The great thing about living in Rome is that there are so many easy day trips right outside the city. Rome is not like so many other urban centers, which sprawl for ages before they eventually connect with the next city. In Rome, you’re in the midst of buildings one minute, and the next your driving along a field full of sheep.
And before long you come to a small village or town. And, inevitably, each town has it’s own delicious specialty.
A few weekends ago we made a bee line for the small village of Marino. Just a half hour south of Rome, the town is located not far from the shores of Lake Albano, amid the Castelli Hills. It’s a tranquil haven that a lot of people actually commute from into Rome. (It’s also down the road from the Pope’s sumer palace, in case, like me, you’ve become a recent Pope fan.)
The town of Marino itself isn’t really anything to write home about. Perched on a hill, there are a few main streets and besides a rather funky and fun central fountain, not much going on architecturally. So what, you may ask, were we doing there?
Porchetta, pure and simple. This small town is the home to one of the most famous porchetta makers in this part of the world. I’d actually tasted Vitaliano Bernebei’s porchetta already, during pizza classes I took with Gabriele Bonci here in Rome. He was the first one to tell me that this was the best porchetta around. And when Gabriele Bonci tells you something like that, you believe.
That, and the fact that when I tasted it is was indeed like nothing else I’d ever tasted. So many times I’d gotten excited about porchetta, only to end up with some sort of flabby, fatty over salted piece of meat. Or even worse: dried out and bland. But Bernabei’s was moist, rich and unctuous without being greasy. The spicing was just right and the entire thing tasted like pork, which – oddly – was the missing link in so many of my other porchetta tribulations.
The small butcher shop is on Marino’s main drag, and is pretty easy to walk right by. Which we did twice, before finally realizing where it was.
Once through the front door we realized we were in the right place before we saw any porchetta. The entire place was one, big, fragrant, warm porky cloud of fatty, spicy, meaty perfume. The source of this olafactory orgasm was laying on the far side of the counter: a porchetta, fresh out of the oven 20 minutes before.
Wrapped up like some little crackling torpedo in crispy, crunchy skin, the porchetta actually surprised me by its small size. I was so used to seeing huge, entire pig torsos, that at first I thought he had just used some sort of mini pig. But no, as it turns out, one of Vitaliano’s secrets in getting these babies so moist is that he only uses a 1/4 of the pig.
In addition to meticulous selection of the pigs and a carefully calibrated spice and salt treatment, the key to the flavorful and rich texture is the way the porchetta are actually cooked. Bernabei has developed a special technique, in which he cooks the porchetta long and low, for about 6 hours, using both steam and convection.
The result? Well, I really wish I could somehow install a ‘eat it’ button for you to hit. Because my own words just aren’t gonna do it justice. The photos, however, may take you half way there.
Il Norcino Bernabei
Corso Vittorio Colonna 13
8:00 – 13:00
16:30 – 20:00
Closed Thursday afternoons, and Sundays.
If you do go, I’d strongly suggest you also stock up on sausages, pancetta and guanciale.