Pontiggia’s Culatello

Giuseppe Pontiggia (1934-2004) is one of the greatest post II World War Italian writers. His writing is characterized by the tension of the brevitas. What comes out are smart stories, often taken from everyday life, and this made of Pontiggia an international master. The brevitas also shapes his work as a reader and as acute and sharp critic: in texts published first on newspapers and then collected in successful volumes such as The Garden of the Hesperides or The future contemporaries, the burin and rasp work reaches high levels of ethical, civil and literary value.

The salted pork, the meat products prince, is the hero of this little tale then collected in First Person, published by Mondadori in 2003. Subtly ironic, it allows reality to unveil all its hypocrisy with an attentive style game.


Animalist ladies at the table.

Official dinner. The tablemate on my right asks the one facing her:

"Did you see the menu?"


"What are you going to do about the starter?"

"No culatello!" the other replies, raising her finger. "I'll have the canapes."

"But it's the specialty of the place!" the first lady insists, sweetly.

"You do as you wish" the friend challenges her. "We're two free people."

"I'll have the culatello," sighs the lady, smiling at the idea of committing a sin. Plump, but close to decline, she shows a playful frown that I imagine, a few decades ago, irresistible.

"May I ask an indiscreet question?" I intervene. "What's the problem with culatello?"

"We are animalist" the lady on my right answers. "But I cannot resist."

"Because you're incoherent!" her friend scolds her. It must be a theater tested by replicas, as happens in the most tenacious couples.

"But why culatello?" I ask, knowing I will appear naive.

"Pork" the most intransigent stares at me. "We do not eat meat. We eat vegetables, fruit, cheese, pasta, rice. "

"It's like a religious ban."

"Stronger," she replies, placing her right hand on the knife handle. "Do you respect all religious bans?"

And without waiting for an answer, she adds proudly: "This is my life religion."

The other listens to her with apprehensive admiration. She says, looking at her and trying to tame her: "This pig is now dead."

"Do not start, please!" She touches the lace covering her skinny chest. "You allow yourself to be corrupted too easily!"

"Actually," the other nods. She looks for an ally in me: "You would have no doubt, right, about culatello?"

"Around here is the best," I reply, looking at her with an intense sympathy.

"Do not be cynical about us," her friend says, taking a more lenient attitude. “We see that the mundanity is recovering on ideology - that is, one ideology wins over another (for those who think it has disappeared)”. She adds: "You are not part of our group. You can allow yourself all the culatello you want. "

“Are you a group?” I ask.

"Of course!" She utters. "We meet, we compare experiences, we develop new strategies not against animals, but for animals."

She no longer has the eye vaguely hallucinated that she had before. The fanatics are not the only ones persuaded to possess the truth (almost everyone is persuaded about it), they are only the most terrified of losing it.

"Do you know that a decade ago I wrote something about mosquitoes?" I say, trying a diversion. "That is, when you kill them you do not worry about their existential journey."

"We do not kill mosquitoes," she says coldly.

"Don’t you?" I look at her in amazement.

"No, we use mosquito nets," intervenes the lady on my right. "Why kill them, poor creatures?"

So I briefly hint, perhaps in revenge, at the fury with which I chase them in the summer chambers (my house is a fort). At the unbridled joy when I crush them. Something similar, I imagine, to the pleasure of a long-desired murder.

"It does not surprise me," the friend says.

"Why?" I ask her.

"Just look at you while you are telling," he replies. "You have the fanatic's eye."

I accuse the shot, I smile. I would like to react, but the millennia loom on this table with a ruinous amount of feelings, ideas, shouts, appeals, silences.

A waiter bows to the diner on my right:

"Have you already chosen, madam?"

"Yes!" She utters, backing out of the millennia. "Culatello!"


Recipe for tagliolini with culatello and Parmigiano Reggiano

For purists, using culatello for a first course may seem absurd. In reality the 36-month old culatello strong flavor can be an excellent condiment for the tagliolini with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano. Some gourmets recommend the cut-outs or even the meat final part, when you can cut with the knife the part that you can no longer cut with the slicer. A way of recycling a meat product that costs a lot. A definitely parmesan dish, no doubt about it.


Ingredients for 4 people

350 g of fresh noodles

200 g of culatello

100 g of Parmesan cheese

80 g of butter

2 meat broth ladles

10 sage leaves.


The meat broth is what makes the difference in cooking tagliolini, which must not necessarily be done by hand. It is a simple recipe with intense flavors, very Emilian. You can also stir in the cooking water, as usual, but obviously you will not have the same result.

Take the culatello, preferably 36 months old, because more seasoned and drier, cut it into strips and brown it in a pan with half the butter and the chopped sage. When it is crispy at the right point, remove it from the pan. Add the remaining butter and stock in the pan and cook over low heat for the butter to melt. Meanwhile, toss the noodles in salted water, drain them directly into the sauce and stir well with the Parmesan. Be careful not to let it dry too much, it must be soft and creamy. This is the purpose of the broth, which gives precisely the result of a sauce.

Serve, sprinkle with culatello and Parmesan. Add pepper and serve. Someone loves to decorate the dish with 24-month old pink-shaped culatello slices. They are beautiful and they amaze the diner. 


Curiosity. Butter or not butter?

If you happen to go to a good restaurant in the Bassa, in the inns or in the farms, you can find the culatello of 24 and 36 months served with some blond curls of butter, often cream-colored if it is of great quality. Purists eat culatello with their hands after carefully sniffing it, to catch the flavors of chestnut, mold and cellar that make this meat product sublime. Others, however, love to accompany it with a little butter spread on freshly baked bread, with soft crumb and crispy crust. « when the butter is really good enhances the taste of the culatello!». And if Alberto Guareschi says so, he who has managed the restaurant opened by his father Giovannino for almost thirty years at Roncole Verdi, in front of Giuseppe Verdi's birthplace, we must believe him. You have to try it both ways. Everyone will follow their own taste. And forget about cholesterol.

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The column tells the gastronomy of Parmesan land through the eyes and the pen of ancient and modern writers that have helped to create the myth of the products of this territory .

A survey of literature and history that is rooted in the ability of the authors to tell the food , wine and culture of "being at the table" .


About the author

Guido Conti

è scrittore ed editore. Ha pubblicato numerosi romanzi e raccolte di racconti tra cui ricordiamo Il coccodrillo sull'altare (Premio Chiara 1998), I cieli di vetro (1999) finalista al Premio Campiello. Con Mondadori ha pubblicato Le mille bocche della nostra sete (2010), tradotto in Olanda e Spagna e Il grande fiume Po (2012). Nel 2014 ha esordito con un libro per l'infanzia Il volo felice della cicogna Nilou (Rizzoli), in fase di traduzione in Spagna, Grecia e Corea del sud. Nel 2014 ha pubblicato in allegato con il Corriere della Sera dodici volumi sul leggere per imparare a scrivere, dedicati a 12 grandi della narrativa mondiale.