There’s a moment, when you sit down to eat the lardo di colonnata, that history becomes very present. There might not be a better symbol that encapsulates Colonnata and the surrounding region of Carrara. Cured meat is nothing new in Italy, however this lardo is deserving of attention. Slaves from the Roman era to the anarchist quarry workers of the early twentieth century have enjoyed and relied upon this delicacy. It is, like so many foods in Italy, a democratic snack. It can be made and enjoyed by anyone from any class or station in life. Local pigs, who favor the dropped treats from chestnut trees, provide the fatback for the lardo. It is then cured with rosemary and other herbs, and subsequently stuffed into a small box made of carrara; the same marble from the mountains behind the small town provide the curing chamber. After several months, you can slice into the lardo and enjoy. It pairs incredibly well with just about anything, although I would recommend it highly with crostini or draped around your favorite sweet fruits. If marble can produce something this delicious, I may just start a curing room here at Materials Marketing!
Colonnata is an ancient town, nestled in between the staggering Apuan Alps. The effects of the quarries is etched on the mountain faces as the sprawling green trees succumb to the blinding white of the exposed stone. Block has been quarried from this region for over two millennia, and it shows no signs of slowing down. At several sites in the region, evidence of mining dates as far back as 600 BC. The town of Colonnata was founded in 40 BC to house slaves for the Romans as they began to dig into the mountains as Grecian marble had become too expensive to continue to import.
Carrara was removed in large blocks, and sent cascading down the mountainside, rolling over greased timber. The crude method of extracting and delivering the stone has changed in more recent years. Now, impossibly small “trucks” wind down tight switchbacks with comically large blocks of stone attached to the beds of their vehicles. Michelangelo worked here for years helping to plan roads and quarries. Eventually, he would personally select the block from which his famous David and Pieta would emerge from.
An old man who owns several quarry plots shows me a photograph from 40 years ago: a landscape of the mountains. It’s yellowed with time, and the landscape has changed, but the hills and peaks still provide for the people here. He’s proud of the work they do. Proud of the long and storied history of the artists, the workers, and the communities that grew in the shadows of the mountains.