Today was one of our most memorable moments in Italy. Although we’re still traveling for another four weeks we know this is going to be a trip highlight at the end. It was the day we spent eating lardo di Colonnata, drinking prosecco and basking in the sunshine.
Colonnata, a small hamlet in northern Italy known for marble of such high quality it was sourced for Michelangelo’s David and the most beautiful Roman columns. It’s also known for its lardo di Colonnata which is cured in white marble basins. It was at the top of Dave’s wishlist as he makes his own lardo but wanted to see what the masters do.
Lardo is cured pork back fat. It’s similar to pancetta (cured pork belly) as it’s salt cured in a mixture of salt, garlic and herbs. Throughout centuries lardo was important in Colonnata because it was a cheap source of calories for the men who mined the marble caves. Conveniently they were also able to store it there.
In Colonnata it is cured for at least 6 months and while you can find it in many cities in Italy nearly all Italians agree that lardo di colonnata is the best.
This is why we are here.
Colonnata is not an easy spot to visit. We previously posted how to get to Colonnata because it was a feat, even for an experienced traveler like me. But we did it! We took a taxi from Carrara up the mountain passing the marble caves and our taxi driver generously offered to pick us up three hours later which was key because Colonnata is a ghost town in off season.
A tiny town of 300 people, we heard that despite it being the mecca for lardo tourism hasn’t really developed. Agriturismos in the area will arrange transportation and there are some small tours but as it’s in northern Italy it’s still largely unspoiled by tourism.
We arrived to a small village in the mountain almost built entirely of marble and smelling like pork fat, garlic, juniper and rosemary, the sun was shining and it was eerily peaceful.
We realized nothing was open! While our instagram friend Taylor at the Fatted Calf recommended eating at Al Lardo Al Lardo it was closed, so were all of the restaurants and antique shops.
Fortunately we turned a corner and found an open shop where two women offered us a degustation (tasting) plate of lardo, lardo crema and uncooked pancetta. We grabbed it, some prosecco and beer and went to a square to enjoy it on our own.
It was heaven.
The lardo was flavourful, creamy, delicious and perfect with prosecco. With Colonnata all to ourselves we sat in the sun and reveled in the triumph of finally making it to the mystical town.
When we were done we walked around and heard some noise so went to check it out. Men came out of a larderia and we hand signalled asking if we could look in.
If I could only illustrate the look on Dave’s face when he finally saw the 6 foot marble coffins holding the lardo di colonnata. We had stumbled upon them moving it to a production facility.
Even though we didn’t speak Italian, the one who seemed to be the boss was more than accommodating, allowing us to take photos before they continued on.
It was a moment of serendipity, we didn’t see the room they show to tourists but the real room they show. Later on we realized he is the lardo guy the one who is responsible carrying on the tradition.
Could this day get any better?
Apparently it could. As we walked around Dave saw that a souvenir shop had a smaller marble box. It was closed but had a buzzer that you could ring so we did. A woman quickly popped her head out of the window above and yelled something quickly in Italian that signalled she was coming. Ten minutes later we had our own 30lb box of marble.
This is why I’m glad I learned the art of packing light, because for the next 4 weeks I’ll be schlepping this beauty on my back.