The Carne Cruda Chronicles
I should be studying right now, but instead I decided why not edit some blog drafts. It’s the second day of lockdown and my will to do anything is already in question. So, I present to you, The Carne Cruda Chronicles.
Let me start off by saying that eating raw meat is very much a taboo back home in Canada, excluding maybe Innuit cuisine found in the cold, northern regions of the country. Though not completely rare (excuse the pun) to find tartar or carpaccio on the menu of a fancy restaurant, it’s not something I’ve come across too often. Sure, you can always count on finding raw fish at your favourite sushi bar, but a hunk of raw meat? Most tend to shudder at the sight of a rare steak, let alone beef minced so fine it looks like ground hamburger.
I remember my first encounter with carne cruda the last time I was in Italy visiting Debora in Torino. She was thrilled to take me to her favourite gelato shops and pizza places and have me taste some typical products from Piemonte, which differed vastly from the fare I had grown accustomed to in Abruzzo. Far from the cooked cry of arrosticini, Debora said she had a special delicacy she wanted me to try: battuta di Fassona.
Excited to try this new regional specialty, I happily joined my Italian sister on a jaunt to the supermarket where she then caught me by surprise by picking up a package of what appeared to be a single uncooked hamburger patty. I was mortified. We were going to eat that?!
Warnings about the dangers of eating undercooked burgers ran through my mind. I mean if the USDA recommends not eating undercooked ground beef, what’s a girl supposed to think? Was Debora trying to not only give me a heart attack, but also poison me?!
When we arrived home, my Italian sister (God bless her) carefully dressed the minced meat with salt, pepper and some lemon juice. I watched as she helped herself to a big bite of Fassone. Her eyes practically rolled back into her head with delight.
Next, it was my turn. I took a much more modest portion. Smelling it, I was reminded of summertime picnics where afternoons were spent shaping homemade burgers. Needless to say, I wasn’t convinced. Placing the modest forkful of Fassona into my mouth, I continued to visualize raw burgers. Cold and smooth. Mild and ironically, not terribly meaty in flavour. I let Debora enjoy my portion.
Flash forward to 2020, I’m going to be a student at the University of Gastronomic Sciences and live in the town nearby called Bra. Well, wasn’t Debora just tickled pink to tell me what my soon-to-be-home was famous for. You guessed it—raw meat, specifically salsiccia di Bra, which is a raw spiral sausage with a lamb intestine casing stuffed with veal, pig fat, salt, pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Now, I haven’t been in Bra long enough to indulge in salsiccia di Bra, but because I am a foodie, I will definitely have to try my town’s specialty food. I will admit, however, that I am both excited and nervous. I can’t imagine what eating a raw sausage will taste like but I’ve heard amazing things from all my classmates and friends. I still however have to push aside the cultural taboo that is eating a raw sausage.
While I await trying salsiccia di Bra, I have been able to taste carne cruda. On a recent trip to Castiglione Falletto, my classmates and I had the pleasure of dining at La Terrazza da Renza. Overlooking the Barolo vineyards, this restaurant has some seriously amazing views. Miles and miles of green and orange and red autumn colours, October landscape looks like something out of a painting.
With a focus on local, seasonal ingredients that are all within radius of the restaurant, da Renza also focuses on offering authentic dishes that reflects Piemontese culinary tradition. Another wonderful thing about this restaurant is their culinary ideology. There are no first or second dishes; everything is treated as a shared antipasto dish until it’s time for dessert.
To kick off our abundant pranzo of sharing plates, we toasted to food and friendship with glasses full of Arneis. A white wine unique to Piemonte, it’s light and crisp and slowly becoming my new favourite white wine since it’s perfect to drink with or without food. Plus, it’s also reminiscent of pears, peaches and apricots. Tell me that doesn’t sound deliciously fresh!
As the rest of our classmates arrived for lunch, we wasted no time and began our surprise tasting menu curated by Anne-Sophie, our food-enthusiast extraordinaire. Though we had so many fabulous sharing plates like a celery, walnut and feta salad along with a pork roast complete with caramelized whole onions, fennel and pickled roasted peppers, the main attraction was definitely the carne cruda con tartufo nero.
A general term for raw meat, carne cruda can also consist of Fassona, a type of cattle raised in Piemonte known for its tenderness, juiciness, and sweet flavour; but also Chianina, another type for beef that’s also used for bistecca alla fiorentina. A delicacy that’s always finely minced and seasoned simply with salt, pepper and—because we are in tartufo territory—truffles, you’re sure to find carne cruda on any menu in Piemonte.
Now, I must admit that once the giant plate of raw, minced meat was placed in front of me, I didn’t have super high expectations. Naturally, I knew I’d have to taste-test it again because you never know how your taste buds may mature over the years. However, I imagined I’d try a humble portion and then refrain from indulging in any more.
Taking to Instagram, I posted a forkful of truffle-topped carne cruda and waited for the comments to pour in. Debora shared her enthusiastic support, along with several other Italian amici. On the other end of the spectrum, my friends back home were completely taken aback and disgusted. And I was stuck somewhere in between, trying to figure out whether or not I could truly stomach raw meat after swearing it off years ago.
As Jasmine served me my portion of truffle topped carne cruda, I began to wince at the heap of perfectly pink meat she kept piling on my plate. Psyching myself up, I dug a fork into a portion of plain carne cruda to better understand the texture and flavour.
I don’t know if it was the setting, the Arnese-drunken state I was in, or whatever else was running through my mind, but I had to admit, maybe carne cruda wasn’t so bad after all. I was initially surprised at just how velvety it felt on the tongue. It was also incredibly fresh with acidic hints of lemon and salt. Next, I had a bite with truffle and let’s face it, if you top anything with truffle, it’s delicious.
Delicately building myself a crostini, I found myself enjoying the carne cruda more and more with each bite. Proud of myself, I took a moment to reflect back on my first (real) raw meat experience with Debora. What I think made all the difference this time was quality and freshness. The emphasis on authentic, local ingredients that are of the farm-to-table mentality is something that differentiates a stellar tartar. After all, when it comes to raw meat, the quality must be of the highest level.
While The Carne Cruda Chronicles definitely won’t stop here, I look forward to indulging in more Fassona, Chianina, carpaccio and, of course, salsiccia di Bra very soon!
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Have you ever tried tartar, carpaccio or carne cruda? Are you a lover or a hater? Let me know what you think below!