High Middle Ages, Apennines of Reggio: the Goths were established on one side of the Roman limes, while the Byzantines had built their fortifications to the right of the Tresinaro torrent from Carpineti to Viano and Baiso. These two opposing cultures have left a mark still apparent a thousand years later both on the territory and the cuisine. The custom of the paschal lamb stretches back from time immemorial, but where the Byzantines in their strongholds insisted on breeding sheep, the Lombards preferred their dairy cows, generally red, and black pig for meat.
The Byzantine frontier soldiers needed not only to fight, but also to support themselves through farming. Sheep farming thus took hold and was passed down through the ages with its specific culture. The sheep were precious for wool, milk, meat, and were also the source for the scriptoria of the Benedictine abbeys of Marola, Canossa and San Prospero, in the city.
The meat and delicatessen products produced from sheep are still commonly used in the Apennines today. The most widely slaughtered animals are ewes over one year, or maximum two years. The most characteristic feature is marinated meat that is always found in these recipes to add harmony to the strong taste of mutton when cooked. Throughout the year, in restaurants and butchers near Mount Valestra you will likely come across “barzigole”, high quality sheep steaks.
About three days after the slaughter of an adult sheep or a lamb, the best cuts are selected, such as the shoulder or belly, and cut into slices of just the right thickness. The carefully prepared marinade of oil, garlic, bay leaves, sage, rosemary and salt is then added. They are pan-fried or served as part of a mixed grill as an alternative to pork and beef.
In Valestra, in Baisano and up to Viano, in what were once Byzantine areas, families still produce what is a truly typical product par excellence: a mutton ham, named after the violin (in dialect cushöt), that is particularly dark and tasty. It is a typical winter product. About two days after the slaughter of the animal, the lean thigh is removed and then salted and marinated. After salting, which lasts for a period of about 10 to 12 days, the leg is washed with water and wine vinegar. It is first dried with a canvas cloth and then hung for about a week.
Once it is has dried out completely and uniformly, it is covered with a mixture of pork lard, salt and pepper. The leg of mutton, traditionally referred to as a violin because of its shape, is aged in a cool dry place for about a month. It is usually sliced for serving.