...back in Merate, it is late evening and we leave Mr. Ham in the direction of Mr. Butcher. Dani and I certainly feel significantly better after the cooked ham which was so generously gifted to us. The aroma of the ham in the car was fantastic, as it warmed up its flavour improved significantly. No bread or crackers, just ham. At least that's how you're supposed to taste these products, in their pure form.
So this butcher I mentioned yesterday, he comes straight out of a Hemingway novel - quirky smile, old and wise, quiet but very attentive with that gentle stubble and soft eyes, when he tilts his head down and looks at you over his lenses you are caught in suspense and can't help but stare and listen. The wealth of information is made real by his actions, how he caresses the heart of the sirloin with his two forefingers while he explains why different breeds produce different meat. He's been in the meat business for over 35 years, his father all his life and his grandfather too. Both were meat merchants, while he eventually became a butcher.
We came here to source a few specific products: bresaola which is cured meat, sausages and frisona (breed of cow traditional to Italy) beef. Introductions took a little time, with gentlemen like our butcher patience is really a virtue, as they've seen many who come especially from abroad, talk a lot and listen little. While we explained who we were, we had this man next to us hacking away...
Our butcher makes all his own cured meats - i should correct that, he sells other sured meats, but everything we tried was cured by him - and from beginning to end they were magnificent. First we tried a Salame, coarse ground and containing pork, salt and time.
Perfect is a good adjective, certainly not a French style saucisson as they are much drier (my preference), but damn was its flavour good. The aroma was incredibly fresh. We learned a lot from our butcher that day...
Good meat is becoming more and more difficult to find, cows are slaughtered earlier that years ago and this affects the quality of the end product. It saddened me to hear from him that what we know is going on in places like the US and the UK is also taking place in Italy - he believes meat is not as good as it was: "I now choose the best of what I can find...my father would simply not buy what I'm buying now, he didn't need to". To every question regarding the qiuality of the salame we had just tastes, he returned to the quality of the meat. (He reccomends buying meat from female cows as they are usually two years old since they let them breed before ending their lives.)
A sign of a bad saucisson is one which when you gently squeeze it the fats comes out and is very wet and liquidy...i found out why: extra fat which is added to the mixture - this is done to overcome poor quality meat which tends to dry out too quickly. Alternatively you can get meat that does not dry, many times it is because additives are in the end product, resulting in a bad aftertaste. Like with Cotto and other cured meats, aftertaste should be perfectly clean.
Everything he said is down to the quality of the meat. Sadly, the situation doesn't look great. Onto bresaola now...hmmm.
Bresaola is simple; cured meat. Even simpler: you salt meat with a few added spices (juniper berries, cinnamon, bay leaf, nutmeg, etc.), you remove the salt, you air dry it. Traditionally bresaola was made in the fields, when a cow died they hung some of the meat to dry in a net. We had only encountered the usual tasting bresaola which is found across Italy primarily made by Citterio and Rigamonti; this was all going to change.
Here you have three types of bresaola. On the far left is sottofesa
which is the under rump (?), in the middle the fesa
or rump, and the small fella is magatello di vitello
or veal eye round. They were sensational, I say this because i'm a terrible fan of bresaola. The veal was a revelation for me.
If you thought that was as far as we could take the bresaola story, there's a little more and well worth it. What we tasted next was one of the best pieces of charcuterie I have ever tasted, almost a raw material in its own right which has the fascinating quality of providing true cooking inspiration.Bresaola di Fesa:Work in progress
How I wish I could taste this right now...30 day old bresaola. It has been salted for 25 days, salt removed and this one is 5 days old into its drying process. You can see the dark brown ridge especially on the top while the interior retains its intense red. A marvelous product, incredibly different, truly artisanal and absolutely delicious (If you're into raw meat). All I could think of was to slice it thick as he did and pour some hot olive oil with garlic and rosemary - that and some wine.
From cured to semi to plain old raw. Sausage stuffing was how it all ended; maybe this will say it all: Up to now I would have not served a pork tartare.
Thus ens a day in Merate, it is past dusk and we close the shop with husband and wife butcher after forcing ourselves out. Back in our car we headed for Milan, for dinner, for sleep and an early breakfast at 5:30am.
Edit: Further infromation from our butcher...most of bresaola today is made with frozen meat. Ie- meat is butchered, producer purchases it in bulk frozen or freezes it, then cures when the time is right.
Edited by CheGuevara, 23 October 2007 - 11:06 AM.