What is Lardo di Colonnata?
Lardo di Colonnata is a true Italian heritage food; (it is very unfortunate that non-Italians will generally confuse the name with simple lard, which is far from the truth). This product is a deliciously seasoned, cured slab of pure fat from the back of the pig, which has been cured in a particular way, and it is a delicacy in Italy where it can often be seen on a platter of Salumi (Italian cured meats). Lardo di Colonnata is a superior product and it is protected by an IGP designation, meaning that production is restricted to the region around the little village of Colonnata. In addition, the IGP brings with it certain regulations regarding the production, and ensures that the product is matured in a particular way in the Marble caves near Colonnata.
The Marble Caves of Carrara and the Apuan alps
The magnificent mountains that surround the town of Carrara are a sight to behold! In the height of summer they appear to be covered in snow, but it is not snow but precious white marble that is gleaming in the sun. The marble from Carrara has been known since Roman times, and is where the huge block that was the basis of Michelangelo’s famed “David” was hewn. The town of Carrara is a monument to marble, and you will see marble wherever you look – marble benches, marble statues, marble steps and a gleaming marble Duomo (cathedral). Today you can go on a quarry tour to get an idea of how incredibly difficult it must have been to produce the marble here all those years ago, with no equipment! Above the town of Carrara, in the village of Colonnata, you can learn how the marble caves of the area are essential today in the production of Lardo di Colonnata, just as they have been for centuries.
Legend has it that the original Lardo was produced by the Roman quarry workers who needed a nutritious meal to sustain them during their labours in the quarries.
How Lardo di Colonnata Is Made.
Thick slabs of trimmed pork back fat are seasoned with salt, pepper, rosemary, garlic (and sometimes other herbs such as star anise, oregano, coriander, cloves, etc) and packed into specially carved Carrara marble containers, which are porous and allow for the curing process to take place. Production only takes place in winter, and the vats of seasoned fat are aged and matured entirely naturally in the Marble Caves, where the micro-climate is perfect for the job of curing the meat without any additives or preservatives.
The resultant Lardo di Colonnata, shaved into delicate thin ribbons, is a delicate, creamy textured sliver, full of the rich flavours of the herbs, which perfectly complements a slice of grilled Italian bread – crostini. It tastes a little like the fatty part of a slice of perfect prosciutto, but with a lot more flavour! It is generally eaten just as described above, and forms part of an antipasti platter, along with other cured meats (salumi). It can also be used to impart flavour and moisture to roast game birds or other dishes that require a little extra fat.