Blood & Chocolate

My old boss in Florence once recounted to me, full of nostalgia, that when he was a child, his small hometown near Foggia, Puglia, would hold a pig festival. Essentially it was an age-old tradition where the town pigs would be butchered and celebrated by using the whole beast, right down to the very last drop of blood. The fresh, warm blood would be collected and then, on the spot, mixed with milk and chocolate and cooked into a dark, decadent, custard-like pudding – it was the highlight of the festival.

This specialty has intrigued me ever since and as I looked further around I discovered more blood-based desserts and more of that nostalgia over the memory of these rich and traditional dishes.

Throughout southern Italy, particularly Basilicata, Calabria, Abruzzo and Campania, the tradition of blood and chocolate can be found. There’s even a version from southern Tuscany’s Porto Santo Stefano where a sweet “sausage” is made from pig’s blood, almonds, walnuts, raisins, orange rind, bread, sugar and pig fat, stuffed into pig’s casings and cooked in boiling water. Campania’s Naples is famous for its Carnevale delicacy, sanguinaccio dolce (sanguinaccio is also the common name for blood sausage, sangue, the Italian word for “blood,” indicating its main ingredient. The word dolce confirms that this is a sweet version), traditionally eaten with savoiardi biscuits for dunking.

A few years ago I bought a cookbook of traditional Neapolitan desserts, which includes four different versions of sanguinaccio dolce. It is often made into a dense, chocolate log (rather than a pudding) with candied citron, pine nuts and spices like cinnamon. But I have never had the opportunity to try any of the recipes until now – in Italy, a 1992 law banned the sale of pig’s blood in many regions, so the lucky people who can still make these ancient recipes usually have to get it themselves, from their own pig. More often than not these days, the recipe is carried on blood-free, with butter and cornstarch attempting to re-create the creamy texture that the blood would give.

Luckily, here in Melbourne we were able to source some fresh pig’s blood from an Italian butcher, one of my favourite butcher shops in the ‘little Italy’ of the city. It was our third attempt at asking for pig’s blood at a butcher – the previous attempts had been unsuccessful, the answer being a slightly wishy-washy, “it’s difficult to get”. But then came the answer, “Sure, how much do you want?”

Pig’s blood must be used when it is as fresh as possible, with traditional recipes calling for “warm” pig’s blood, indicating just how fresh it should be (and where it is likely to come from – home).

While we were waiting for our two litres of blood to be measured out, the butcher – a Sardinian native – asked us what we were doing with it. “Un dolce” – a dessert – was our reply. He nodded knowingly and recounted that his grandmother used to make a sweet, deep-fried fritter made of pig’s blood, walnuts and honey. There was that nostalgia again.

I jumped on the back of the scooter with the glowing red bag of pig’s blood awkwardly but carefully held out to one side, while my husband drove. I thought to myself that we would probably look almost normal if it was Naples, but we were actually weaving through Melbourne traffic – a memorable food moment if there was one.

Sanguinaccio dolce

This creamy, rich dessert has a salty, slightly metallic tang to it from the pig’s blood, which brings out the flavour of the cocoa – highly recommend to anyone who likes this sort of salty-sweet combination (think salted caramel or dark or white chocolate with sea salt). I should note that I added a considerable amount of chocolate to the traditional recipe, and used a dark chocolate of 72% cocoa. The amount of sugar seems very high, but you will need it to balance the saltiness of the blood. Cinnamon and grated orange rind add some traditional (but optional) aromas to this delicacy.

  • 1 litre of fresh milk
  • 1 litre of fresh pig’s blood
  • 500 grams of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
  • 500 grams of sugar
  • Cinnamon, optional
  • Grated rind of 1 orange, optional

In a large pot, heat the milk and the blood together over a low heat. When it is warm, add the sugar and stir to dissolve, then the dark chocolate, broken into pieces. The mixture shouldn’t boil but heat and cook steadily, while you stir constantly. As the chocolate melts and the blood cooks, the mixture will begin to get thick and heavy like a custard. Add the cinnamon and orange (if using), take off the heat and serve warm in cups with savoiardi biscuits.

This mixture does very well transformed into a gelato (when cool, simply put it in the gelato maker), which we did with great success – stay tuned for more on this dish in April, where it will be featured on Food52!

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Comments

38 Responses to “Blood & Chocolate”
  1. Regula says:

    I was looking forward to this post after seeing the puctures on facebook.
    It’s so strange that things that are considered normal in the old days, like buying blood- is now banned. I guess it is because using the blood from your own, or village pig was much safer then but as times changed and intensive farming came along, the blood will have changed too and sometimes will be less ‘natural’ due to the use of antibiotics etc.
    That said, its sad recipes could be lost someday because of laws.
    Lovely post!

    • Emiko says:

      You are so right. I’ve been talking to a few different butchers about this – yes, times are different now and the sheer quantity makes it difficult to get, even here where it isn’t even illegal. It’d be a shame to lose these age-old traditions!

