A visit to the biggest company of Central Italy. This is how the most symbolic Italian street food is born, where to purchase it, and how to pair it with drinks.
by Filippo Benedetti Valentini
In the public library of Bevagna there is a document dated 1886: it is a porchetta purchase agreement. Giuliano Cariani keeps a copy of this document in his office, in the company located in Località Torre. At the time, in this uncontaminated part of Umbria, the artisans who had this ancient skill that can be traced back to the Etruscans were about twenty. Now only one is left.
The company “Cariani –Porchetta Umbra di Bevagna” was born in 1982 when Giuliano, the son of a pig merchant, decide to prepare “ready to eat” porchette that he could sell to the street food vendors, who before then used to slaughter and cook the pork meat by themselves. He learned the essential ingredients of a good porchetta from the artisans and collected centuries of knowledge, tradition, and local history.
Today this is the only company left in Bevagna and a point of reference for Central Italian market. It’s a symbol of quality food in Umbria, and probably, also one of the biggest “knowledge depositories” of the country.
The company. 850 square meters dedicated to porchetta production, 5 fridges for conservation of slaughtered pigs and the refrigeration and maintenance of the finished product. The room used to season the meat and to cook it contains 6 double ovens that can cook 12 porchette at the same time. However, don’t think that here they follow industrial procedures. Quite to the contrary!
Together with Giuliano, there are four other employees, two of whom are 25 years old. They’ve all learned from their predecessors how difficult this form of manual labor which requires precision and strong hands is. Today, this company feels like a family.
The main ingredient. The pigs come from Umbrian farms around Castiglione del Lago. Giuliano chooses only animals in perfect conditions, fed with natural food, that didn’t have any traumas or had to take medication. Once slaughtered, they are placed in fridges and prepared within a few hours in order to guarantee really fresh meat. The pork, once eviscerated, is deboned by hand on the working table. The butcher’s hands, with a sharp knife and steel gloves, move fast on the red meat, following an itinerary traced by years of experience. Ribs and feet are removed.
The preparation. After deboning, the pork is ready for stitching. With a big needle and twine, the edges of the meat are pierced and stitched before cooking. This is a delicate phase, important to guarantee resistance and compactness to the final product. Before it is closed, the porchetta is flavored with garlic, salt, Indian pepper, rosemary and wild fennel. It is then stuffed with soft and juicy livers, which gives this roasted pork its special flavor. And the magic is complete.
Each territory makes a different porchetta, Giuliano says: “The spices depend on geography. In Bevagna we like to use all the ingredients, in Spoleto they only like a little fennel. In Tuscany they use a lot of garlic, in the Marche region they use a little rosemary but an abundance of fennel”.
The cooking is done on “the pole”, following the tradition. It cooks for 7-8 hours, as the aromas of the spices penetrate the meat, while fat and water drip in a tank below. In this tank the feet, parts of the muscles, ears and tripe become the famous “Cicotto” to be enjoyed on a dish or in a sandwich, a rosetta bread without the soft inside. Once ready, the porchetta is placed in a blast chiller, where the temperature goes down quickly to kill the bacteria. The product then lasts for 14 days without any preservative.
The pigs weight 100-130 kilos when they are alive, and the porchette weight about 35-50 kilos. They also produce tronchetti using the central part of the pork, the most exquisite piece. The company produces up to 36 porchette per day in the busiest months in May, around August 15th, and September. The porchetta, tender and flavorful, is sold between two slices of bread cooked on wooden fire, with livers placed on top and a piece of crunchy crust. This sandwich should be coupled with strong wines, like Rosso or Sagrantino di Montefalco. It’s also very good with Mild Ale beer, amber color and refreshing, or the more rounded and spicy Trappist and Abbey beers. Porchetta is the symbol of modern street food, but it has been for centuries the center of conviviality during traditional celebrations.
Where to purchase. The Cariani company produces for sellers in Central Italy. In Umbria you can find it in Perugia in Via della Concordia, and at the S. Sisto market on Thursdays. In Foligno at the Tuesday market Canapè and on Saturdays at Foro Boario, in Bevagna you can find it at the food truck of Paola and Fabio Chianella. In Spoleto in Viale Trento e Trieste, via Martiri della Resistenza, in the ‘Prosciutteria’ of Corso Mazzini and in San Giacomo.