ITALIAN DELICACIES: CINTA SENESE
The history and the secrets of the most important pig breed of Tuscany: a kind of pork meat with a unique consistency.
The Cinta Senese is neither a charcuterie product nor fresh pork: the term refers to the most important pig breed of Tuscany and one of the most prized in all Italy, as well as being most probably one of the oldest. It gets its name from its glossy black skin with contrasting white band, the so-called “cinta”, around the neck, which distinguishes this breed.
HISTORY OF CINTA SENESE
The Cinta Senese is the forerunner of all Tuscan pig breeds. It was even raised by the Etruscans and followed the Romans in their migrations. It came to the aid of peasants in the Middle Ages during periods of pestilence and famine. Its ancient origins are evidenced in a well-known painting of 1340 by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, “The Effects of Good Government” portraying a small pig standing next to a peasant.
This little pig risked extinction owing to the popularity of more productive and prolific breeds. Fortunately, from the 70’s onwards, thanks to a state-run project, it has been reintroduced in a number of Tuscan pig farms but continues to be a high quality niche product.
It was awarded PDO status by the European Commission in 2012 as a unique pig breed with no equal anywhere in the world.
WHERE YOU CAN FIND CINTA SENESE
Today, Cinta Senese pigs are bred throughout the region of Tuscany up to an altitude of 1,200 metres, particularly in the provinces of Siena, Arezzo and Grosseto.
These animals are reared strictly out of doors, in woodlands of various tree species, especially acorn bearing holm oaks. The pigs are reared in wild or semi-wild conditions, where they are left free to pasture in woods planted with small shrubs.
HOW IS CINTA SENESE MADE?
Outdoor farming ensures that these animals grow healthy and stress-free. A sow has no more than 6-8 piglets per year compared to the 25 piglets produced by the Large White, the most widespread Italian pig breed. Regulations stipulate that no more than ten adult animals can occupy one hectare of land.
Another important norm regulates their feed: 60% of their nourishment must come from Tuscan products. In their woodland pastures, they find leaves, acorns, olives and locally grown grains.
Finally, the animals may not be butchered before one year of age.
The resulting product is a small pig of average size, with thin black bristles and a characteristic white band around its breast and forelegs. Its snout is elongated and narrow and its ears hang over its eyes to protect it from bramble bushes and brushwood.
CULINARY USES OF CINTA SENESE
The cinta senese is a prized pork meat, which is lean yet tasty. Its aromas and flavours are those of the woods: acorns and hazelnuts. It is savoury, tender and succulent, with bright pink or red coloured flesh.
According to the cut, its meat may be processed in the great charcuterie tradition of Tuscany to become finocchiona, the Tuscan salami, capocollo and rigatino, a sort of prized guanciale (pork cheek bacon). In this case, its flavour is determined by an addition of spices and the various processing techniques employed. Otherwise, the fresh meat will be used to make porchetta (boneless, stuffed roast pork), steaks or ribs for cooking on the grill.
Belly of pork, a great favourite among chefs, is cooked at a low temperature before being passed under the grill to make the rind crisp. However, what really sets it aside from other types of pork is its consistency. Cinta Senese pork has a high level of intramuscular fat made up of unsaturated fatty acids, the healthy type. This makes the fat more tender with larger cells rich in water content and a more fluid texture, which is very agreable on the palate.
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