Selve di Vallolmo: raising pigs among chestnuts an oak trees

31 July 2023

The story of Selve di Vallolmo begins in the 1980s when Serena Orlandi’s grandfather and father started a conventional pig farm. They focused on a single breed, the Large White, without considering meat processing.

As often happens, their initial idea expanded. They reduced the number of animals and researched traditional local breed. The whole family, including the younger members, got involved. And so, Selve di Vallolmo has become one of the few producers of a remarkable product, and a Slow Food Presidium: Casentino ham. Located in the Casentino Forests National Park, in the heart of the Tosco-Romagnolo Apennines, it covers fifteen hectares of enclosed woodland where the Orlandi family raises native Casentino gray pigs.

Living like animals

[Selve di Vallolmo farm]

Serena explains over the phone how their farm evolved and the research they conducted to refine their initial idea. “When we decided to focus on pork processing, pure farming was no longer profitable. We immediately thought of concentrating on product quality, paying great attention to the rearing method and animal feed, as well as developing recipes and preparations.”

They found evidence of the importance of pork butchery in their region, with hams even being sent to Germany and England. These were gray pigs, and further research, collaboration with the University of Florence, and local experience led them to identify a particular breed, obtained from the initial cross between Large White pigs and Sienese Belted or Romagna Black pigs.

Attempting to revive the product, therefore, also involved the recovery of a breed: the Casentino Gray pig. While Large White pigs are still kept in stables, the Orlandi family reserved those fifteen hectares of woodland for the Casentino grays. Their diet is incredibly diverse, consisting of acorns, chestnuts, mushrooms, and whatever the forest provides. When the forest is less generous, their diet is supplemented with grains produced on the farm itself.

Selve di Vallolmo at Cheese 2023

At Cheese 2023 you can find Selve di Vallolmo among the market stands. The Casentino Gray pig ham is also the star of a Taste Laboratory on September 18 at 11 a.m. Biodiversity in the meadows and pastures doesn’t just produce exceptional cheeses. It also affects the meat of outdoor-reared animals, free to forage in the wild or semi-wild, free to roman and feed on whatever the forests offer. You can experience this first-hand in a dedicated Taste Workshop, which showcases the nuances of forest-raised ham.

Casentino ham

“Gray Casentino pig meat is special. It comes from animals that forage freely, walk, and have well-developed muscle structure. Its taste distinctly reflects animals reared in the wild or semi-wild state, whose meat is well-suited for extended maturation processes.

[Selve di Vallolmo ham]

Responsibility for the production lies with Serena’s brothers. The traditional recipe involves refrigerating the pig legs for at least 24 hours, then trimming, massaging, and salting them. The salting mixture consists of salt, garlic, and, optionally, other spices like pepper, chili, nutmeg, and ground juniper berries. After five to seven days, any residual salt on the surface is removed, and the legs are massaged again. This is followed by a second salting period, lasting about two weeks. Excess salt is removed again, and the ham is left to mature for 40 to 50 days. Traditionally, it was hung in the kitchen, near the warmth of the fireplace. In the case of Selve di Vallolmo, they use natural cellars at an altitude of 820 meters, with an ideal temperature for ham maturation. After maturation, which must last at least 12 months, the ham is ready. However, Serena’s family, along with other Presidium producers, prefers to take more time. “We usually extend the maturation to 24 months. They are large legs, with a good amount of fat. They can easily support longer maturation times! Waiting allows us to get the most out of this product.”

La “ruffiana” and other products from Selve di Vallolmo

In addition to ham, the farm has specialized over time in numerous other recipes, such as the “ruffiana” (a type of finocchiona), cured meats like “strolghino,” and mortadella made from less precious cuts of the animal.

All these recipes share the same philosophy: achieving the highest quality, starting with the choice of ingredients used in the transformation process. “We use Cervia salt; we grow our own garlic and peel it manually, and we use natural casing. We have always focused on niche products, targeted at an informed and conscious clientele that chooses healthy products with a story behind them.”

A story you can discover for yourself at Cheese 2023!

by Silvia Ceriani, i[email protected]

Cheese 2023 is organized by Slow Food and the City of Bra from September 15-18. See you there! #Cheese2023

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