Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Porchetta Wine Luncheon

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Lechon, as whole roast pig is called in the Philippines, is roasted traditionally in a long bamboo spit over coals for several hours.

I've been eating whole roast pig for as long as I can remember. It's primal dining at its best. The sight of a 100-lb (80-100 lbs is best for a full size roaster and about 35 lbs for a suckling) greasy, glistening, orange/red pig roasted in its entirety from head to tail (often garnished with an apple in its mouth) resting on a chopping table immediately sends my gastric juices into action.

When I was growing up in the Philippines, my father would order a side of roast pig for Sunday lunch after church. Lechon, as it is called there, is chopped up and eaten with gravy sauce (made with fat drippings and liver) over rice. The crispy, crackly skin-the ultimate pork fat-is the first thing that everyone attacks.

In the US, the most accessible source of whole roast pig is the takeout deli in a Chinese restaurant or store. The Cantonese roast pig is flavored with five-spice, but it's essentially the same as lechon, though in the Philippines, the lechoneros strive to make every square inch of the pig's skin as crispy as possible-that's where the money is.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, where many food trends start, Chinese cuisine isn't as gourmet chic as Italian, at least to folks who seriously follow food trends, so Cantonese whole roast pig has never caught on among foodies. Instead, lately, I've been hearing a lot about porchetta, the Italian-style whole roast pig that's deboned and flavored with herbs and garlic. It's becoming the latest food rave. While I'm definitely a whole roast pig aficionado, I confess I've never tasted porchetta, until last week, when I was invited to a porchetta luncheon.

Lorenzo Scarpone, one of my wine importers, is a native of Abruzzo, where porchetta is indigenous cuisine. At his warehouse in South San Francisco he brought in Salvatore Denaro, the renowned chef/prorietor of Il Bacco Felice in Foligno, one of Umbria's top restaurants, to prepare a whole porchetta, plus a side dish of polenta e salsicce. Chef Denaro spread slices of the roast pig on long loaves of ciabatta bread and cut up the loaves into small paninis. It was ridiculously delicious! The pork was tender and flavorful, with just a hint of rosemary.

I easily devoured four or five of those paninis, washing them down with various wines, including Ruggeri's Extra Dry Prosecco (I never expected extra dry Prosecco to be fantastic pairing with porchetta), Fornacina's 2003 Brunello and 2005 Rosso, Fonti's 2004 Chianti Classico Riserva and 2003 Fontissimo super-Tuscan, Sassotondo's 2007 Maremma and 2005 San Lorenzo Riserva, and, of course, Caprai's 2005 Poggio Belvedere, 2005 Montefalco Rosso Riserva (wow!), 2003 Sagrantino Collepiano, and 2003 and 2004 Sagrantino Riserva 25 Anni.

I have eaten countless roast pigs in my life, but porchetta is the most enjoyable roast pig dish I've ever had. I left the luncheon three hours later, satiated and staggering from all the wine and food. Since then, I dream of porchetta everyday.

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Chef Denaro slices porchetta for the ciabatta bread panini


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Just a few of the dozens of Italian wines we gulped down during the luncheon


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Ah, the perfect ending, a selection of tasty dolci after the meal. Quick, find the mini canoli, it's heavenly!


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Chef Salvatore Denaro, renowned Umbrian chef, on the left holding what remains of the pig and our generous host, Lorenzo Scarpone, on the right. On the foreground is the tasty polenta, perfect with the porchetta


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Italy's version of a smart car, right-hand drive, with painted sign saying "Italian Culinary Toy"



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