Small, with a slim build, black or dark-gray coats, elongated and tapering snouts and shaggy bristles along their backs, Nebrodi black pigs are raised in semi-wild or wild conditions throughout much of the Nebrodi Mountains Nature Park. The park protects a large part of the Nebrodi massif, which is covered by 86,000 hectares of beech and oak forest in northeast Sicily.
This splendid landscape, unexpected at these latitudes, protects some of the richest biodiversity of all of Sicily, and indeed Italy.
Frugal and hardy, the Nebrodi black pig breed was once found all over Sicily, but in the 1970s its numbers fell significantly as it was replaced by northern breeds, selected to live indoors and grow quickly.
These new breeds are extraordinarily efficient meat machines, perfect for factory farming, which makes them profitable and appealing in Mediterranean countries as well as in Northern Europe. In Italy alone, at least 20 local breeds have been lost since the 1950s.
Thanks to the passion of a handful of small-scale farmers who have kept a few pigs for their own consumption, however, this breed was saved, and currently there are estimated to be around 2,000 Nebrodi black pigs.
These pigs, which are much closer to wild boars than domestic pigs, in both appearance and behavior, graze outdoors and feed on acorns, frazza (“beech” in dialect), roots, tubers, grasses, berries and, in the coldest months, cereals and whey.
The farmers who have revived the breed have built little huts, known as zimme in dialect, where the pigs can shelter or find relief from the heat. They have an incredible resistance to disease, which is common in all rustic breeds.
The meat of the Nebrodi black pig is extraordinary, highly aromatic and perfectly suited to long aging when cured.
Sicily’s pork specialties are concentrated in this northeastern part of the island: Fellata salame, Nebrodi sausage, lardo, capocollo, pancetta and an incredible prosciutto.
Pork butchery was introduced to Sicily by the Normans in the 11th century. The Muslim ban on the meat had influenced local food habits and tastes, but once it was broken some parts of the island became famous for their cured pork products, flavored with cures and brines based on Mediterranean herbs and spices: wild fennel, oregano, chili.
The farmers have very small farms, and in the majority of cases also process their meat. As only a small number of pigs are being farmed, their cured meats are produced only in small quantities, and are mostly distributed locally. A Slow Food Presidium has been helping to promote their excellent-quality products.
What is a Slow Food Presidia?
The Slow Food Presidia are projects sustaining quality production at risk of extinction, protecting unique regions and ecosystems, recovering traditional processing methods, safeguarding native breeds and local plant varieties.
Check out our website: http://www.slowfoodfoundation.com/presidia
Photos — Alberto Peroli