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Mule balls or Mortadella di Campotosto

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It resisted two earthquakes, the depopulation of the villageto the industrialization of production. Mortadella di Campotosto is the last immortal of the artisanal excellences of central Italy. A special salami. that speaks to the heart before the palate. Which is also pampered with care by that very fine minced pork, first by hand and then with a meat grinder. Only noble parts are used: ham, shoulder and a little bacon. When she is ready, she models herself, on the palm of her hand, as if it were clay. And it is there that the skill of the craftsman can be seen, in the dexterity with which he handles and creates that kind of large pointed egg, then filled with a white parallelepiped of lard (called lardello). For 4 months, from November to March, there is no morning or afternoon, and there are no holidays. From 6 am to 7 pm we work with a beating drum to prepare and package mortadellas, also known as “mule balls” due to their characteristic shape and because they are sold in pairs. A ritual that gives life to one of the finest cured meats in Italy. But what does mortadella have to do with salami? The name derives from mortar (the tool in which the meat was once minced with a pestle). A cured meat that is the triumph of dexterity and flavor, a garrison Slow Foodson of the territory: his homeland is a mountain village 50 kilometers from L’Aquila, bathed by an artificial lake: in Campotosto, 1400 meters above sea level.

Already in 1575 the tasty product was circulating in the European courts, carried by Flemish soldiers following Margaret of Austria, daughter of Charles V, admirer of the Eagle. But the tradition has always been handed down verbally from father to son. Today there are two artisan producers left: Ernesto Berardi di Berardi cured meats and Ugo Paolini of Grandmother ‘Ina. Two highlanders who persistently carry on a tradition that is in danger of extinction.

Ugo Paolini in his laboratory
“I invested everything in this business after the second earthquake – says Paolini – It was 2017, Campotosto was a heap of rubble, and everyone said to me: ‘Whoever makes you do it, move the company somewhere else’. But I believed it and preferred to stay. Here my parents were born and here I found love. I have two small children, I do not know which path they will take: the country is destroyed, many have gone and who knows if they will return. But I stay. And so it was “. Among those who have left the village there are also families who dedicated themselves to the private production of mortadella. “Unfortunately, many of the houses where the seasoning was done collapsed”, says Ernesto Berardi. Yes, because one of the most delicate phases of processing is precisely the final one, when the mortadellas are covered with a casing already cut to size, tied, hooked to a sprig of hazelnut that holds them together, and then placed in the seasoning room, where for two months dangle in front of a fireplace which gives them the typical smell of smoking. “Thanks to Slow Food we carry on production in the world – continues Berardi – Ours was one of the first presidents in the history of the association. And the salami is so loved that it is also one of the most imitated in Italy with the name of mule balls “. Campotosto mortadellas are also called Coglioni di mulo

Password, do not give up. Sentiment well expressed by Berardi: “Mortadella di Campotosto has always been the social link between the people who lived in the hamlets where it was produced. Everyone has their own task: there are those who dedicate themselves to grinding, those who model them, those who cover them with gut. Historically women were dedicated to sewing the skin (which today instead sticks to itself thanks to its natural collagen, ed), and then there are the ligature workers. In winter it was a way to get together and give life to the salami that was only sold at Easter. And the social value of production has remained almost undermined ”.

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Today the pairs of mortadella produced for sale with the artisanal method are about 10 thousand, to these is added the industrial production which increases the number and distribution. “But it is not the same thing – says Berardi – We champions of tradition do not use preservatives or additives: it is a 100% artisanal production that is strongly affected by the climate and seasonality”. So much so that humidity is managed naturally, “by opening and closing the window”, as Paolini explains. And then there is the secret ingredient: love for a land that is as rugged as it is generous.