Italian Salami: their history
History of salami: the origins.
The origins of the pig go back to the beginning of time, and the pig is undoubtedly one of the animals most appreciated by human beings. In Italy, the use of pork meat, especially salted and processed into charcuterie products, also has an ancient tradition.
Initially, animals were reared exclusively to meet the requirements of the family or the village. It was only in Etruscan times that the first forms of non-nomadic breeding had started to develop, along with a higher degree of specialization, also aimed at trading. A significant testimony arrives from the archeological site of Forcello (V century B.C.), in the province of Mantua, where 50,000 pieces of animal bones, of which 60% from pigs, were found. Their study revealed that they belonged to pigs of approximately two or three years of age and that practically no bones of the rear legs were present. It was probably then that the concept of charcuterie products was born.
History of salami: Roman times.
In Roman times, the interest progressively focused on pork legs; the breeding of pigs saw an increasingly definite improvement of the raw material and processing methods. Ham becomes the most expensive product obtained from pork and the protagonist of countless social and celebratory events.
History of salami: the Middle Ages.
With the successive Barbarian invasions, pigs become one of the most critical resources for the villages, and for the countryside, in the form of charcuterie products and the preserved meats – hams, shoulders, and pancettas – even become monetary currency. In the Middle Ages, woods are measured according to their ability to nourish pigs, rather than to their extension. It’s because pig grazing is so crucial.
History of salami: The Renaissance.
With the passing of centuries, pig breeding and the consumption of pork-related products progressively gain importance. From the triumphs of the Renaissance period, when the art of gastronomy develops, and pork appears on the most sumptuous banquet tables, up to the nineteenth century, when the first food workshops and charcuterie shops open.
Between the 12th and the 17th centuries, Italy sees a steady development of the jobs linked to the processing of pork. It’s the period when the figure of the norcino (pork butcher from Norcia) appears, and thanks to his skills, he creates new charcuterie products.
These professionals start organizing themselves into guilds or confraternities, and they start taking on important roles within the society. Bologna saw the establishment of the Corporazione dei Salaroli (the Guild of Salters). Florence, at the Medici epoch, saw the rise of the Confraternita dei Facchini di San Giovanni (the Confraternity of Saint John’s Servants) that was initially part of an association of pork butchers and then dedicated itself also to patronage and art.
In 1615, Pope Paul V recognized the Confraternity of Pork Butchers dedicated to the Saints Benedetto and Scolastica. Later, his successor Gregorius XV elevated it to Archconfraternity, which, in 1677, was also joined by the University of Norcia and Cascia Pork Butchers and Empirical Pork Physicians (types of sorcerers). Graduated, blessed, and patented, norcinos increased their fame also outside the Papal States.
Their activity, however, was seasonal in that pigs were slaughtered once a year, and there were no techniques for fresh meat preservation. They used to leave their cities (Norcia, Cascia, Florence, and Rome) at the beginning of October and return home towards the end of March when they would recuperate their daily work selling hay or gardening tools.
The fame of the norcino figure remained unchanged until the aftermath of the Second World War.
History of salami: modern times.
Today, the heritage of norcinos has been handed down to the artisans and to the food industry world that is always ready to create innovative products, sometimes rediscovering its ancient recipes.
Courtesy of Istituto Valorizzazione Salumi Italiani IVSI