It’s that time of year again here in rural Emilia… that time of year when La Famiglia gets together for a full day of literally pigging out. The Maialata (‘maiale’ means ‘pig’ and ‘-ata’ kind of makes it a ‘fest’) is a traditional meal that takes place in January, when farmers used to butcher their pigs for the coming year’s supply of prosciutto and salame.
The first year I was in Italy I almost didn’t make it through the entire thing. The pork sweats set in while we were still on the first course, and I was feeling ill by the end of it. Now, however, I much more seasoned in the ways of pork eating, and I am proud to say that I survived this year’s Maialata with room for a little fruit salad at the end!
Please allow me to walk you through the menu. Some things, like the pasta dish, change every year depending on La Mamma‘s fancy. Then others, such as the ciccioli appetizer, are staples you don’t mess with. Ciccioli are a popular snack around these here parts. They are like little fried (but they are actually just aged) chips of pork fat and scraps. Yum!
As a second appetizer… just to whet your palette a bit more… there are various platters of affettati misti. The one pictured below has a fresh salame on the right, some cicciolata in the center, and good ‘ole lardo on the left.
Next we move on to the primi (first courses). This year, La Mamma made a very nice garganelli (egg past)a dish with zucchini and mortadella combined with a splash of milk.
The secondi (second courses) numbered three this year. The first was the traditional ossa e piedini (bones and feet), the poor man’s parts of the pig. No part of the pig may be wasted, so even the leftover bones and chopped off feet are cooked. You have to kind of suck the meat off of them, and the toes involve a lot of cartilage…. not my favorite. My husband, The One, LOVES the toes!
The second secondo this year was a combination of two very traditional plates – zampone and cotechino, served on a bed of verza (cabbage) with the traditional lenticchie (lentils) served on the side this time. Zampone is a pig’s leg, chopped off, boned, and stuffed with a ground mixture of pork, pork rind, and spices. The skin of the leg takes on a gelatinous consistency, which can be avoided by eating cotechino instead, which is a similar thing but only the filling without the leg itself. (This was right about where I started feeling ill the first time I was subjected to the Maialata).
As the final secondo, La Mamma like to change it up a bit every year. Sometimes she does involtini (meat rolls), sometimes an arrosto (roast). This year it was puntine (ribs) with oven roasted potatoes! She insisted that she burned them, but they were wonderful.
We finished off the meal with some light intrigoni (fried pastry covered in powdered sugar) and tortellini dolci (little pastries stuffed with cream and marmalade), as well as a little macedonia (fruit salad) to cleanse your palette at the end.
At the end of the three (to four) hour meal, the nocino is passed around “because it helps you digest”. Nocino is a local and traditional liqueur made from walnuts. The older it gets, the better, so it’s a lovely way to honor one’s ancestors by pulling out Nonna’s Nocino (Grandma’s nocino) which has been sitting in the cantina (cellar) since the mid 80’s. Because of the farmer mentality of reusing EVERYTHING, it’s actually very common that bottles of nocino get lost and forgotten in the depths of the attics and cellars that are full of all the stuff they can’t throw away. One year, La Mamma was going through an ancient cabinet, trying to find some old fabric to reuse, and stumbled across a bottle of her grandmother’s nocino from the early 70’s. That bottle didn’t last long at the next Maialata!