Horse fever

by Pier Paolo Polimeno

The very first time I heard about it, I thought it was a reinterpretation of  the famous Liguria’s sauce. I was wrong. In Parma, when you say pesto, you only mean  the raw, ground and minced horsemeat, usually eaten with salt, oil, pepper and eventually lemon.

The “caval pist”, in Parmesan dialect, arrived in the city’s culture in 1881, when Mr. Orlandelli opened up the first butchery in Farnese’s street, which lately became famous because of a horse-head sculpture above the door.

This dish, which most people misunderstand as a tartare, quickly became, like fried cakes with cured meats, a Parmesan must and it was added to the specialties of Emilia Romagna.

Although tradition says to eat it raw, horse can be prepared in many ways. If you want to do a steak, you can cook it. Someone use it for the pasta’s filling. Someone to do meatballs, usually with parsley. For the spicy horse lover, there’s a version with garlic, parsley and spices. A great recipe is the Vecchia, or vecia.

Even though it doesn’t require a tough preparation, when you eat it you can feel the old fashioned home’s heat and authenticity. Matter of fact, it’s a slow and high-temperature recipe. First you need to grind onions, garlic, celery and parsley, then you add peppers, tomatoes and broth. Lately you can add horse meat and potatoes.

“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” said Shakespeare, and nobody can’t argue with that. In Parma horse meat is fundamental, and the city is first in consumption, slaughter and commerce.

For the citizens, then, it’s synonym of pride and tradition. As well as innovation, considering it can be both street food and gourmet. However, despite low levels of fat, nonexistent cholesterol contents and low percentages of proteins and iron, which is great for sports and diets, hippophagy is still a controversial topic. As a matter of fact many cultures see it as a taboo, similar to eat dogs or cats. For Spanish people “horses are more precious than any other treasure”, for Arabic people are “a gift that God made to men”. So in many parts of the world horses should be free to run, instead of liying on furnished tables. It is reasonable to wonder if it’s right or wrong, and if there’s a sort of ethic which decide who to sacrifice and who to save. The only certainty is that horse meat consumption is part of the history of Parma, and so it must be accepted and recognized it for what it is: culture.

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