Pig and fog: the birth of Spigaroli’s Culatello- INTERVIEW

This unique product is born on the banks of the Po river

by Andrea Adorni - ilParmense.net

I worked in France and it is an experience that helped me to understand how important the product is, but also to know how to sell and tell it.

POLESINE PARMENSE | The Great River runs slowly in its riverbed. Not far from the last embankment stands the Antica Corte Pallavicina with its fields dedicated to pasture and vegetable cultivation. The starred chef Massimo Spigaroli welcomes us, where the stench perfume of the cellars combines with the mist of the Bassa parmense. Upon arrival, it seems to come to a small eden, away from city traffic, where animals graze in the green, the fruits and the fields mature at the sun and the cured meats season with the beneficial effects of moisture. In the Antica Corte Pallavicina time has stopped: traditions are impressed in people as a fresco on the wall; everyday life is marked by the cycle of seasons, far from stress and frenzy. Massimo Spigaroli is very attached to all this. And here, where he was born, he decided to stay and start his business.

"When I went to school at Salsomaggiore's Hotelier School" the chef said, "Polesine was an unknown country. I was a foreigner in a foreign land, but I wanted a ransom." In the sixties everyone was trying to escape from Polesine. The future was elsewhere in the big cities: in Parma but also in Milan. Massimo, on the other hand, decides to invest everything in that territory with the aim of making it known, enhancing its products and traditions. A decision coming from afar and following family councils, farmers, and professional restaurateurs.

I was born in a family of farmers, nurses and restaurateurs. When I asked my father why we did three different things, he replied: 'Because we decided to stay here. My mother added that we knew everybody here.

Then the choice, promptly communicated to the family: "Mom, I'll be a chef" reveals Massimo Spigaroli. "I had a dream - he goes on - that was to continue with the farm. I always believed that it could be the right place where producing raw materials for my kitchen." The two older brothers had chosen the Liceo Scientifico, Massimo instead no; communicating that he wanted to make the Hotelier School he was considered as the "Cinderella" of the Spigaroli Family. Study, passion, and dedication lead him to rediscover the ancient secrets of norcineria (pork butchery): "In addition to farmer’s knowledge, I learned about fermentation and chemistry, so I began to approach me differently with cured meats, using a method."

The first professional experiences are at a high level both in some Italian restaurants and in five star hotels in Venice, Punta Ala and Courmayeur. But in France he experienced the leap in quality finding in this country the elements that will contribute to the creation and growth of the Chef's mentality: "It has left me a sign. I understand how important it is to have the product but also how basic is to know how to sell and tell it". Massimo returns to Italy and hence the winning idea: the rebirth of the Bassa Parmense will pass from Zibello Culatello. From this intuition is passed to the regulation for the protection of Culatello, which will also follow the Denomination of Protected Origin. "We realized that it was our typical product and that around it we could do great things" Spigaroli reveals.

The fundamental characteristic is the handmade craftsmanship with pork thighs from Emilia Romagna and Lombardy.

"They often call me a Parma ambassador in the world, but I do not feel like that. I'm one who loves his land, he loves his products and wants to value them in the dishes he is creating." Spigaroli's home philosophy is based on simple ingredients: the genuineness of earth's products, the wisdom of seasoning salami, the simple kitchen with quality raw materials. This is what led Massimo Spigaroli to be recognized among the world's starred chefs. "What we serve in our restaurant is made from raw materials of our land, and I think it is essential to prepare seasonal dishes. I don’t understand why we should eat “cotechino with polenta” in July: you have to eat it in November!." A mentality that recalls the farmer’s way of life, where everything has its own time: a totally different logic from consumerism.

I love vegetables so much and I try to use them often in the kitchen, but they have to be seasonal: there is nothing so special as the savoy cabbage cut and seasoned with oil and salt.

Then he reveals a secret when we ask him what he's taking from Parma during his travels around the globe: "Culatello and Parmigiano are what I bring from Parma in the world. Around them you can create everything." Norcineria is one of the arts that Spigaroli has learned from the family and still does it with traditional methods and craftsmanship. Today, the activity takes place at the Antica Corte Pallavicina: it took 20 years - from 1990 - to restructure and settle it. Inside you can find guest rooms, a restaurant and wineries, unique places where the Marches Pallavicino already aged cured meats. We are accompanied in this magical world, where 5000 culatelli are kept. Massimo explains: "Not too many, but not too few. Our culatelli are wrapped in pork guts, which is why we must get the right flavor and the right perfume." In order to reach the highest quality it is necessary that the culatelli are moved about ten times during the seasoning: every ingredient has its function and its "microclimate", so the Culatello Spigaroli can born. But the secret is not all here, we need another agent to complete the work of art: the fog. It is an essential component to ensure a mild seasoning and the right amount of mold, a component that defends the product and gives it the typical "Spigaroli perfume".

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