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!


  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!

    • Dr. Stephanie Desiderio says:

      If you live in or around NYC getting the blood is quite easy. Most Chinese markets carry it (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens are the boroughs that are one can find it the easiest). You can also go to Little Italy or China Town in Manhattan.
      If you life in another state, try your local Chinese restaurant to get the blood, as they might be able to order it for you, or have it on hand for their own consumption (my friends father has a Chinese restaurant in upstate NY, and they order it to make Blood Soup for themselves). You can also ask a reputable butcher to get you the blood.

  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.



  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!


  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!

  21. Nicola says:

    I was born in Italy and lived there for 11 years before coming to America. I come from Ruvo del Monte, a small village in the Italian region of Basilicata and we would also hold our traditional pig festival once a year and would make sausages, sanguinaggio, pigs feet and many other things using every part of the animal. Nothing went to waste. But my most favorite thing to eat was the blood & chocolate sweet pie we would make everytime for dessert. It was a true pie because the blood & chocolate mixture would be in a very crisp pie crust and would be covered with alternating strips of pie crust put in a pie pan and baked in the oven just like a regular pie. I have never forgotten how delicious it was and to this day, I am now in my sixties, I still crave the taste and very creamy texture of my favorite pie in the world…blood pie. Whenever I describe to people how delicious it was, their first reaction is Ewh! I could you eat blood?

  22. Shannon says:

    Isn’t it ironic how many Americans would be disgusted by the idea of this recipe, yet they eat gravy without a second thought? Ha. The irony. We even eat the bones of animals ground up with sugar and stuffed intestinal llinings. It never fails to amuse me the ignorance of some of my fellow Americans. I’d like to try this recipe.

    P.S-Don’t get me wrong I love my country, it’s just humourous

  23. Brian Bornemann says:

    I hope to make this soon! It has intrigued me for some time, and now I am about to write a tasting menu based off using a whole hog, and it seems a perfect fit. My questions are:1) how important is the freshness of the blood if you are cooking it anyways? Obviously the fresher the better, but if it is sealed properly, what is the difference between fresh and three-day old blood? And 2) What was the name of the book of traditional Neapolitan desserts?
    I appreciate your time. Thanks.

    • Emiko Davies says:

      To be honest I can’t tell you how it will turn out with three day old blood – I imagine just fine but the tradition of the recipe is that it’s made when the pigs are slaughtered. In other words, as fresh as can be! The book is called I Dolci Napoletani by Luciano Pignataro, it’s in Italian. Good luck!

  24. Lyra says:

    I was watching the television program “Hannibal” and this was a desert he served. I investigated on Google and found your lovely blog. Interesting desert. On the program it was served inside the rind of half an orange and it looked even more beautiful.

  25. duche says:

    Does this pudding actually need the blood of a pig in it, cause it sounds nice and i want to try it but without the blood in it tho because my religious beliefs is against tasting anything relating to pigs

    • Emiko Davies says:

      I can’t say how this will turn out with anything other type of blood as a substitute, but I can say that it’s such a beloved dessert but even for those who are squeamish or don’t want to use pig’s blood there are many versions of this without blood. It usually involves milk as the main liquid and some cornstarch or flour to thicken it so it becomes a sort of chocolate pudding.

  26. Cara says:

    I was looking for a recipe for blood ice cream and it took me to your website. Cooking the blood seems to be a interesting and delicate process, the proteins in blood lend it a heat-sensitive nature. My only concern is the blood congealing, what do you mean by “melting” the blood? Does congealed blood really melt back into it’s liquid form, or does it simply break up into tiny pieces (like silken tofu)? I’ve never cooked with fresh blood before and it gives me chills (in a good way).
    Glad that I found your beautiful website!

    • Emiko Davies says:

      From my experience with it, it doesn’t break up into pieces, but it acts like a thickener — think of how egg yolks make a custard or sauces thicker, for example. I hope that helps a bit. Good luck on your cooking adventure!

  27. Alicia says:

    I happened across this recipe a couple years ago and have made it a few times. The one thing I can never seem to get right though, is that I can never find the happy medium between cooking so much that it coagulates a lot and becomes grainy/stringy and not being able to get it thick like custard as you described. What is the ideal setting on a stove that goes from 1-9 and about how long should it take at that setting?

