In the Middle Ages, the disparaging term “Il norcino” (literally meaning, “from Norcia”) grouped together a variety of improvisational impersonators of i chirurghi (‘surgeons”): il cerusico (“barber/surgeon), il cava-denti (tooth-extractor), and il concia-osse (“bonesetter), who wandered from village-to-village offering their rudimentary surgical skills at prezzi popolari. In ancient Rome, i norcini had been known above all for their skill in the castration of pigs (necessary in order to attenuate the strong gamey flavor of the meat of the male) and the transformation of the pig’s meat into temptations for the palate. The norcino pig-butchering skills lead easily to surgical interventions on humans: the setting of broken bones, tooth extractions, excision of tumors, cataract and hernia operations – and even to the castration of young boys, transforming their voices into mellifluous voci bianche.
Nowadays, even in Norcia, in the southeastern mountainous area of Umbria, you’ll wander many a backstreet looking for a true norcineria, a shop selling the prosciutti, capocolli, pancetta, salami artisanally produced by the vendor slicing prosciutto or capocollo for you behind the counter. Just bypass the many shops with “Norcineria” over the door and strings of salami, pancetta and pecorini (sheep’s milk cheeses) hanging in the entryway and aim for a vero norcino.
Head into a side piazza near Norcia’s main square and the shop shaded with a yellow-striped awning. Above the awning, you’ll see a wrought-iron image of a pig and the words “F.lli (Fratelli) Ansuini Norcineria, Artigiani Norcini” arched over it. Inside, young Emiliano welcomes visitors to the family norcineria. Like his brother, Fabrizio, he proudly forms the last line of artigiani norcini (artisanal pig butchers), “unless my young son joins us, ” he said. “…and I hope he does.” For fifty years, the Ansuini (an ironic surname: “suino” = “pig”) family has been doing all their own butchering, Filippo told me proudly as he showed me the immaculate workroom in the back. And with evident pride, he took a tattered fifty-year-old photo off the wall: of his father, a poor young norcino-in-training, a torn piece of jute tied around his waist as a butcher’s apron.
Culinary temptations of the Norcia area fill the shop: strangozzi, fave, fagioli, the baby lentils of nearby Castelluccio, ricotta salata, black truffles, porcini mushrooms, varieties of pecorini (sheep’s milk cheeses), to name a few. But let young norcino Emiliano offer you a taste of of their prized prosciiutto, culatello (deboned pork shoulder) or guanciale (pork cheek) before you go. On the way out, don’t bump into the big wooden wine cask piled high with another kind of salami, le palle del nonno.
(Feel free to contact me for a translation!)
Click here to read about the link between il norcino and a Preci curiosity
Read about Norcia area floral splendor
Read about another Norcia-area hilltown gem
Click here to read about the Feast of St. Benedict in his hometown of Norcia