8 km from the marble quarries of Carrara is the town of Colonnata, situated among the Apuane Alps of Northern Tuscany. For thousands of years quarrymen have eaten seasoned lard (lardo) aged in marble tubs (conca) excavated from the work site. The work was hard and the Lardo di Colonnata would provide them with the calories needed to carve and transport the marble blocks that would be used for many of Italy’s most famous monuments and sculptures (Carrara was the source of the marble used by Michelangelo). Today the cured lard of the quarryman’s sandwich is an artisanal delicacy and a favored antipasto in Italy.
The technique used for making Lardo di Colonnata remains unchanged since ancient times although today there is a regulatory board that guarantees that the ingredients are prepared and processed according to strict guidelines to ensure an authentic and safe product typical of the region. The lardo is made from the pigs of Parma, San Daniele or a native Tuscan breed of pigs known as the Cinta Senese. The Cinta Senese or Sienese Belt pig (a white band surrounds the pig’s chest like a sash, cinta in Italian) has an ancient ancestry that dates back to the middle ages. A cinta pig is depicted in the 14th century fresco by Ambrogio Lorenzetti called the “Buon Governo” that hangs in the Palazzo Comunale in Siena’s Piazza del Campo.
The pork fat is rubbed with garlic and layered with salt, fresh herbs and spices such as rosemary, oregano, sage, cloves, peppercorns, anise, nutmeg or cinnamon before it is placed in the large tub-like conca excavated from the marble. After 6 months of aging in cool dry cellars surrounded by mountain air the lardo emerges as an aromatic, glistening white block to be thinly sliced and served over warm toast to slowly melt in your mouth.
My first tasting of what surely must have been Michelangelo’s sandwich was at my friend Luca’s house on a warm September afternoon under the pergola, surrounded by a garden that looked out over the valley below. At the table Luca cut a thin slice of the Lardo di Colonnata and served it over warm crostini. It melted in my mouth, full of spices and herbs with an incensual aroma and flavor that was intoxicating. The color was gleaming white and the texture smooth and creamy. I’m glad I tasted it but my elevated LDL and triglycerides could not have stood much more unless I went back to work in the quarries.
You can travel to Colonnata to visit the quarries and taste this unique delicacy or you can find it in many of the shops and restaurants in the area and in the nearby region. I do not have a recipe for Lardo di Colonnata as it is an artisanal delicacy with a proprietary blend that is unique to the specific maker. There is a recipe for Tuscan creamed bacon in Italy known as Crema Paradiso and what follows is from that book.
2 lbs. firm back bacon, 2 T sea salt, crushed black peppercorns, wine vinegar, 5-6 cloves of crushed garlic and a few sprigs of chopped fresh rosemary. Grind the bacon in a food processor. Add the salt, peppercorns and a few drops of the wine vinegar, the garlic and the rosemary. Knead the bacon on a marble slab (if it’s from Carrara all the better), until a light, delicate crema is formed. Spread on hot toast and serve with a glass of the local wine