    • Emiko Davies says:

      Hi Alicia, I remember hearing about some problems with cooking with blood due to anti-coagulants being added to the blood. Historically, this is a dish that was made with absolutely fresh blood, so fresh, it was still warm when it went right into the pot. It’s important because it had nothing else added to it — simply cooking it, it becomes very thick, smooth and creamy for whatever use it was (think of cooking eggs for custard — very similar, you don’t need much time and not too much heat), whether for sausages, pudding, salame or what have you. When you buy it from a butcher, it will sometimes have anticoagulants added to it so that as it’s sitting around it doesn’t get lumpy and coagulate. I think that this is likely the culprit — you could try making the rounds and speaking to butchers about it to find out more. I found that, in Australia at least, the most authentic Italian butchers who serviced also a lot of restaurants (it’s quite popular to make in-house blood pudding!) knew exactly what I needed. And I heard too that Vietnamese butchers were also able to get it. So a bit of hunting might be in order!

      • Alicia says:

        Ok, that makes a lot of sense! Thank you! Although I must say that even when I can’t get the consistency quite right, it is delicious! Like a protein shake, but more savory and not quite as weird. Unfortunately, I have so far only found one butcher who is able to order it at all, only in gallon sizes and normally arrives frozen in a tapered Milk-style jug. Yes, I asked, and they are neither able to order it in different containers nor in a liquid state. San Diego is a big area though with a lot of cultures, so maybe I just need to try another district. We do have a “Little Italy” and we do have a significant mixed Asian population here as well, so maybe I can get better. I feel lucky as-is to be able to find it at all considering that California seems to have so many strange laws and regulations.

      • Alicia says:

        I’ll also see what happens if I put it in an Ice-Cream maker, as you suggested.

  28. Ky says:

    I am going to make this for a dinner party and would like to know how many servings/how much this recipe makes?

  29. Giuseppe says:

    Hi Emiko,

    What a terrific blog/recipe! Brings back amazing childhood memories for me; even though I was born/live in Australia, the Italian heritage and tradition in my family has always been upheld.
    We at home have made such variations including semi-dried figs, pork back fat and savory versions containing less chocolate and inclusions such as chilli and salt.
    Pork blood is such a beautiful and versatile ingredient, and working as a food technologist in the meat industry, it is such a valuable resource and is very very nutritious.
    Nothing goes to waste 😉
    Keep up the amazing work.

  30. Carmichael Dale says:

    I just stumbled across this by pure accident and the memories just came flooding back.

    This post made my day and just loved to read other peoples comments which shows a high level of culture!!!

    This dish is an absolute delicacy to say the least and like most exotic delicacies, it is not for everybody ( especially those who claim that it is a sin to eat blood!! & so too is stealing and lying, therefore I will not be one to cast the first stone!!! LOL!!!)

    In the late 1960’s, my late mother also made it when we travelled up in the Midlands as we knew a pig farmer who always gave us a gallon of fresh pigs blood!!! I could not wait to return home to London for my mother to prepare it. Her version was using Polenta ( corn meal) pure cocoa, sultanas, pine nuts, raw sugar, some Strega Liqueur and a few pieces of lemon rind. If my memory serves me correctly, it also had some cinnamon and honey, but there was definitely no milk nor cream. She is long gone for met to ask her but we loved it better than any dessert known to us!!!. In fact, we lived next door to an Anglican Priest who stopped over one night to ask us how we were upon noticing of our absence from being away, when my mother had freshly prepared it. We were indulging on it as most young children do with sweets. My mother was slightly reserved to offer him due to a church preacher’s reaction about it as it contained blood. Cutting a long story short, his response was” it is what comes out of a person that makes him unclean and not what goes into him”, so I will gladly accept and days later his wife asked for the recipe!

  31. Alison Kay says:

    Hi Emiko,

    Thanks for this post! I am currently reading a book published by Sarnus in Florence called Sanguinacci. It is amazing. I live in Pontassieve. I get meat direct from Flavio at La Valle del Sasso in Santa Brigida. I’ve asked him about blood and he says he cannot get it. Have you tried to or got blood here in Tuscany? I am so very keen to try out some of the many blood recipes in this book!!

    Thank you

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