One of the great gastronomic pleasures of a visit to Tuscany is its superb charcuterie. Known in Italian as salumi, this delicious array of sausages and hams is often served in local restaurants as a first course along with unsalted bread (there is plenty of salt in the meat!). It is also ideal for snacking and picnicking.
Originally a way to preserve meats in the days before refrigeration, the Tuscan tradition of charcuterie continues to thrive throughout the region. Almost every town in Tuscany boasts a salumeria (shop selling ham and sausage) that proudly vaunts its own recipes and the quality of its products. Perhaps the most famous salumeria in Tuscany is the Antica Macelleria Falorni on Piazza G. Matteotti in Greve in Chianti. The shop has been in business since 1729, and is currently run by the eighth generation of the same family. It is a veritable Ali Baba’s cavern of salumi, all of which is made from the meat of cinghiale (wild boar) or Tuscany’s own breed of domesticated pig, the Cinta Senese. This ancient breed dates to at least the 14th century, as it can be identified in several paintings of the era, including a fresco called “Effetti del Buon Governo” (“The Effects of Good Government”) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, which is in the Palazzo Comunale of Siena. The Cinta Senese is distinguished by a long snout, black hair and a white band (cinta) around its middle, from which it takes its name. These free-range pigs feed on grass and acorns, and their flavorful meat is distinguished by an even mix of fat and flesh, ideal for salumi. The breed is significantly less common in Tuscany today than it was a century ago — only some 200 sows remain in roughly 80 herds.
Nevertheless, the local “slow food” movement has championed it as an iconic Italian delicacy, and you will often see it proudly referenced on restaurant menus. Beyond pork and boar meat, the other major element of salumi is a wide range of locally grown herbs for seasoning, including fresh fennel, sage, bay leaves, garlic, juniper berries, parsley and rosemary. Some recipes also call for a generous pouring of Chianti Classico wine. Among the Falorni salumi made from Cinta Senese pork are coppa (shoulder butt), prosciutto, salame toscano (which is studded with pepper and cubes of fat) and the famous finocchiona, a soft sausage distinctively flavored with fennel seeds. The latter has a special place in local lore, as the Italian verb infinocchiarsi, or to “fennel up” refers to the mischievous practice of farmers serving this palate-confusing sausage when buyers came to taste their newly made wines as a way of muddling their ability to make good oenological judgments.
Note that the Tuscans never eat butter with their charcuterie as the French often do, since they consider the natural fat in these products to be sufficiently flavorful (it is also considered a healthy emollient). Buon appetito!