Before industrial farming, children across Southern Italy grew up watching their town butcher kill livestock. Neighbors convened for small “pig festivals” in the local piazza, where the butcher drained and collected the animal’s warm, rich blood.
Any young onlooker’s squeals of horror would soon be turned to delight—the crimson liquid was immediately mixed with milk, sugar, and chocolate, then cooked into a velvety pudding. With its luxurious mouthfeel, salty-bittersweet cocoa flavor, and a topping of pine nuts, cinnamon, toasted bread, or candied citron, sanguinaccio dolce made it easy to love pig blood.
Farmers often butchered pigs in winter, before the Catholic season of Lent began. Italian observers eschewed meat during portions of this 40-day period, but the decadence of Carnevale (the Italian equivalent of Mardi Gras) defined the weeks prior. In Naples, the sweet pudding became a Carnevale classic, which celebrants scooped up using chiacchiere (strips of fried dough covered in powdered sugar). In other regions, fans dipped savoiardi biscuits (ladyfingers) into the bowl. Some even fashioned decorative logs out of the blood-and-chocolate mixture.
Though this Southern Italian signature was once widely adored, the delicacy is now difficult to find. Because blood has a short shelf life (it must be cooked or frozen within 24 hours), regions across Italy banned its sale in 1992. Suddenly, accessing fresh blood required slaughtering one’s own livestock. Those who grew up with the dessert still revere it, but the days of neighborhood snout-to-tail celebrations are long gone.
Younger generations—unfamiliar with family farms and influenced by the stigma of safety-related food bans—mostly see pig blood as a waste product. Today, many use butter and cornstarch to mimic the creamy texture, but those who remember sanguinaccio dolce know that bloodlust can only be satisfied by the real thing.
Need to Know
"Sanguinaccio" is the common name for blood sausage, but "dolce" differentiates this dish from its savory relative. The sweet treat can be found in rural towns around Italy, most often near Naples and Campania, but it's not a common sight. In New York, some traditional bakeries along the Bronx's Arthur Avenue (Little Italy) also make saguinaccio dolce during Lent.
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Where to Try It
Ornella Trattoria Italiana29-17 23rd Ave, Queens, New York, 11105, United States
This eclectic Italian eatery in Astoria is known for its sanguinaccio dolce. Call ahead to make sure they're serving it.