Spalla cotta of San Secondo is a type of traditional cured pork product made in precise area of the Bassa Parmese, outside of Parma. It takes its name from the small town of San Secondo, the center of spalla production in the past. Spalla cotta was mentioned in a document from 1170 stating its equivalence to the rent a farmer had to pay in order to cultivate land, and then again in the 18th century where it appeared on the grocery list of the Court of Este in Modena.
Spalla is made from a large pork shoulder (preferably 46 to 48 lbs), including the coppa (a specific cut of pork neck and shoulder). After having remove the excess meat and rolled up the spalla, it is left to cure in a mixture of salt, pepper, cinnamon, garlic and nutmeg. It is places in a cold room, salted a second time and left for a couple of weeks. Then it is tied up, placed in a bladder casing and bound again from the bottom up. It is left in a cold environment for one to two months before consumption. It can be eaten raw, if well aged, or cooked, its more common form. The preparation, which follows very specific rules passed down through the centuries, calls for cooking the spalla in hot but not boiling water (160-175° F), seasoned with wine and bay leaves.
The cooking time is calculated based on the weight of the meat: one hour per kilo. Traditional spalla, with the bone and the coppa, can weigh up to 7 or 8 kg (15 to 17 lb) and cooks for at least 7 to 8 hours. The result is a salume of soft, aromatic, flavorful meat and, depending on the slice, slightly marbled with fat. It can be served either cold or at room temperature, cut into thin slices and best eaten during the summer lean meats are preferable. In a letter to the Ricordi family, the renown composer and musician Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901), a real spalla-lover, described a recipe for spalla cotta and the tricks for not ending up with tough meat: «Put the meat in warm water for about 12 hours to remove the salt, then place it in cold water and bring to a boil over low heat. Simmer, but don’t boil, for three and a half hours. In order to tell if the meat is done, pierce the spalla with a curedents (or toothpick) ».
In the following century, “spalletta”, a smaller version of the spalla you find today, was the fashion. Spalletta generally weighed around 7 or 8 lbs and was made from fattier pigs.
And was aged for up to six months before cooking and getting it ready for the summer. Today, spalla is made just about everywhere, however San Secondo remains the birthplace of this salume. (It is often found off the bone so that it can be sliced by machine, however the bone-in version is more flavorful.) Every year between August 28th and September 2nd, San Secondo hosts a traditional party to celebrate the meat. At this event, spalla is served with torta fritta (a mixture of water, flour and salt, made crispy by frying in lard) and light wine like Fortana or Fortanina, lively, easy-drinking red wines made in the area of San Secondo.
In the library
G. BERNARDINI, La Spalla; il rinomato salume di San Secondo parmense; breve storia sulle origini, da quale parte del suino deriva e sua lavorazione, in gastronomia, Parma, Tecnografica, 1995.
La cucina di Verdi; armonie di note, profumi e sapori sulla tavola del maestro, Milano, G. Mondadori, 2003.