In Norcia, “Pork (and cinghiale) Rules!”

We had passed through the small town of Norcia on our drive to the Piano Grande di Castelluccio, and Leonardo stopped on our way back to give us a look around the town. This is known as the “Pork Capital” of Italy, where much of the processed pork is produced. The proscuitto, salami, pancetta, sausages and many other pork products are produced here, although the pigs are raised somewhere else and trucked to Norcia to the “best butchers in Italy,”

We walking into the city walls, and immediately were greeted with butcher shops and their elaborate displays. The butchers compete for attention, with their small shops packed with pork products for sale. The storefronts are decorated with plastic pigs, and stuffed wild boars, including their piglets, with an overwhelming aroma of salami and sausages coming from the shops. This is NO place for vegetarians, but a shrine to those who love pork and all of the products produced here. Nearly everywhere in Italy, when the label on salami or proscuitto or sausages is read carefully, the name “Norcia” can be found.

A butcher shop with an elaborate display of pork and wild boar products

This cart features a cinghiale sow and her striped piglets

Melba and I wandered around with our cameras, and I found this bakery window—always getting my attention with fresh breads (to go along with the salami, of course). This was just a fraction of the types of loaves available, and a delight for any photographer to see, too.

Breads, of diverse forms and grains, always get MY attention!

Inside the shops, every inch of space displayed their pork products. Prosciutto and salamis hung from the beams above, with pyramids of salami stacked on the butcher cases. The cases were full of fresh pork products, especially fresh sausages, but the small dried sausages (one of my favorites) were stacked in piles on small tables around the stores.

Inside one of the many butcher shops, with dozens of delicious choices

Many of the butchers had mounted heads of the “cinghiale,” the wild boar that roams wild here and is a favorite for sausages, salami and ground fresh for sauces for pasta. Long braids of garlic heads were everywhere, filling in the spaces between the hanging pork products.

Cinghiali lined up over the butcher shop

Another butcher shop, packed with salami and prosciutto

Prosciutto hang from the beams over the shop

Here, outside one of the butcher shops, there are specials offered to passers-by. The first is an offer specifically for the economic crisis (“Offerta Anti-Crisi”): one pork salami, one wild boar salami, a “mule’s balls” dried salami, half a kilo of local lentils, and your choice of a jar of truffle sauce or porcini mushroom sauce, all for €19,90. The “Amaro Norcia Tartufo” is a bitter liquor, 21% alcohol, and a 70 cc. bottle is a very small one, for €5. The truffle offer (“Offerta Tartufo”) includes strongozzi (a thick, square spaghetti) made with truffles in the pasta, a jar of truffle sauce, truffle honey and truffle oil, all for €19,90. These dried ears of corn I see occasionally here in Umbria (never in Tuscany), hanging outside homes as I pass on the train. There are vast fields of corn here, but mostly for cattle feed, not polenta.

"Packaged deals" offered by one of the butchers, written on burlap and hung outside the shop

These little salamis are formed into the shape of small pigs, and dried until mold naturally forms a soft, white covering for the casing below. If I ever bought one, I’m not sure I’d ever carve into it, preferring to just save it for a souvenir.

Small pig-shaped salamis for sale, covered in soft mold from aging

Not sure what this display means, with a wild hare (“lepre”) holding a shotgun and standing in a big basket of the dried sausages I love, these made from wild boar, not pork.

Looks as if this hare has turned the tables on the hunters, standing in wild boar dried sausages

This one wild boar’s head was in easy range for my little camera (still using my Lumix point-and-shoot only, for this trip), and looked a little intimidating. I heard that a week or so ago here in Spello, two hunters carried a boar down the main street after shooting him up on the mountain, but I missed seeing that moment (or I’d have been chasing them with my camera). I have yet to see a live wild boar here, or anywhere in Italy, although I always search for them while passing wild areas on the train. The trails and wallows are easy to recognize near Spello up on the mountain, but I am probably glad never to have come in contact with one, especially a sow with piglets nearby. No, thanks!

Wild boar ("cinghiale") head, nearly looking alive here

These hanging salamis are called “coglioni de lu mulu,” a bit of dialect but meaning “mules’ testicles.” Some of the names of the hanging sausages and salamis are rather funny, including “pallone di nonno,” or “grandpa’s balls.” Here, too, are offerings of pecorino cheeses, made from the milk of the sheep here in Umbria and in nearby Tuscany. There are many types of pecorino cheeses, and they range from soft, rubbery new cheeses to ones hardened by many months of aging in caves or warehouses. This one wheel of pecorino is clearly aged for a long time, and labeled with an attention-getting “Viagra” label—although I’m not sure that is any assurance of it’s best “qualities.” (Behind the cheese, see the small tender Umbrian lentils, “lenticchie,” quite a bit smaller than the ones I buy in California, and a staple here in Umbria and Tuscany.)

"Mule's testicles," a common salami here and in shops around Italy

Some creative marketing of an aged pecorino cheese

This is the main piazza in Norcia, with the city offices and clock tower, and the principal church in town. Here, too, is the statue of San Benedetto da Norcia (Saint Benedict), the most famous citizen to come from Norcia. He is the founder of the Benedictine Order, with monasteries and convents around the world filled with followers of his teachings.

The main square in Norcia, with the city hall and main church beside each other

San Benedetto da Norcia, the town's most famous citizen

As we were leaving, we came across one of the local “vigili,” the local police, and a man who turned out to be a former member of Leonardo’s military unit from many years ago. Leonardo introduced us all to him, and spent a minute or two talking, catching up on the last 25 years since they had seen each other in the Italian military. In my experience, every time Leonardo is pulled over for an infraction (not often, but usually either talking on the phone while driving or not using his seatbelt, which is mandatory here), he knows the officer personally and is let off with another warning. That’s how things are here in Italy—outcomes frequently depend on “who you know.” Leonardo seems to be well known by all of “the right people,” and manages to keep his driving record clean of punitive “points.”

Leonardo finds an old friend from the military, who is now a policeman in Norcia

The most difficult part of visiting Norcia was coming away without a thing in our hands, only photos, after drooling over all the beautiful displays of sausages, salamis, cheeses and breads, and proscuitto. The aroma of the town is intoxicating for us carnivores, and I was lucky (financially, at least) to have to move on, and not shop freely. Too bad no meat products can be brought home to the U.S. from Europe. The dogs at U.S. Customs must be in heaven when they catch people with these aromatic products in their luggage—even I’d like to have that job!

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