In 2011, my friend Vanessa came to me with a proposition. A provider of premium culinary tours, she hails from the town of Cesenatico, Emilia-Romagna, on the Adriatic coast. Each year, her family purchases a hog from a local farm and contracts with a norcino, or specialized pig butcher, to process the hog into various salumi. She asked whether I thought the Punk Domestics community would be interested in being a part of this process.
I thought for approximately two seconds. The answer was, obviously, yes.
Over the next few months she worked on building an itinerary, and we were able to unveil one at the end of June. By October, we had sold the requisite number of seats to make the trip a reality.
The trip was set for January 7-13, 2012. The reason for this timing had to do with the salumi making process. The norcino traditionally only slaughters pigs specifically for the purpose of making salumi in the two-week periods after the new moons before and after the winter solstice. (Got all that?) As the new moon fell on Christmas Day, we had only until January 10 for the slaughter.
Cesenatico is a seaside resort town. Its heyday is in the summer, when it is a major vacation destination for Italians and Germans; Americans hardly ever make it to this area. In the off season, the town is positively sleepy.
Cesenatico's port was designed by Leonardo da Vinci, commissioned by Cesare Borgia. A narrow finger of water extends into the town. At the end, in the heart of town, the Museo della Marineria (Maritime Museum) has stationed several traditional late 19th- and early 20th-century fishing boats. For the Christmas season, until January 6, the boats are staged with scenes of the Nativity and traditional fishing village life.
On our first day, we tackled preserves with the lovely Marzia Brigante (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Susan Feniger) of La Casina di Marzia, a nearby B&B in the hills. Marzia had us work on three kinds of winter preserves: Quince jam, pear jam with aromatic spices and savor, a conserve made with apples, pears, quince, nuts and saba, or reduced grape juice.
After explaining what we'd be doing, we set to work. Chopping quince. Chopping apples. Chopping pears. Chopping nuts. Chopping, chopping, chopping.
It's a lot of work, but we did it with great elan, thanks to the fetching aprons that Vanessa's aunt made for us by hand. Besides, working side-by-side engenders a great sense of camaraderie.
And of course, we had to take a break for the requisite shots of espresso and a few slices of housemade panettone.
For the pear preserves, Marzia had chopped a bunch up previously, and macerated it with some sugar, leaving a muslin full of the spices to steep in the released juices.
Some of the pears are milled to give the jam more body. If you like, you could mill all of them for a smooth jam, more like a fruit butter, but Marzia likes it a little chunky.
The ingredients for each of the preserves was put on the flame to boil.
When they reached the right consistency, Marzia rapidly ladeled them into clean jars, slapped on the lids and swiftly turned them upside down to seal.
Now, I know that this is not USDA-approved methodology. But then again, we weren't in the US. But when I make these jams stateside, I will surely adhere to the National Center for Home Food Preservation's guidelines for water-bath canning.