SOPRESSA (Venetian Salami) - PURPOSE

Every year between November and February, the tradition to “far xo el porseo” (referring to the preparation of pork meat in Venetian dialect), still continues. At that time, pancetta, coppa and sopressa are prepared for drying, an authentic patrimony to food, and an expression of regional culture in the constant search for the purity of what we consume.

Sopressa, in particular, continues to be an important element in the gastronomy of the Venetian farmer due not only to its nutritive value but also to the fact that it is tasty and being aged, is easily digestible. What was once the only means to preserve meat, over the centuries has become a deep-rooted tradition, and one that promises to endure for the centuries to come.

Among the sopressa produced in the Veneto region, that of the Vicenza province, and especially in the area of the Pedemontana (area in the foothills of the Dolomite Mountains), has reached a level of excellence. The climate of this area with its dry winds provides ideal conditions for the drying of meats with a minimal amount of salt rendering the sopressa meat sweet.

Sopressa is made with pure ground pork meat to which only salt and pepper are added. The meat is mixed and then tightly stuffed into natural casings. The sopressa are then pierced to allow air to escape and set to dry first in a dry and not too cold location, then are transferred to a humid environment (such as a wine cellar) for a year. Throughout this period, the sopressa must be periodically cleaned of muffa (mold) with vinegar.

In the Veneto, sopressa is an important part of life around the table. It is eaten in the morning with cheese for breakfast on most farms, at pranzo as a first or second course, and at dinner or after dinner among friends. During the summertime on Sundays, close friends gather at mountain malghe (farmhouses) to eat fresh cheese and sopressa and share the afternoon together in deep conversation.

There is a story that I hear every winter when it comes time to make sopressa (Venetian salami). It goes like this.

It is the beginning of December and in catechism class one day, the priest teaching the class asks Giovanni, the son of a farmer, what the most important time of the year is for all devout Catholics. “Winter”, he answers. "Correct" says the priest, “But why?” he asks, expecting the child to answer. "Because it is Christmas season and on Christmas Day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ". Instead, Giovanni joyfully answers, “Because the best day of the year is the day we make salami from “Ciccio” (a moniker for a pig) and every winter we make salami.”

Indeed historically and even presently, in most of rural Italy, this day is a day of great celebration for the swine is the symbolic celebration of the moon and its lunar cycles. In the past, the sacrificing of swine and the making of salami was not only symbolic, but also had a distinct purpose; to provide meat and substance for the whole family the entire year and most especially during the cold winter months. In those days if you were not a nobleman, just having food to feed your family was a cause for celebration. Today, the celebration is more a celebration of an age-old tradition, a day the family spends together preparing the meat that they will enjoy together all year.

It was a short time since my move to Italy when the big celebration day arrived. Having always come to Italy during the summer, I had never before encountered any traditional winter festivities. The moon that day was just right "in crescita" (rising) and at five-thirty in the morning the farm was already bustling. The cows had to milked and fed before everyone arrived at seven, and the macellaio (butcher) was already on his way. The early morning passed and I chose not to leave my room. I could not bear the thought of what was happening that morning to “Ciccio”. How could anyone choose to be a butcher, I thought. I had no desire to even meet the man. Never before had I related the food I ate to the fact that an animal had been sacrificed to provide this food. I was so distraught that I thought about never eating again or or at least becoming a vegetarian. I found no consolation in tradition and sat in the room miserable for hours.

After much reflection, I realized that I was composed of spirit and matter and that my body had to be nourished in order to live. I was not simply a spiritual being and therefore required not only spiritual food but also food that nourished my material being. Whether I consumed a simple vegetable or a piece of meat or fish, I realized that I was nourishing myself with something that was once alive. Was not nature purposefully designed to allow for this balance? If a seed is planted and it does not die, it does not give birth to a plant. If an animal does not die how can it provide nourishment for other animals in existence or for that matter,human beings? Once again, in this instance, I was reminded that the universe has purpose in everything. There is always balance, always a positive and negative. With these thoughts, I finally managed to go and join the rest of the family in their celebration. I now understood. The day was indeed a day to celebrate, a day to celebrate life.

I helped stuff the last of the casings with meat and learned to tie each sopressa with string before carefully covering them with mesh. The salamis would have to hang several days before putting them into the cellar to age for a good year or better.

When a year had passed and it was time to open the first sopressa Maurizio had to tease me as he always does just a bit. He dangled a piece of sopressa in front of me and jumped away as I went to grab it from his hands. “Mi aiuti l’anno prossima? (Will you help me next year?), he asked “o passerai tutta la mattina in camera?” (or will you spend the whole morning in the bedroom?). I smiled and we both laughed as we enjoyed our sopressa and fresh bread with a great glass of wine huddled in the warmth emitted by the wood-burning stove of the kitchen. It was certainly a Delicious Moment to remember in many ways.

Note: With abundance of sea salt from the Italian coastline, preserving meats have always been a part of the Italian tradition and was especially important in the years following the plague and those of exploration.

IN REFLECTION:

From the old moon, comes a new moon, from a seed comes a plant and from death comes a new birth, a birth charged with spiritual purpose. As human beings, however, our purpose is not always obvious. We must discover it from within, while continuing to nourish both our spiritual and physical aspects while we search. Complacency in either aspect halts our progress and denies us from reaching our true bliss by temporarily throwing us out of balance with the universe. That sense of imbalance can manifest itself in illness, depression, frustration and desperation, all negative reactions. When in this situation, remember that our experiences are actually given to us for a purpose; to allow us to recognize our situation and to make the necessary changes for correction, putting us once again in perfect harmony with the universe. Each imbalance is an invaluable experience just as each negative, becomes a positive. With both, we go one step more towards our full enlightenment much in the same way the moon moves one phase each day towards full illumination. The path is difficult but when we finally arrive at our full moon, we have truly found our bliss, and can truly celebrate our life.

A NEW APPROACH:

Each of us is born with a special purpose. Some of us, like Mozart, find it very young. Some of us find it in our twenties; others find it along the road to middle age. Some finally find it in their golden years and others finally discover it on their death beds. There are some of us who never discover it at all in this lifetime and must repeat the cycle in order to find it. The choice is ours. However, if we choose to ignore it and go about our daily life indifferent to the awareness, we are denying ourselves of who we truly are.

Take the time to find your purpose by reflecting on the purpose of all around you. Remember that nothing is by coincidence and nothing is by mistake. There is purpose in every insect, every flower, every animal, every experience, every decision, every event and every moment in your life. In the universe’s infinite wisdom, why should there not be purpose for you?