La Macelleria – Carnivore Heaven

Take a moment and imagine small town America before ugly strip malls and giant box stores polluted the landscape.  See happy healthy people greeting their neighbors as they walk to those wonderful, small family owned shops.

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Turn of the 20th century shopping in Pontelandolfo!

Clutching your mom’s hand you visit the butcher, who knows your name and gives you a big smile.  You mom says she wants to have a pork roast for dinner – the butcher asks for how many people?  “Just six” she says.   The big walk-in fridge is opened and you see giant hanging slabs of meat – half a cow, a whole pig – is that goat? 

Meat hooks at a butcher.
Meat hooks at a butcher. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 He pulls down the pig carcass and brings it to the giant wooden shopping block.  Like a sculptor wielding sharpened knives and a dancer moving to the  crack of the cleaver, the butcher magically creates the perfect  pork roast just for you. Wrapped in white butcher paper and tied with twine, the gift of good eating is ready to carry home.   Hmmmm – no porcine growth hormones, no chemical enhancements just farm grown – the way nature intended it  – meat.  

Growing up in Flagtown, NJ – when the area was still rural/agrarian – I actually played in fields that held cows, pigs, chickens, goats, sheep and lots of piles of @#$%.  My grandmother taught us how to butcher and clean poultry and game.  Our little village even had a butcher shop.  Aniello De Scala moved from Brooklyn to Flagtown long before I was born to open a small shop and get away from the Brooklyn mob (so his daughter told me).  When I was a kid Aniello’s son George was the butcher.  (One of the De Scala butcher blocks is currently feeling lonely in my garage.)  Then the developments started eating up the farm land and “progress” brought us supermarkets.  Small stores faded away…..

Living in Pontelandolfo is a return to a kinder and gentler way of living and eating. We are in carnivore heaven in Pontelandolfo – there are not one, not two but three butcher shops in our little village – great food means a lot to  Pontelandolfesi.   The shop I visited the most was  Marcelleria, Cinque M.A.M. S.R.L., located at Via Falcone E Borsellino. (I have no clue what the initials mean – they’re all on the sign.) My cousin Carmella explained that this shop was a cooperative for the local farmers – a big plus for me.

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Santina Guerrera, ace butcher
and charming woman.

Santina Guerrera (h’mm is she related to me?) would greet me every time I went into her Macelleria with a big smile and once with a great question – “Hai intenzione di parlare un buon italiano oggi o cattivo italiano?” (Are you going to speak good Italian today or bad Italian?)  I paused, shrugged my shoulders, smiled and repied “Sempre cattivo!” (Always bad.)  Clean up your minds – this wasn’t about talking dirty but speaking Italian properly – something I still haven’t mastered. Santina would smile as I fuddled through my orders.  The first time I wanted chicken for my extended family of eleven, I learned what an Italian meat portion was.  I originally asked for 7 chicken breasts and four full thigh/legs.  Santina looked at me and asked “how many are you cooking for?”  When I said eleven she cut the order in half and got the cleaver out to separate thighs from legs and cut each breast in half.  I thought, this won’t feed eleven.  In the USA everybody gets 1/2 pound each!  She was right, my Italian cousins eat small healthy portions.

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Santina prepares beef and pork for grinding.

One day, I decided to make an “American” meal for my extended family.  Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and some green thing or another.  I told Santina what I wanted to make – un grande polpettone – and couldn’t understand why she took huge hunks of meat out of the walk in fridge.  Midge, you silly girl, she is going to grind it fresh!

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She tossed  a hunk of beef and a hunk of pork in the giant grinder and out came ground integrated meat.  I started to drool on the counter.  Of course everything I bought was beautifully wrapped up for me.

The other butcher I visited was Macelleria Perugini Franco on Via Falcone Borsellino, 4.  Franco made incredible sausage.  At first I had to figure out what days he was grinding meat and adding his magical spices – because until I got the schedule down there wouldn’t be any left!  He made the sausage fresh.  I just found an old receipt and it only cost me  € 3,87 (about $5 for 4 servings of freshly made exceptional sausage.)

No matter where we are in the world, I try never to buy supermarket meat – schifoso – wrapped in plastic, pumped full of chemicals, grown in small crowded cages – gag me – chicken and beef that  – well I better stop so I don’t ruin your appetite. When Jack and I are in Flagtown we buy most of our meat directly from local farmers – Farview Farm (http://www.farviewfarm.com) in Readington and Lima Farms (http://limafamilyfarms.com) in Hillsborough.

Carnivores of the world unite behind your local butcher and family farm!  We are blessed to have ours in both of our home towns.

Our Salumeria – More Than Just Cold Cuts!

