds Beak), is a rare variety of cider apple that can be found in our orchard thanks to them – they’re found in only one other place – the gardens in St Dogmaels on the Pembrokeshire/Cardiganshire border close to St Dogmaels Abbey.
But the main reason to visit Norica was its links with salumi. The town is renowned for its pork butchery, and boasts a number of speciality regional pork products using local ingredients especially cinghiale (wild board), tartufo (truffle) and a variety of wild funghi. Norcia even lends its name to Norcineria, used in Umbria and Tuscany in relation to pork butcheries and processing places but also used in a wider context across Italy as an alternative to delicatessen.
Sadly in amongst its ageing charm, the many norcineria of the town were tourist traps. Out of season they felt a little sad, with pushy owners trying their best to get us to purchase. Each store seemed to be in competition with one another for the award for the most garish taxidermy display, not that I’m complaining about that. Where else can you go to see a stuffed hare complete with a little hunting hat and a miniature shotgun?
The standard of cured products varied greatly, prices for the whole were extremely reasonable, with prosciutto starting at around €13.50/kg – from a personal production perspective, there’s no way I could possibly produce an ethical product at that price. I can’t see many UK producers making whole dried muscles for much less than a minimum of £35/kg. But I suspect in Italy, the quantities sold and the competition between producers calls for more competitive pricing. From a regional perspective, it likes its salt and abundantly adds seasoning. We found the truffle salami a little overpowering. The Prosciutto di Norcia was salty (much like Toscano), with a robust flavour reminiscent of Welsh hams for me, aged for 18 months it had a nutty taste which was quite different to the delicate taste of Parma and San Danielle.
Please don’t be discouraged to visit Norcia from my criticisms of its tourist nature. It’s a great little town, and the stuffed animals and shop displays are well worth a look. If you venture into them all you’ll be stuffed on the free samples of salumi, and there’s plenty of pavement cafes selling the most incredible coffee.