  2. Beautiful post with breathtaking photos. Very happy to have discovered your blog.

  3. Rosa says:

    Very intriguing indeed! This treat is interesting. Until now, I have only eaten pig’s blood in stews (sauce) or in black pudding.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  4. sarahbucket says:

    I’ve a fondness for the blood & chocolate pudding on the menu in London Soho’s excellent Boca di Lupo: served as a deep dark custard with aforesaid candied peel & pine-nuts. Now I need to ask them where they get their pigs’ blood & have a go myself. Thanks – lovely blog, will flag you to my goody friends in Melbourne.

    • Emiko says:

      Glad to know about that, had no idea you could find this dish in London! I will definitely let some curious friends know about that! I’m sure any reputable butcher (particularly one who supplies to restaurants) would be able to get it for you…

  5. What a fascinating post. I’d never heard of the combination before – have to admit I felt a little queasy at first (though I have no idea why, I like my steaks bloody) – but I think I’d like to try it now.

    • Emiko says:

      Hi Emma, I know what you mean – but don’t you think it’s interesting to think of how ingenious country housewives were when it came to using what was on hand? and when eggs weren’t plentiful, well, blood seemed to do the trick! I’ve been told (here in the comments) that they have it on the menu at Bocca di Lupo in London if you want to give it a go!

  6. Angie says:

    I have to tell you, Emiko, I’m not a squeamish eater. With the exception of bugs, I’ll eat anything. But reading this post, I was a bit unsure about how I felt about milk, chocolate and blood. That is, until I saw the last picture. I would eat a bathtub full of that sanguinaccio dolce.

  7. Like Sarah, I’ve eaten the sanguinaccio at Jacob Kennedy’s Bocca di Lupo restaurant in London. My boyfriend ordered it and dared me to try some (I’m slightly squeamish) but it was surprisingly delicious – chocolaty but with a metallic aftertaste that was unmistakably the iron rich taste of blood. I’m fascinated by the idea of turning it into ice cream too!

    • Emiko says:

      That’s exactly how I’d describe the taste too! The gelato works beautifully – as it’s already a sort of ‘custard’ you just put it in the ice-cream maker and it comes out very smooth and creamy.

  8. Joyce says:

    Wow! I’ve heard about this, but I’ve never tried. Do you know where can I find this in Florence?

    • Emiko says:

      I’m quite sure you can’t get it in Florence at all. There is a Pugliese restaurant called Sed Lex in Florence but they don’t have dishes like this on the menu! Closest you could get is finding a pig farmer who will supply you with fresh pig’s blood and try doing it yourself!

  9. Sarah says:

    There is something so very appealing to me about this recipe. Morcilla is one of my favorite sausages–I love the depth of flavor–so I assume that that rich, unctuousness would be stellar mixed in with dark chocolate. I will bookmark this recipe in hopes that one day I can find some fresh pigs blood myself.

    • Emiko says:

      That reminds me of a wonderful dish I had in a tapas bar in Valencia of morcilla and dark chocolate wrapped up in cigar-shape of puff pastry – it’s quite a winning combination!

  10. Paul in the US says:

    When I was growing up calf brains were a breakfast delecacy. After the appearance of “Mad Cow Disease” the only brains you find served, infrequently, are pig’s brains. And these ate found in ethnic eateries in the mid central part of the country.

  11. I so enjoyed your recipes especially the sanguinaccio.My grandmother was from Naples&she made
    this every Sunday.The whole family ate together(9 children&grandchildren)she made ravoli’s&ragu
    with pork&beef&lots of meatballs. I’m 79 yrs of age&love cooking&eating the foods you’ve been
    cooking.We always ate our ethnic foods.It was easy in those days to get calf brains,lungs&all of the animal.Blessings upon you&your husband.

    • Emiko says:

      This comment really made my day! Thank you so much for sharing your story Marion, it’s wonderful to hear about these traditions that can so easily get lost over time – part of the reason why I love writing about them and cooking these old recipes is to keep them alive!

  12. Katie says:

    Hi Emiko!

    I’ve stumbled across your blog and was so thrilled to find a reference to this dessert. On a recent visit to Italy, I met up with some relatives who now live in Rome but are originally from a villaggio called Stigliano in Basilicata, my mother’s family’s region of origin. They insisted on serving us a meal traditional of their hometown, which was finished with a tart filled with exactly this blood and chocolate custard (which they took great pleasure in telling us!) It was delicious, and I found it so intriguing at the time as something I had never even heard of, let along tasted. As you surmised, they source their blood from a cousin, who keeps his own pigs. This post was a fascinating explanation of the origins of this type of sweet dish. Thanks so much!

    Katie

  13. Hello

    Thank you for a wonderful version of the Sanguinaccio dolce. I will make a blood pudding version of this soon, and use a squid ink to retain that ‘blackness’ one would expect…

  14. Emiko
    You have inspired me to make a version of your blood and chocolate gelato! I make my own chocolate from the bean and I have matched it with pacdon park black pudding! This will give the gelato a spicier angle along with the candied fruit.

