When the owner of an Italian country resort asks if you want to tour their private meat cellar, what are you expected to say? What do you think Eric said?
A silly rhetorical question of course. Corte San Ruffillo in Emilia Romagna, Italy is similar to an agriturismo. Sara and Luca run a farm and winery, as well as a contemporary Romagna restaurant, and a lovely hotel. We knew all of this before we arrived, considering it was our second visit to the property.
What we didn’t know about, though, was the meat cellar. One morning at breakfast, we were chatting with Sara. She suggested that Luca would be stopping by to give us a tour of their meat cellar, if we were interested. Oh, we were interested.
The meat cellar is underneath the main part of the resort, an old stone manor house from the 14th century, which has been restored lovingly. Sara and Luca live in an apartment on the first floor, with their family. The meat cellar is just underneath. It’s a small stone room, with arched ceilings. It’s nothing like the prosciutto factories we’ve visited in the past, which have thousands of legs of ham. And, there were no wheels of mortadella, which is one of my favorites. But, I’ll forgive them.
Instead, Luca’s meat production is artisanal. It’s experimental. The main purpose of the production is to provide fabulous meats to the restaurant at Corte San Ruffillo. But, he has goals. Luca would love to export his meats to the US, or elsewhere in Europe.
Art in a Meat Cellar
In the mean time, he ’s perfecting his recipes and his techniques. Curing meat is an ancient process across Europe. It started out of necessity. Looking for a way to preserve meats to last through the winter.
Now, it is an art form.
We first met Luca when he gave us a tour of his wine production during the harvest in 2015. Luca has a little mad scientist in him. Always experimenting with flavors and techniques. When we toured his winery, he was showing us how the wine ferments and how he mixes blends. I’d never received a more scientific tour of a winery before.
It’s no different for the meat. He is using local pigs to make salami, culatello, and coppa. He is curing pork belly, and using pork cheek, or guanciale. He is rubbing the meats with salt, pepper, and sometimes even coffee. Each one is labeled with the Corte San Ruffillo brand on a metal tag.
The way Luca looks at the meats. The way he inspects the meats. The way he tenderly rubs the meats. Sara points to him and says “his babies” with an eye roll thousands of woman have used when describing their husbands. I know I have.
Luca taught us about the different kinds of mold that form on the outside of the meats, in shades of white, green, and pink. He explained which was the good kind of mold and which would make inferior products. Many of the larger producers will actually control the production to ensure more consistency, which means there is less natural mold. They may brush flour on the final product solely for cosmetic purposes. To make a salami look like a salami. Luca is making his products all natural. In fact, he is limiting the use of flour on some of the meats to ensure they are gluten free.
I told Luca that if he returned to the meat cellar the following day and one of the salami was missing, it was because Eric tucked one into his jacket. When Eric jokingly threatened to sneak into the meat cellar at night, Sara was quick to remind us that they sleep right upstairs and would hear everything. Instead, Eric would have to settle for eating the cured meats that they serve at the restaurant. Equally good without the element of risk involved in a meat theft.
It is always lovely to meet people who are so passionate about what they do. Sara is the architect. The woman behind the country resort. Luca is the wine man. He is the farmer. And, now, he is the meat producer.
Planning a Trip to Emilia Romagna?
Looking for more travel tips on Emilia Romagna, and how to eat the best food in Italy? My book The Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna: How to taste the history and tradition of Italy, is available on Amazon now. If you are a NOOK reader, it is also available for download on Barnes and Noble.
Want to watch us eating meat and other delicacies at Corte San Ruffillo? Of course you do!
And, take a look at our video of our stay at Corte San Ruffillo:
Amber Hoffman, food and travel writer behind With Husband In Tow, is a recovering attorney and professional eater, with a passion for finding new food and drink destinations. She lives with her husband, Eric, in Girona, Catalonia, Spain. Together over the last 20 years, they have traveled to over 70 countries. Amber is the author of the Food Traveler’s Guide to Emilia Romagna.