Lardo from Colonnata and dining at da Venanzio.
I've just returned from the village of Colonnata, in the mountains above Carrara near the Tuscan coast, an area well-known for its marble quarries, but worth a gastronomic pilgrimage for those who love lardo.
Not to be confused by English speakers with lard (called strutto in Italian), which is rendered and clarified pork fat, lardo is made from pork back fat cured with sea salt, pepper, garlic, spices, and herbs. The salt draws water out of the fat and creates a brine, in which the fat is aged for at least six months. Lardo is sliced paper-thin, and served on toasted bread so that it melts a bit. With the flavor of cured pork, it is rich, but has less cholesterol than butter. Lardo has traditionally been the preferred snack of quarriers around Carrara. In Colonnata, quarriers would age the pork fat in tubs carved from solid hunks of marble that are cached in quarry caves. The slightly porous stone and cold, damp caves produce the unique flavor of Colonnata's lardo.
This delicacy is now found throughout Italy in alimentari (food shops) and restaurants. Popular demand outstrips local production and it's easier to find lardo that's made outside the original area, aged less than six months, and rarely in marble tubs.
About fifteen years ago, Venanzio Vannucci in Colonnata was put on Italy's culinary map by his first-rate, homemade lardo, which he ages for about a year. He serves it in his restaurant and adjacent wine-bar. Purchase a chunk to take away from Venanzio's mother-in-law, Fernanda, at her alimentari across the piazza from the restaurant. But don't try to sneak it through United States customs - the Beagle Brigade is as wild about lardo as I am. No cured pork products can be carried through customs, but I have enjoyed lardo in American restaurants - offered under the pseudonym prosciutto bianco!
Ristorante da Venanzio, piazza Palestro 3, Colonnata. tel. +39 0585758033.
-May 1, 1996