A soft, fennel-flecked salame from the Siena province of Tuscany
“Finocchiona is a salame from the province of Siena, in Tuscany,” says Medhi, from behind the counter of Gastronomica, importers of a wide range of Italian delicatessen products. “This is a region in Italy known for its spiced salami, but the thing that sets this one apart is the use of fennel seeds as well as black peppercorns.”
Produced by a small family business called Macelleria Belli, which is based just outside the walls of the medieval town of Torrita di Siena in Tuscany, this salame is made from the meat of the cinta senese pig, a breed native to the province. This magnificent pig, which has DOP protected status, is characterised by its dark, almost black skin, the bristles on its body and head, and the pink band around its front legs and shoulders that gives it its name—Italian for ‘belt of Siena’.
From the Middle Ages until the middle of the last century, the cinta senese was the breed of pig most widely used in Tuscany, valued for its layer of fat at least two fingers deep, but its population fell after the second world war, almost to the point of extinction. In recent years, as an appreciation of the character and value of traditional breeds has grown, driven in part by the Slow Food movement, it has undergone something of a revival—with delicious results.
A simple process
“Finocchiona is a soft salami, quite unlike the hard texture of salami that many people are familiar with. This is because this salame is not cured for very long,” Medhi explains. Its production process is very simple. Lean pork meat is mixed with pork fat, fennel seeds, black peppercorns and other spices, and this mixture is left to dry out a little in a temperature-controlled cold storage room, after which it is fed into the casings to make the individual salamis. These are left in a warmer room for a week, where they lose moisture at a much higher rate than before. They are then matured for around five to six weeks. “The salame we sell that has the densest texture matures for about a year, and there are others that mature for much longer, so you can see that this is a very young salame,” says Medhi.
The finocchiona comes in three sizes, the biggest of which weighs in at a whopping 20kg and is almost foot in diameter. The texture gets softer as the size increases, so if you want the very creamiest finocchiona, then slices of the large one are probably for you.
A dodgy past
The salame comes with an entertaining origin story. “In Italy, it actually has two names: ‘finocchiona’, which comes from the word ‘finocchio’, meaning fennel, and ‘imbroglioni’. This second name roughly translates as something like ‘trickster’ or ‘swindler’,” Medhi reveals. “It comes from a story relating to the beginnings of finocchiona back in the Middle Ages. In those days, some wineries in the region could not store their wine well during the hot summers and it would go slightly sour. Tradition says that some wineries began to make salami with stronger flavours, which they would serve with their wine. The idea was that the spices would disguise the taste of the drink and the customer would not realise that they were drinking spoiled wine.”
Given these possibly shady beginnings, it is with some irony that Medhi suggests the best way to enjoy this salami is with some Tuscan wine. “There are some beautiful Tuscan wines like chianti, and the mixture of spices in finocchiona blends beautifully with the wine of the region. Served with a nice cheeseboard and a glass of red wine, it is wonderful”—and as far from a swindle as you can possibly get.