My Tuscany travels

5 min read

I have a great love for Italian cooking. The whole concept is simple and easy. Fresh ingredients using local grown vegetables and olive oil. In 2014 we travelled to Tuscany to visit a very famous butcher, Dario Cecchini who has a great philosophy on the selling of meat. He has a very extensive restaurant and a very simple menu.

Five courses of beef on the menu. Not for everyone but different , “beef bone broth” to “rosemary up your bum”.

While in Ponzana, we stayed in a B & B with an Italian guy. When we arrived at his home he was cooking a stew. As I am always curious I enquired what was he cooking? He was cooking a rabbit, cooking the head and legs of the rabbit first, and with great diligence never once letting it burn or stick to the pan. He stood there with his implement moving it gently around the pan. I think he spent about 4 hours cooking it.

Residing in Modena , the Mecca for food

Another great part of our Tuscany journey took us to a small town called Modena, we arranged to meet the Editor of Euro Carne Elena Benedetti. Elena introduced us to a lovely butchering family “ The Pappoti family. Subsequently our son Hugh Jnr spent a summer working at their shop. He was staying at the family home and each evening he would sit down for his dinner with the family and they would spend hours talking and chatting about the food they were feasting on.

The old town in Bologna is a mecca for amazing butchers, cheese mongers, bakeries and restaurants. All situated together and the smells and the aromas coming from the shops would just make you want to buy food.

A glance back at Europe and Traditional Ireland’s production methods

After travelling France, Spain, Italy and Germany visiting and working in butcher shops. I got a great insight into how different, in some ways, the butchers and their traditions were to what we do in Ireland. The climate is crucial to their traditions and their methods of curing meats etc. are a great art. In order to preserve meat in their warm climate, unlike our climate, where it is wet and damp, salt is the main component in curing meat. The humidity is also a factor in the drying out process.

Since early civilization salt has been the most important ingredient to preserve food and is still to this day. The pig is the foremost animal for centuries and because of the application of salt in curing pork, many different methods have developed over the centuries. In Ireland the pig was the most important animal kept on the farm where he was fed barley, oats, potatoes,vegetables and the leftover vegetables and fruit from the kitchen. He was crucial to the existence of people in rural Ireland. The slaughtering of the pig was a huge day’s work; I remember it as a child on my family farm in Bellewstown. The old bath tub was filled with water and a fire lit under it to heat the water so to scald the pig and this would enable the scraping of the hairs from the pigs body. After killing the pig the blood was collected and my mother would make black pudding. This was the first time I saw black pudding made and I was really interested in this and I was very involved in this process.

Since early civilisation salt has been the most important ingredient to preserve food and is still to this day.

Curing Pork in the 1960’s, back on Bellewstown Hill

My Dad and my uncle Hugh would take care of butchering of the pig assisted often by my Uncle Barney who had a Butcher shop in Killeshandra, Cavan. My Uncle Hugh would travel from house to house in the fall of the year killing and curing pigs in his native Leitrim, a townland called “Drumderglin” Carrigallen, Co.Leitrim.

After the pig was gutted, it was broken down; the legs cut off and cured, put into a wooden box lined with a layer of straw. It was packed with salt, no great measuring technique used, covered and left for 3 weeks and lifted again and salted again. The shoulders were boned out and salted and treated the same way. The loin and the belly combined were boned and salted and covered in salt but for a much shorter time because of the thickness of the meat was less than the leg and the shoulder.

There was always a hole in the wooden barrel to let out the juices. The whole idea was to extract the moisture from the pork. The cure used was mixture of salt and salt peter. Salt peter is a nitrate used for centuries to help in the curing process of pork and it prevents Botulism in pork production. Salt peter works much slower than ordinary salt and this prevents bad bacteria forming. Other European countries have a different climate so their method of preserving pork is different to ours. The only have to leave their pork salted for a few weeks and they can then hang it up because it will dry out with the humidity in the air. So many different products have developed in these countries over the years from chorizo, saucisson sec, salami Milano, Iberia chorizo etc.

From curing to smoking, the conception of the award winning smoked black pudding

I said earlier that salt was the most important ingredient for preserving meat but the smoking of meat which was discovered by chance by Prehistoric man, he discovered that meat didn’t decay as quickly when hung over the fire and left to sit there for a long time. Smoking meat helps in the preservation of it as well as enhancing the flavour of pork products. The preservation process of smoking is really powerful and along with salt added, different products have emerged over the centuries.

The smoking of meat which was discovered by chance by Prehistoric man

This is where I got my idea of smoking black pudding. After purchasing a Pork & Bacon factory in December 2016, there was a smokehouse in the factory and I immediately thought of introducing smoked product to our shop. The first experiment was smoked black pudding and the results were really satisfying. I handed out the product to my customers in the shop for feedback and the response was very positive.

I am very excited about this product and I feel it has a good future in the culinary world. I entered the “The Great Taste Awards” in London this year and I received a “3 Star Award” for the pudding. This is a major boost to the product and gives it huge integrity . As a result of this award I have a lot of enquiries from England about the product. I am at the early stage of production and I feel I have a very busy time ahead getting this product to market.

the Smokin Butcher is definitely a new Brand to watch out for.