Making Prosciutto di Cinta Senese with Sergio Falaschi

Falaschi butcher shop

I have long been taking advice from my friend and favourite butcher, Andrea Falaschi (above), a fourth generation butcher who goes by @guidofalaschi, the name of his great grandfather who first opened the family butcher shop in 1925 in San Miniato. We share the same passion for ethically and sustainably raised free-range animals, Tuscan traditions and quality over quantity when it comes to eating meat.

Andrea works with his father, Sergio, in the butcher shop and laboratory where they make their famous, artian salumi, prosciutto and sausages, and his mother Lina, who makes fresh preparations for clients to cook at home like stuffed chicken (pollo in galantina), filetto in crosta (pork fillet to be roasted inside bread crust) and spiedini. Before the pandemic, Lina also headed a wonderful restaurant at the back of the butcher shop, which happens to have one of the best views in town!

They work directly with local farmers – just as Andrea’s great grandfather Guido did – who have the same values, and that same care goes into everything they do. They make, amongst many things, San Miniato’s only Slow Food presidium, mallegato, a spiced winter blood sausage, my favourite truffle sausages and precious prosciutto di Cinta Senese, made from an ancient Tuscan pig breed that is only raised free range and has a natural diet of foraged acorns, tubers and roots. One day I’ll go into more detail on the mallegato and other specialties but today I wanted to share their process of making prosciutto, which they do for their own butcher shop and also for other well known farmers and producers around Tuscany.

I was recently invited to visit the Falaschi laboratory, which is in the countryside just 5km from the butcher shop in the historical centre of San Miniato (and a few minutes walk from our new home!). I brought my 8 year old, who loves prosciutto and helped me document the experience! Everything is done by hand, from the filling of finocchiona and salumi in their natural casings, to all the tying, with all natural products according to ancient traditions. We watched the Cinta Senese prosciutto being made – prized for its juicy and tasty meat and its thick, delicious layer of fat. You can always tell it’s a certified Cinta breed (it is a DOP product, aka protected designation of origin) because the hooves are left on the prosciutto to differentiate them from regular prosciutto.

First the prosciutto legs are rolled with a rolling pin to remove any excess blood at the socket. Then they are painted with a mix of garlic, sugar and water. Over goes a heavy sprinkle of ground pepper, then coarse salt all the way down to the hoof (above). They stay like this for 3 days then are hung to cure in an air-temperature controlled room. They take 60 days all together from start to finish! That’s it, time and a few essential curing ingredients, no preservatives or additives.

Cinta senese is a truly ancient pork breed native to Tuscany’s province of Siena (as its name suggests) — it is thought that they were raised even in Roman times. There is a well known fresco by Ambrogio Lorenzetti on the Palazzo del Comune di Siena, painted in 1338, that depicts a farmer with a Cinta Senese pig — easily identified by the thick white band or cinta (belt) across its otherwise black body, which is still how it looks today. A century ago it was the breed of pig that most Tuscan farmers would have kept, however, after the second world War their numbers fell drastically — partly due to the fact that after the war, the prolific Danish and English breeds were introduced. Sadly, this happened all across Italy and during the 20th century many native pigs died out — in 1927 there were 21 heirloom breeds native to Italy and today there are only six, including the Cinta Senese. Luckily from the 1970-1980s, some passionate farmers helped bring them back from the brink of extinction.

In the year 2000 the Consorzio di Cinta Senese, a voluntary group that determine the rules and regulations in which this heirloom pig should be raised, was created and by 2012 it was awarded DOP status. Certified Cinta Senese are born, raised and butchered in Tuscany. They are pure bred, live free range with an enormous amount of space (usually in woods or partially wooded areas, no more than 10 animals per hectare or 2.5 acres) and forage for their food. During the months where there is less around, their diet can be integrated with a small percentage of cereals, legumes, seeds, fresh fruit and vegetables, 60% of which must be Tuscan — more or less replicating the Tuscan traditions of centuries past.

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