WORLD FOOD – Mozzarella Plus

19 Jul 2002

The hilly Cilento district, suspended midway between the Tyrrhenian and the Campanian-Lucanian Apennines, is a treasure trove of classical culture. On the plain of the River Sile stands Paestum, one of the most fascinating archaeological sites of Magna Graecia, while Capo Palinuro was immortalized by Virgil in The Aeneid as the cliff off which Aeneas’s trusty helmsman Palinurus drowned.

Today the Cilento district is characterized by extensive cultivation and well-wooded hills and mountains over which communications can be difficult. The district has been saved from haphazard industrialization, and is now exploiting its resources to enhance the environment; one of the largest Italian nature parks has already been set up there. It is also seeking to promote its excellent local produce such as buffalo mozzarella, the round artichoke of Paestum (PGI), the Castel di San Lorenzo DOC and Cilento DOC wines, and the Cilento (PDO) and Colline Salernitane (PDO) extra-virgin olive oils. In the Cilento, they also make fine cured meats that deserve to be promoted and promulgated.

Especially worthy of mention are the pancetta, or bacon, nicknamed longa or longarella, and soppressata di Gioi. The first is abundantly flavored with sweet and hot pepper, though some producers also add pepper, garlic wild fennel seeds and parsley. Two methods are used to cure the meat. It is either left flat down to rest (hence the dialect name of longa or longarella) or it is rolled and tied (a delicate operation because, if the meat happens to get punctured, the air gets in and ruins it). The bacon is then hung to age, sometimes for up to a year in view of its high fat content. The most interesting producer is the Boutique della carne in Corso Umberto I (tel. 0974 992230) in Magliano Vetere (Salerno).

Soppressata di Gioi takes its name from the town of the same name, which, at an altitude of 600 meters, basks in the dry, warm winds from the Tyrrhenian Sea. The specialty is also produced in surrounding villages such as Cardile, Salento, Stio, Gorga, Orria and Piano Ventrale. A product of the very highest quality – made exclusively from the finest parts of the pig (leg, fillet, loin and shoulder) with cartilage and gristle carefully removed – it used to be eaten only on special occasions. Its origins are very ancient indeed, the first written mention of it dating back as far as the eleventh century. The problem nowadays is that soppressata is produced almost solely in families and only a few butchers still make it (one of these is Aria del Campo – Gioi (Salerno), via Acqua del Salice, 3; tel. 0974 991285).
To make the soppressata, the meat is finely chopped with a knife and flavored with salt and pepper and, sometimes, red pepper and wild fennel. After careful mixing, it has to rest for ten hours or so. The distinctive feature of this cured meat is that a fillet of lard of the same length is fitted through the center. The final soppressata di Gioi is shaped like a loaf split into two and is bright red in color. On the palate it is rich in flavor with a slight hint of chestnut. Traditionally it is preserved in suet or oil.

Giancarlo Gariglio, a journalist, is a member of the Sloweb editorial staff

Photo: the soppressata di Gioi

Adapted by John Irving

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