Chianti isn’t just for wine, you know. Every great wine region spawns a fine cuisine based on local ingredients. Wine and food just go together. That’s why you can find good food in Tuscany and Umbria, while decent food is rare where I “caught sense”—in central Illinois.
So, if you end up in Chianti and want to do more than just taste wine made from Sangiovese grapes, then you must go to the Azienda Agricola Casamonti outside of Castellini in Chianti, where Raymond Lamothe lets pigs called the “Cinta Senese” forage in the forest area around the family farm. Cinta Senese, named for the white “belt” around their midsections, were once almost extinct until visionaries like Ray gave them a place to call home.
Cinta Senese are heritage pigs given DOP status (Suino Cinto Toscano DOP), which means everything they eat is controlled. So, despite US insistence that GMO foods be unlabeled so that you can be force fed the stuff, the Cinta Senese on Ray’s farm are free of Frankenfood. In fact, Ray can’t use soy products in his feed mix because the genetically modified version of soy can’t be identified. So, if you want real pork that finishes by foraging in the forest like they always have, you can visit Ray’s farm, taste the products (and the excellent wines and olive oil Ray produces) and purchase what your tongue can’t get enough of.
How can you distinguish “regular” prosciutto from that made from Cinta Senese? The answer is up there on the left. Cinta Senese hams are distinguished by their black feet, left on the ham as you see it in the photo. The picture of the curing hams was taken at the high-tech facilities at Casamonti.
Heritage pigs deserve the best butchering, of course. You don’t want a prosciutto to go bad during curing. It’s expensive stuff. There aren’t a lot of butchers who’ve worked with these animals recently; they’ve spent a long time on the decline. Ray’s head butcher, Alvaro, shown above, is a mere 75 years young. He’s doing something that you don’t see every day in your butcher shop (if you’re lucky enough to have one), he’s hacking carefully into a difficult-to-remove joint which can develop mold during the curing process and ruin the flavor.
Alvaro’s apprentice is Silvano. He’s 63.
Ray has a blog where you can find out all about his Cinta Senese pigs: Cinta Senese – The Tuscan Pig
A visit is highly recommended. You can send Ray an email to set one up. You might sit down in a shaded courtyard and taste wine, Cinta Senese salume, and maybe a bit of Ray’s fine olive oil. Amazing what a small farm in Tuscany can output.
Ray has a shop on the main drag in Castellina in Chianti if the shaded courtyard tasting experience doesn’t appeal to you.