Why you should care
Because manna from heaven was actually roasted pork.
Sardinia’s wilderness is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But there’s nothing extravagant over here in Barbagia, no luxury beaches or billionaires’ yachts. I’m talking entirely about the food. Namely, the honeyed pork.
Bandits used to roam this mountainous and savage area (the “barbarian” sound in the name nods to the history). Caves around here were a refuge for fiery separatists and anarchists, perfect hiding places to lock up kidnapped people in exchange for ransoms. Today, it’s mainly shepherds and farmers who travel by donkey.
Nevertheless, it’s no surprise if locals still have that wild gene running in their veins. If nothing else, they’re not exactly hospitable: The first time I visited, old village grannies stared at me sideways from beneath their black hats. But even these people have evolved thanks to tourism, which can do miracles.
The rising influx of visitors has absolutely magnetized certain culinary traditions. Now on weekends, ancient granite and turf taverns called cortes apertas are open to travelers, offering wine, ham and cheese tastings. But above all, the specialty is porceddu: a baby piglet that has just finished drinking its mom’s milk, at which point it is butchered and then roasted in its own blood. This process makes the meat crispy and tasty, incredibly sweet.
The blood makes the bloody piglet even more tender, sugary and delicious.
There’s no way around the cold, hard, carnivorous facts. One minute, you bump into cute pink piggies scuttling freely on the rugged hills. The next minute you witness a bonfire where they’re burned at the stake like a mass of heretics persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition. That was back in the 1500s, when Martin Luther (no, not the American one) launched his Protestant Reform and the Catholic Church fought back, creating tribunals against witches and philosophers who simply had another idea of God and the universe.
Today, the bonfires are for Sardinia’s piggies.
The roasting occurs out in the open in front of flabbergasted tourists who are both hungry and freaked out by the spectacle before them. It’s a rotisserie show: a gourmet impalement that would make Dracula proud. The short version: A dozen piglets are skewered on huge vertical spits and placed on the burning charcoals. Zuckerman’s famous pig, stay home. The gory details: The rod is pushed up the piglet’s buttocks all the way out of its mouth. You can see the swine’s tongue sticking out (black from soot) and the eyes slowly melt in their sockets. The cooking takes hours, as the more the meat is allowed to roast, the more delicious it is. Smoke fills the air and nostrils.
Too revolting? Our apologies. But the worst, or best, part is still to come. As the animals roast, rough-looking butchers pour a strange dense liquid on the rotisserie. “It’s the animal’s blood, a great dressing,” says the region’s publicist, Marco Salis. “It sticks to the tender meat, creating a crunchy, sweetish outer layer.” The blood essentially covers the animal in a caramel wrap. Salis has no idea how this dressing came to be; it probably originated ages ago, when the first cavemen inhabited Sardinia. The island has prehistoric DNA: Dolmens and menhirs dot its landscape, and according to local lore it is a shard of the lost mythical continent of Atlantis.
Prefer your pork as dessert? A second final coating of honey can be poured on top of the crunchy blood-covered meat. Yet, to be honest, honey on top of the piggy is more something you’d find in Corsica’s cuisine, an atoll that is part of France but right in front of Sardinia. Once upon a time the two pieces of land were one single island. Now they have similar paradise-like beaches, dialects, flags, stout hairy men and proud separatist movements that dream of independence. And a piglet perversion that is passed down through generations.