So I haven’t written for a long time. Apologies.
Life in the Maremma Tuscany has been hectic. There have been guidebooks and weddings and running a bakery that sells homemade biscuits.
But I’m back and dedicated (and locked out of my twitter account) to sharing the very best and very quirky bits that make Tuscany such an incredible holiday destination.
It’s hard to think of a better way to restart my love affair with this blog than to write about food. In particular my favourite food in the entire region - lardo!
Detract the ‘o’ and you’ll figure out that lardo is lard. But before you click off in disgust, hear me out.
I grew up in a Calabrese household. Every winter, my nonni would make salami and other cured meats. As part of the process they’d be left with all this fat and gristle, which they collected into big blocks. The blocks were seasoned and cured until they resembled creamy opaque soap. My grandparents would then spread a teaspoon or two onto just-toasted bread. The lard would melt and be absolutely delicious.
Surrounded by the stuff all my life, I admit my Pavlov’s dog reaction to lardo is yum!
But it wasn’t until I moved to Tuscany that I really began my love affair with lardo. The region is famous for it! They’ve been making it since the Roman Empire and it’s now a heritage-listed food.
The best lardo is in Colonnata. Colonnata is a small town just outside of Carrara, where the famous marble is mined. Traditionally, lardo is cured in garlic infused basins made from this marble. The lard is then left in warm caves to age for about six months.
Unlike my grandparents’ recipe, Lardo di Colonnata is a thick slab of fat that’s still attached to the skin – that helps with the curing process. The fat is smeared with salt, pepper and other herbs, mostly rosemary, but they also use fennel seeds and sage.
Not any old pork can be used to make lardo. If you want the really traditional, deliciously melty and beautifully flavoured stuff, you have to make sure your lardo comes from a Cinta Senese – the black and white striped pigs that are native to this part of Tuscany.
Unlike prosciutto and pecorino, lardo is one of Italy’s less known products. You’d be hard pressed to find it outside of Italy. It’s too difficult to ship and there isn’t enough demand. It’s even difficult to find in the mother country. I’ve greedily bought slab after slab of lardo from supermarkets and delis all over Italy only to be disappointed with flavourless or over-salted fair.
As for eating it, lardo is really just a more delicious version of butter. You can have it finely sliced on hunks of artisan bread, you can melt it over your potatoes, use it in the place of oil when you cook vegetables, or serve it with steak.
Lardo is one of those tastes you don’t forget quickly. It’s like truffles or patè – strongly flavoured and distinctive. It’s definitely one to add to the culinary bucket list.
It’s said Michelangelo found the strength and motivation to finish his David thanks to the lardo he munched in Carrara.
You can buy lardo from any supermarket or deli in Italy, but if you happen to be in Colonnata, the best is at Larderia La Conca, a deli that has been making the delicious fat in the traditional way for years.