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Salami by the light of the crescent moon

For a few dedicated gastronomes, meat must be cured in harmony with lunar cycles


 
Salami by the light of the crescent moon

Photograph by Cole Garside

Every year, when the cold in Toronto levels off to a late-January sting and the moon begins to wane, Nilo Palu drives his polished gunmetal truck to a nearby slaughterhouse and hauls two butchered pigs (some 500 lb. of pork) back to his basement. He lays the mountain of meat on a wooden table near the taxidermic animals he captured on various hunting trips. Then, with a group of friends, Palu carries out an ancient tradition he has practised since his boyhood in Italy.

For these sixty- and seventysomething Italian Canadians, slaughtered pig can only become prosciutto and salami during the luna calante, after the full moon, when the silver orb recedes into the black sky. “If we don’t cure by the moon,” Palu explains with a furrowed brow, “the meat could go bad.”

Planting a garden or making wine according to the lunar cycle—the principle of biodynamics—is well documented. The movement was initiated in the early 20th century by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, who suggested that crops should be grown organically, in harmony with the stars and planets. Before Steiner, farmers followed moon lore, and still do. (See the Farmer’s Almanac.)

But lunar curing? Experts in the world’s gastronomic capitals appeared to know nothing of the practice. “I’m afraid I’m stumped on this one,” said a New York University food studies professor. Harold McGee, the Curious Cook and author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, also said he’d never heard of cosmic charcuterie. The Slow Food Movement folks were similarly perplexed, as were anthropologists and food historians at the famed University of Gastronomic Sciences in northern Italy. Paolo Cornale, an academic who teaches animal production at the school, even investigated on our behalf. “I spoke with 10 people, experts and meat producers,” he reported. “To be honest, many of them have never even heard of the moon’s influence on meat production.”

Still, the moon guided Palu’s annual ritual, passed down through the generations. Growing up in Friuli, he recalls holding the leg of a pig, with three other men, as it was being slaughtered. This would happen every winter when temperatures dropped and “the moon was going down, to the new moon,” the calo di luna. If they didn’t dress the hog then, the puciter, or pig master, who helped local families turn their pigs into prosciutto, warned the meat would simply turn black.

Salami by the light of the crescent moon

Photograph by Cole Garside

Years later, Palu still considers the cosmos when he cures meat. “The moon could change everything,” he shrugs, “it could change nothing. But we follow it.” Maybe this wisdom was passed down from Pliny the Elder, the first-century Roman naturalist who wrote about the moon in his Natural History. One 1918 journal article reports Pliny believed “boars, bullocks, rams, and kids should be castrated during the waning moon” and “goat’s meat, salt-cured when the moon was waning, was not attacked by worms.” Accordingly, Roman farmers followed at least one lunar principle: “Whatsoever you would have grow or increase, attend to during the waxing moon; whatsoever you wish to dry, or cure, or decrease without decay, attend to during the waning moon.”

Turns out this meat and moon lore trickled down to at least one other Italian Canadian. “Naturalmente!” exclaims Gabriele Paganelli, of lunar curing. The robust restaurateur, who processes two pigs per week at his Toronto osteria Romagna Mia, says, “Back in the old country, this is how we did things.”

Paganelli hails from Emilia-Romagna, a region in northeastern Italy known as the country’s epicurean capital and just south of Friuli, Palu’s home. “A long time ago, the only calendar we had in Italy was the moon.” Pregnant women, for example, knew they were due after nine full moons had passed.

Echoing Pliny, Paganelli’s family believed that drying and curing without spoiling the food had to happen by the waning moon. Conversely, “Things that needed to grow, to flower”—such as a budding head of radicchio—”were done at the luna crescente [the waxing moon],” he says. Does he use this technique now? “No,” he laughs. “We needed the moon then. Now we have refrigerators.”


 

Salami by the light of the crescent moon

  1. This stumped me too! Why it even get into this magazine must be the lunar pull too. Awoooooooooo!

  2. This stumped me too! Why it even get into this magazine must be the lunar pull too. Awoooooooooo!

  3. Obviously those hands would spoil anything! And seems not one of thementions the real cure for the meat! Saltpeter! Can cure lot of problems! lol
    As far as the pork worm, in dry cure, then it just a matter of luck, like a lot of fantasy religious things. Now they know to keep it froze for a certain number of days befor making the non-cook salami. Sound about right?

  4. Obviously those hands would spoil anything! And seems not one of thementions the real cure for the meat! Saltpeter! Can cure lot of problems! lol
    As far as the pork worm, in dry cure, then it just a matter of luck, like a lot of fantasy religious things. Now they know to keep it froze for a certain number of days befor making the non-cook salami. Sound about right?

  5. This is not news to me. People have been doing things by lunar cycles for eternitiy. The folks in the Ozarks also butcher (or used to) by lunar cycles. They thought if you butchered when the moon was waxing there would be no fat in it to fry or cook properly. It was like the tides; the moon can pull the juices out of the meat. Check out the Foxfire books for more info. They were compiled in the 1960’s.

  6. This is not news to me. People have been doing things by lunar cycles for eternitiy. The folks in the Ozarks also butcher (or used to) by lunar cycles. They thought if you butchered when the moon was waxing there would be no fat in it to fry or cook properly. It was like the tides; the moon can pull the juices out of the meat. Check out the Foxfire books for more info. They were compiled in the 1960’s.

  7. I read about this years ago in the Foxfire book series of country lore from the Ozarks. The moon has the same effect on butchering as it does on the tides. If you do a hog when the moon is waxing for instance the fat will be all drawn out and it won't fry properly.

  8. I read about this years ago in the Foxfire book series of country lore from the Ozarks. The moon has the same effect on butchering as it does on the tides. If you do a hog when the moon is waxing for instance the fat will be all drawn out and it won't fry properly.

  9. those hands are the hands of experience, proudly making salami and other foods that were staples of times past. This is an art passed on down through generations, one can only hope that the young generation of today will learn these techniques to be passed on down once again.
    In the meantime, I will thouroughly enjoy the fruits of our experienced elders with the utmost respect for their craft and dedication to quailty food preparation and only hope that one day I can produce the same quality memories and traditions I have been blessed with since I was a young child.

  10. those hands are the hands of experience, proudly making salami and other foods that were staples of times past. This is an art passed on down through generations, one can only hope that the young generation of today will learn these techniques to be passed on down once again.
    In the meantime, I will thouroughly enjoy the fruits of our experienced elders with the utmost respect for their craft and dedication to quailty food preparation and only hope that one day I can produce the same quality memories and traditions I have been blessed with since I was a young child.

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