On Christmas Eve the butcher (snr) was quite insistent that we come along to an event that was to be held on the 27th. From mid-afternoon, he and his son would be butchering a whole pig in a piazza just down from their shop, and there would be a party. This was clearly a major event that we were not to miss. We made our plans for the following days around it.
At around 3 on that Sunday afternoon, a section of a street outside one of the bars in Anghiari was transformed into a piazza: tables and chairs were set out; a fire of chestnut wood was lit; and, the butchers, father and son, set to work on the pig (which would have fed on chestnuts). The Italian version of a barbeque
was under way with people standing around, making trips in and out of the bar, watching the fennel seasoned sausages being made, offering assistance with the fire, and, assisting with a cauldron of fat being rendered down to become crispy pieces of salted fat. After a couple of hours, coals were being transferred from the fire to the grill, and, by the time night had fallen, people were beginning to line up for their bread and sausage or mixed plate.
When things had got busy, there was quite a press of people at the grill, but, somehow or other, the women cooking and serving knew who had turned up when, with what particular orders. Miraculously, I would find plates in my hand to dispense to others. The scene around the fire was wonderfully convivial. There were people of all ages, mostly from Anghiari, but others from nearby towns. For all of us, it was easy talking to people, despite any language problems. What fun we were having. And, what good food! I went into the bar to get a glass of wine, and the father butcher, sitting on a stool, said ‘sono stanco’ – understandably tired after all that work.
There was a moment in the proceedings when one of the grill aficionados announced: ‘San porco’. The pig is sanctified, thanked. (It is the most important source of meat in this region.) As it turns out, this is a regular festival on 27th December; it’s part of Christmas rituals, coinciding with tours of presepe (nativities). (Some of the visitors to Anghiari were combining this festival with their rounds of presepi viewing.) Somehow, the Italian word ‘festa’ seems just right to describe this occasion, meaning, as it does, feast, party, holiday.
A few days later, all the family in the butcher’s shop were keen to know if we had enjoyed ourselves, and had we ever seen it before? No, our first time. We were waved off with many ‘auguri’ for the New Year.
Ann, with thanks to Murray Cox for the video!
PS Before putting the video on youtube, we showed it to the butchers. They loved it and were very happy for it to be public. They wanted the url so that they could share it with friends.