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Where is the festival devoted to lard

01:00 Mon 01st Apr 2002 |

A.� While lard is something generally avoided in the UK, abroad it's a delicacy worthy of its own festival. Lardo di Colonnata is one of Italy great foodstuffs, revered like its olives, creamy goats' cheeses and balsamic vinegar.

Colonnata is a remote hill town in the Apuane mountains in Tuscany. The town has been famous of its production of fragrant lard for centuries: the process used to age the lard was probably developed as a way of preserving the meat to last all year.

Q.� What is lard exactly

A.� Lard is made up from the fatty parts of the pig which make up more than 30 per cent of the animal's weight. It is aged in large tubs, known as conche, which are carved out of Carrara marble and placed in natural grottoes, or cantinas. The conche are rubbed generously with garlic, and their bottoms spread with a thick crust of rock sea salt, and a mixcture of herbs and spices, known as the concia. Then, alternate layers of fat and concia are laid down until the tub is full. It is then sealed with a heavy wooden top, and left undisturbed to age for six to eight months.

Q.� What does it look like

A.� It's served in transparent slices, usually on bread. The concia imparts a variety of flavours to the lard as it develops - pepper, both whole and ground - cloves and dried rosemary are the most common. There's also a list of 'secret' ingredients such as cinnamon, nutmeg and coriander. The heavy dose of salt, which forms a brine as it dissolves, acts both as a preservative anfd a tenderiser.

The lard, once it's brought out of its hibernation, is white, creamy, tender and pearly with tiny veins runinng through and a crust of herbs and salt on the outside.

Q.� Why don't we get it here

A.� It's a controversial practice in Italy. The traditional lard-making practices of the Colonnate aren't up to national health standards. Two years ago, officials swooped down on the small town and impounded large quantities of what they considered contraband food, saying it flew in the face of EU regulations. As present, only six people produce it 'legally'.

Q.� When's the lard festival

A.� The town celebrates the stuff on August 24, the day of San Bartolomeo, the town's patron saint. The annual festival revolves around lard, wine and bread.

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By Katharine MacColl

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