‘Ncantarata in Lucanian dialect refers to the “preparation of pork”, especially its extremities such as ears, tail, snout and legs. It is certain that the term is derived from the terracotta container in which the offal is place: “u cuntar”. The word cantàro is from the Greek word kàntharos which is the ancient Greek and Roman vase that is characterised by having two large handles that are often taller than the rim. Its preparation was widespread throughout the hilly and mountainous areas of the Basilicata region, but the term carne ‘ncantarata is also used in Calabria and Puglia to generally indicate pork preserved in salt.
‘Ncantarata is a poor dish based on pork offal: a type of preparation that preserves freshly slaughtered pig waste. The scraps consist of rind and cartilage with attached parts of fat that are mostly edible. These are cut from the ears, tail, snout, legs and rind. The method used to prepare ‘ncantarata involves washing and removing the hair and residual bristles from the pig’s skin using a flame. Then the pieces of meat must be placed in a terracotta pot, alternating them with layers of coarse salt, bay leaves, wild fennel and pparul psat (paprika). Once the jar has been filled to the brim it is closed with a piece of wood, and a stone is placed on top to ensure that it is closed properly. The jar is then placed in a cool place for a short maturation period, ranging from one week to ten days. The parts of the pig then have the salt cleaned off of them, and they are used to flavour soups, pasta sauces, braised vegetables and legumes (cabbage and beans). It is also used in various other preparations as a replacement for more prized meats or cured meats, which were to be used for Sunday meals or on more important occasions. ‘Ncantarata is linked to the slaughter of the pigs: an ancient ritual of peasant culture. Until the 1950s and 1960s pigs were reared domestically in the countryside. They were generally slaughtered during the months of December, January and February which coincided with the coldest period of the year, as well as when the pig was fully grown. This preservation technique was hence born from a peasant culture and the need to extend the storage life of meat and to be able to use the scraps left over after making the more prized preparations of meat. Its origin is inextricably linked to the conditions of poverty that the Lucanian farmers experienced in the past.
Meat made using the ‘ncantarata method is mentioned in the traditional oral dialect. In fact, a legend is told, present in various forms in many Italian regions, which describes the miracle of Saint Nicholas. The saint was on his way to the Council of Nicaea and stopped at a tavern where an innkeeper who had murdered three children had offered him a fish-based dish. Instead of fish, Saint Nicholas, “vulév a carn ‘ncantarata che stéva int u cantar”. The innkeeper replied that it was fresh and therefore not good to be eaten yet, but Saint Nicholas insisted on having it and making the sign of the cross said: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, children come back to life!”. And the meats then reassembled, and the children jumped out of the barrels.
Today this method of conservation is almost not used at all, except with some very rare exceptions. Other parts of the pig such as the ribs and pork rinds are preserved in salt, but not the ears, tail or snout.