TORRE ALFINA, Italy — This region of Italy is close to where the butchering and processing of pork has been elevated to an art form. In other words, I’ve come to the right place.
My studies of pork over the last few days had been a warmup to Tuesday feast, which started in the morning with several types of cured pork, including salami, sopressata and mortadella.
But things really took off when we hit the nearby town of Orvieto, which revels in doing things as traditionally as possible, whether it’s holding on to the charming cobblestone streets that are hundreds of years old or it’s a matter of hanging hairy haunches in storefront window to show that a new batch of wild boar prosciutto is in the making.
The display case of this shop, along the old village’s main thoroughfare, was filled with more types of cured pork than a tourist could eat in an afternoon. The array even included a mortadella with a heart on to give the card-carrying I ♥ Pork fans a little something extra to swoon over. (I have been listening to the Italian-flavored musical “The Most Happy Fella” lately, and the refrain of “My Heart Is So Full of You” seemed to carry the right emotional heft for such a sight.)
Needless to say, my friends and I worked up a appetite for some of what we had seen, so we stopped in a sidewalk restaurant called Trattoria Da Carlo that was hidden on a side street. The chef greeted us as if we were old friends and even mentioned a friend of his from Dallas to show his Texas creds.
He sold me when he announced that the daily pasta was ravioli stuffed with ricotta and mint and topped with a tomato sauce. But the menu made it clear that we were going to be in for what a happy pork fest that lunch.
I wanted to start off with the pork cheeks, which arrived with olive oil and an unctuous, midnight black balsamic reduction on top. My friend, Cecil, ordered the pig neck salad, which also had EVOO and balsamic on it. But the differences between the two dishes were great. My pork was served at a little below room temperature, almost as if it had been treated as a cold cut, perfectly sliced to order and it was fatty in the way good bacon is. The pork neck, on the other hand, was warm and crispy, which made it absorb a little of the oil and vinegar while working well with some frisée to make a most memorable salad.
Pork also showed up in Cecil’s pasta, in which thick noodles had been tossed with more pig cheeks, only this time the meat was warm and had been sliced into tiny bite-sized bits.
None of us at the table had tried pig liver, which was offered a main course on the menu, so we decided to split an order. It was skewered with bay leaves alternating between chunks of meat before it was grilled. Olive oil with plenty of fennel seed was poured over it before serving. Pam, who is not a beef liver fan, did not care for the taste of this, either. And I was glad not to have had an entire plate of it, but I will say that I appreciated the addition of fennel as well as a fruit red table wine to give it greater complexity.
Pam ordered a bowl of pasta e fagioli, which was unlike any she had ever eaten in the States. Large strands of flat noodles filled the bowl, which had been made creamy with well-cooked beans. No vegetables were evident, yet there was a large chunk of — you guessed it! — pork to give it extra texture. Imagine Italian pork and beans, and you might have a slight idea of how this tasted.
That was five porky dishes in one lunch, prompting Cecil to dub it our “penta-pig pranzo.” (“Pranzo” is lunch in Italian.)
But we weren’t through with pork for the day. It was time for two of the women to serve dinner back at our rental for the week. They started with a delicious tray of antipasti that included white anchovies, oil cured and green olives as well as some tomato bread. That was followed by salad pockets with marinated artichoke hearts and herbs inside a butter lettuce leaf. The main course was sausage and peppers, with onions and fennel added to the mix for good measure, as well as red wine risotto with peas — a most delicious way to finish off such a moveable porcine feast.
There was nothing left to do afterwards but pour another glass of vino and relax.