I-ATE Food Term of the Week: Porchetta

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Porchetta

The I-ATE Food Term of this week is the Italian dish “porchetta“. With its crispy and golden ‘crust’, porchetta is one of the most renowned Italian delicacies appreciated worldwide.

The origins of porchetta

Porchetta has its roots in the culinary tradition of the central regions of Italy, notably Lazio and Umbria, even though the exact town of origin remains uncertain. Ariccia, a town in Lazio, claims the authorship of the original recipe that presumably dates to the pre-Romanesque period. Moreover, porchetta of Ariccia was awarded the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status by the European Commission in 2014. However, some maintain that porchetta originates in town of Norcia, in Umbria, where pigs were mostly bred since the Roman Empire; while others, especially in the northern area of Lazio, date it back even to the Etruscans.

It is likely that the ancient Romans were used to eat this goodie. Evidence of this is provided by an ancient collection of Roman recipes attributed to Marcus Gavius Apicius, who lived in the first century AD. His cookbook is entitled De Re Coquinaria and it includes several recipes suggesting the best ways to cook pork. Among these recipes there is one for a delicious roasted pork, the so-called “porchetta“.

The peculiar cooking procedure of porchetta

The name porchetta, literally ‘little female pig’, is likely to derive from the traditional cooking procedure that consists of baking a whole female pig for hours – about 6 to 8 hours – after seasoning it with salt, black pepper, and a mix of herbs that varies from place to place. Its peculiarity is the crunchy crust that is obtained by removing the pork from the oven every hour and brushing it with lard until perfectly cooked. In doing so, the crust stays crunchy for days and prevents the meat inside from drying out and hardening.

The variants of porchetta

While some ingredients are common to all variants – such as salt, pepper, and garlic – others depend on the area of production. There are two main variants. In South Tuscany, Castelli Romani, and Ariccia, porchetta is typically enriched with rosemary. In the northern areas of Lazio and in Umbria, instead, wild fennel flowers are used to give a very peculiar flavour.

Porchetta can be eaten almost everywhere in central Italy. Nowadays, it is a much appreciated street food: you can buy it in local grocery stores as well as from street vendors on the main square in villages and towns. If you want to eat it on the go, you can have porchetta in a sandwich, especially in a typical bun called rosetta (literally “small rose”), or with focaccia bread. There are also many local food festivals dedicated to it. One of the most renowned of these “sagre” is Porchettiamo. It is organised every year in Umbria and attracts large crowds from all over Italy.

The great love Italians have for this dish is proved by the endless fights to be awarded the ‘place of origin’ status that still remain unsolved. Regardless of its place of origin, porchetta is now an international goodie, one of the must-have street food in the United States and in Japan.

For more Italian dishes, check out our articles about the Roman supplì and the Neapolitan panuozzo di Gragnano.

References


Written by Alberta Boschi, PhD student in “European Languages and Specialized Terminology” at the University of Naples “Parthenope”.