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Alimentari De Angelis    Pontelandolfo (BN)

Before I ventured into Alimentari De Angelis, our local salumeria for the first time alone, I stood outside  and took a breath. My heart was pounding.  Would I remember all the Italian I needed to buy mortadella or prosciutto or – well anything?  Etto?  Cento grammi – was that close to 1/4 pound?  Theatre training kicks in – I review my lines – visualize my actions – think about what I was doing before I went through the door and said, “Vorrei un etto di – –  Un etto of what – eeeeeeech -here is where I point at the case and resist saying “that salami looking stuff”. I know these words.  I eat these words – wait – I didn’t say that right.

Now you are thinking – it is just a store in a small Italian village – stop with the dramatics.  You’re right.  But in this village everyone knows everyone else.  I can’t embarrass generations of Guerreras and Sollas.  I notice the woman on the bench near the store staring at me.  I go in.  The small shop  – about 8X10 – was crammed full of just about anything you needed to create a quick scrumptious meal.  Packets of pasta, a few round loaves of bread, rice, canned good, juice, paper plates, – you get the picture.

The three people in front of the meat counter turned as I pushed aside the beaded curtain, entered and said “boun giorno.”  (Everyone says boun giorno every time they enter a shop – most times the folks in the shop echo an answer.)  While I was waiting for my turn, the other customers and I  stood close together in the jammed packed shop.  This was a good thing.  I could see and hear how they interacted with the shop’s owner, Pierina De Angelis.  After all,  we were all here for what was found in the refrigerator case – mortadella, prosciutto, salami di Milano, salami di Napoli …..

Soon it was my turn – I noticed a price list taped to the refrigerated display case and had memorized it.  How could everything be un euro or un euro e 20 centesimi per un etto?  Cheap great meats – how did I know the cold cuts were great?  My cousin and world’s greatest cook, Carmela Mancini, shopped here.

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The friendly Pierina De Angelis and her husband Antonio Santo Pietro. (My nonna’s first husband was a Santo Pietro – wonder if we are kind of related?)

“Vorrei un etto di mortadella, per favore.”  The blonde Pierina standing by the old fashioned counter smiled and asked me where I was from – in Italian of course.  Damn, was my italian so bad that she pegged me right away as an outsider?  That happens to me a lot.  I told her I was from New Jersey and before I knew it we were having a simple conversation and she discovered where I was from, who I was related to and how long I was staying!  She made me feel comfortable and not embarrassed by my accent.  I wanted to be her friend for life!  OK, now it is time to order – guess what – I forgot the entire product list that I had memorized.  Ugggg.  We started with the mortadella.

If you haven’t had great mortadella – but only the crap we get in the USA super markets – you haven’t tasted the cold cut that makes you keep coming back and buying more!  As a matter of fact, even though my cholesterol rises when ever I think of mortadella, I bought the yummy meats about every other day.

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Mortadella – so very very very good.

Starting in about 1899 Americans were calling anything made of pork parts and stuffed in a casing bologne/baloney.  Maybe manufacturers thought they could trick folks with limited taste buds into buying the stuff thinking it was like Mortadella – a famous culinary tradition of Bologna, Italy.

http://www.lifeinitaly.com/food/Mortadella.asp  has great descriptions and the history of Mortadella.  Here is a sample:

Mortadella di Bologna starts with finely ground pork, usually the lesser cuts of meat that are not used for other types of sausage. In fact Mortadella is a testament to the resourcefulness of the Italian pig farmers as nothing edible on the pig is wasted. This ground meat is mixed with a high quality fat (usually from the throat) and a blend of salt, white pepper, peppercorns, coriander, anise, pieces of pistachio and wine. The mixture is then stuffed into a beef or pork casing depending upon the size of the sausage and cooked according to weight. After cooking mortadella is left to cool in order to stabilize the sausage and give it firmness.

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It must be cocktail hour somewhere!                                           I wrapped mortadella around grissini added olives and Campari soda. Now that is art.

After the first week of repeated stops at her shop,  Pierina could almost guess my order.  Un etto di mortadella for me and due cento grammi di salami for Jack.  Jack experimented with the various types of salami and couldn’t decide which he liked best.  Bottom line?  It was all wonderful.

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No it is NOT Boars Head. This one – whose name I have of course forgotten – was spicy.

Alimentari De Angelis has been in Pierina De Angelis’ family for generations.  She and her husband Antonio Santo Pietro have run it for a long time.  I was saddened to hear that they will be closing  the shop this fall.  They are moving on toward retirement.  Boy, do I hope that someone as nice and who sells products just as good steps in to fill the gastronomic void.