The marble-producing village of Colonnata, in the Apuan Alps in Tuscany, produces pearly, porous slabs renowned for their purity. This doesn’t just describe the area’s highly prized marble, but also what is aged inside of it: Unctuous, musky-sweet lardo di Colonnata. Even Michelangelo, who sourced his marble from the area, was said to enjoy the lard. Indeed, for some Tuscans, aging salt-rubbed pork fat to a voluptuous ooze is as high an art as David.
That makes sense, considering that in Colonnata, marble is integral to making this delicate salumi. The process begins with one-to-three-pound chunks of pork fatback, opaque, rose-white fat streaked with upper layers of crimson meat, which ideally should go straight from the butcher to the curing bowl without refrigeration. The cuts of fat are layered with salt, rubbed with garlic, and then seasoned with rosemary and sometimes sage, star anise, cloves, or other spices. Producers place the seasoned meat in marble tubs, called conche, and use more marble to cover them. Then, the product is aged in the region’s mountain grottoes. In lieu of additives, Colonnata’s climate does the work of preserving the product. The town’s fall, winter, and spring temperatures are just right for aging, while the mountain grottoes’ humidity, combined with the porosity of the marble and the coating of salt, cure the lard over a period of at least six months. During that time, producers regularly check the liquid emitted by the fat to monitor its progress.
When the lardo is ready, it is so creamy that it melts at the heat of eaters’ hands. Locals prefer to enjoy the lard by itself or with a crust of bread (fresh or toasted) and a slice of tomato; even dressing is too much fuss. This combination of bread and fat was a traditional miner’s lunch, the calories of which locals credit with keeping marble workers going strong. Nowadays, this simple laborer’s lunch has become decidedly gourmet, as lardo di Colonnata enjoys Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status from the European Union. This means that at least one step of its production must take place in the Colonnata area. It’s a fitting recognition for a cured meat masterpiece.