La Festa del Maiale
In Introducing Migliaccio di Romagna, a rich pig's blood pudding that's no longer easy to come by because the sale of fresh blood is frowned upon by the Italian ministry of health (it spoils easily), Pellegrino Artusi says,
"The pig, with the variety of its meat and the techniques that can be used to prepare the cuts, has as many different tastes as there are days in a year. It's up to the reader to decide which is best; I just wanted to touch on the so-called pig's wedding, because even a pig can make people celebrate, though, as is the case with the miser, only when he's dead.
"The landowners and farmers of Romagna butcher pigs at home; it's an occasion for more merriment than usual, and the young people live it up. It's also the occasion to remember friends, relatives, and people to whom one owes debts, sending, for example, three or four pork chops to one family, a lobe of the liver to another, and a bowl of good migliaccio to a third; the families that are so graced respond in kind. You may object, 'It's like lending bread and getting flour back,' but these are customs that maintain the bonds of friendship among families. (Drawn from The Art of Eating Well, published by Random House)"
Artusi's farmers and landowners would have celebrated their pig's weddings in late fall, most likely sometime between November and December -- a century ago butchering was as seasonal as any other agricultural activity, with lambs being butchered in early spring, poultry and rabbits year round (I expect), and pigs in the fall. They would have preserved much of the meat from their pigs for use throughout the year by turning it into sausages, prosciutto, and other cured cuts such as capocollo (cured shoulder but). Though there are some people who still cure pork on their own, it's an exacting task that requires experience and meat from a freshly butchered animal, not to mention space. Because of this few Italians who don't live on farms make their own salamis, prosciutti or sausages any more. There is, however, a notable increase in the amount of pork in the markets during the winter, and people use it much more frequently then than they do in the summer months.
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Text & photo © Kyle Phillips.