    Thank you so much for he article. Great website too!

  15. Kiki says:

    Hi Emiko,

    I was looking for this recipe because I’m very intrigued with using blood in sweet foodstuff after watching a snippet of a show on SBS (salty ones are normal as I grew up eating, or rather, drinking cooked cow’s blood from time to time–I realise now that it sounds really weird). So I’m wondering if you can tell me which butcher you get yours from and how much does it cost? Is it in Lygon? Also, how much pudding did you make from that 1 litre? I just want to try to make a little bit of it. Thank you. I hope you can reply this to my email. Cheers.

    • Emiko says:

      Hi Kiki, thanks for your comment! Have never had cow’s blood before, only ever pig, so I’m not sure where (if) you’ll be able to find cow’s but I picked up the pig’s blood from Donati’s on Lygon St. I was lucky though, sometimes they don’t have it or some restaurant beats you to it and they take it all! But it’s definitely the best place for that sort of thing! From that litre, you make pretty much the same amount, it thickens but it doesn’t doesn’t really shrink in any way. You may have difficulty getting a small portion of blood and it’s not recommended to freeze it or wait to use it (ie. use it as soon as you can) – which is one of the reasons I tried out the gelato. This way I could make a big batch and not have it go to waste on me!

  16. Emiko, there is a lovely festival out by poggio a caiano where i go to the blessing of the animals for San Antonio Abate, January 17th. they serve sanguinaccio, which is a crepe, make with the pigs blood and you can have it savory or sweet. served with parmesan cheese or sugar!

    and of course there is burista mallegato and biroldo made with blood in tuscany.

    • Emiko says:

      One of my friends in Pistoia has often told me about the town’s famous migliacci – the crepes they make out of pig’s blood, served in similar way. Sounds very much the same thing actually! Have yet to try them but am very curious!

  17. Deb says:

    I read your recipe and wonder how much more chocolate did you add to this or is the recipe the final one you adjusted from the original.We made this a children with our grandmother,from Potenza and Anzi,Italy!We tried to duplicate it,as there was no recipe,but it came too salty…we were ADDING SALT!!! Can you imagine? I would love to make this as a surprise for my 84 year old father,but hate to do it incorrectly!Can you please advise on chocolate amount you used?Any tips?

    • Emiko says:

      Hi Deb, what precious food memories! The recipe above is my adjusted recipe – sanguinaccio dolce, as you can imagine, has a different version in every southern Italian household, with everyone having a different way of doing it! I prefer more chocolate – and dark chocolate, as opposed to milk chocolate – but I don’t think you can go wrong if you want to use less chocolate or milk chocolate instead (unless of course you add salt instead of sugar!). I think you’ll find the recipe above is well balanced and stays true to its authentic taste. Do give it a try, I hope your father loves it!

  18. Vicki Lishman says:

    We have just tried your recipe in two very different sets of circumstances. The first time was up in the Spanish hills using minutes-old warm blood straight from the pig. The freshness of the blood and salt added to the blood collecting bowl to help it to stop coagulating produced a sweet/salt combination which was utterly sublime. The second time I used frozen pigs blood bought in London’s Soho. The smell was fairly revolting to begin with but mellowed with heating. I added some salt to give the tang. Although it was still a really interesting dessert and one that I would do again it was a patch on the Spanish effort! I guess I should get my own pig in London! Many thanks for the recipe and the inspiration.

    • Emiko says:

      Hello Vicki, thanks so much for your feedback! I’ve never used frozen blood before and was curious about it. Of course any of the traditionalists I asked about it said frozen blood was a no-no for this recipe – as you say, there’s nothing like the fresh experience!

  19. Nate says:

    Hi Emiko – love the blog! Have you ever tried making then reheating this? Curious how it works with the blood in there!

    • Emiko says:

      Good question – no, haven’t tried reheating before but I did put it into an ice cream maker (as is) for a very successful gelato!

  20. Sannie says:

    Wonderful food blog! I love preserving old traditions and new desserts, and am dying to make this! But I do have a question. I know the blood needs to be fresh, but I was wondering if it would cook the same if I substituted cow’s blood for pig’s? I live in Philadelphia, so there aren’t many places that butcher whole pigs nearby, but if I can swap one kind of blood for the other it might be easier to get. :3 Thank you!

    • Emiko says:

      Thanks! I must say that I don’t have any experience with cow’s blood so I can’t really give you a good answer. All of the traditional uses for cooking with blood in Italy (particularly when it comes to sweets) use pig’s blood so I don’t know how it would turn out with another. It might be worth asking a trusted butcher about sourcing pig’s blood. Here it can be hard to get except in massive quantities (like for a restaurant), or a visit to the butchers in the Vietnamese part of town usually has it – good luck!

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