Ciccioli (or grasòl as we called them in our local dialect) are one of the many delicious food specialities from the Italian region where I live: Emilia Romagna. I am really lucky to live in the countryside of this amazing region and every now and then I have the chance to attend folkore events where artisans – I might say, food artists– cook delicious food in front of an amazed and pretty hungry audience.
But let’s talk about ciccioli. Quoting Wikipedia “Ciccioli is made by compressing, drying, and aging fatty, leftover pieces of pork. These scraps are compressed using a special press where the meat is wrapped in sack cloth, then slowly squeezed over several weeks to remove excess liquid. They can either be prepared in a wet preparation that can be sliced and served, or in a very dry, crunchy, chip-like form often called ciccioli frolli.”
The kind of ciccioli I was lucky to taste belonged to the last category, the very dry chip like ones.
On a very sunny but chilly January Sunday there was a local “contest” in my village, held among more than 30 norcini (pig butchers) specialists in the art of ciccioli-making. It takes a long time for the ciccioli to get ready for tasting: they have to boil several hours (up to 6) in special “cauldrons” that can be wood or gas heated, and can be made of copper or other metals. While the material the cauldrons are made of does not affect the taste of the ciccioli, the different kind of cooking (gas or wood) makes a huge difference. I spoke with one of the judges and he told me that it is really difficult to manage the temperature of the boiling mix using wood, but when you are able to do it, then the ciccioli taste the best.
When the mix of pork leftovers is cooked, the water has completely evaporated and they have become golden, they are drained, wrapped in a cloth and before being slowly squeezed, a special “secret” mix of drugs is sparkeld over the hot gold scraps –cinnamon being the only one I could smell for sure.
The last step is the pressing of this still hot mix inside a special press where laurel leaves are added. The result is a wonderful, soft but cruncy, tasty and delicious cicciolo that I tasted for the first time in my life. A wonder!