Ventr, or panz’ in Trivignano dialect, is a popular sausage in the province of Potenza and in particular in the area of Avigliano and the Lucanian Dolomites. It is made by stuffing the stomach of a pig (you can also use the part of the large intestine known as muletta (caecum), however, this would be called orvl instead of ventr) with a mixture of minced pork, eggs, grated cheese, fennel seeds, dried paprika powder and salt. Once the ventr is pressed and dried, it takes the shape of a huge, crushed bean that is approximately 20 to 25 centimetres in length, 13 to 15 centimetres in width and 3 to 5 centimetres in thickness, with a weight ranging from approximately 1 to 1.5 kilograms. If the muletta is used, it will have a flattened ellipsoidal shape, and be about 15 to 20 centimetres in length, 10 to 13 centimetres in width and 3 to 5 centimetres in height, with an approximate weight of around 500 grams to 1 kilogram. The outer surface is bumpy, opaque, and has an uneven colour that ranges from dark brown to beige to orange. The inner part is compact, but not uniform and it is possible to clearly distinguish different shades of pinkish brown which are from the pieces of lean meat. These are alternated by the white of the pieces of fat, red dots of the paprika powder and dark green of the fennel seeds. It is salty, oily, hot and spicy and has a persistent aroma; the smell is reminiscent of the Basilicata region, which is renowned for its use of fennel and cheese.
Ventr is produced in the period of the year when the pig was traditionally slaughtered. In the past this was done by every Lucanian peasant family from Saint Stephen (26th of December) to the Epiphany (6th of January), or in any case in the coldest winter period, which is from December to February. Currently many families still produce it for their own consumption and until the 1990s it was still common to find it in small local butchers. Even if it is only produced during a limited period of time in the year, ventr can be stored (traditionally in lard, now also vacuum sealed) and consumed all year round. In addition to being a sliced salami, it is also eaten by being cut into pieces and cooked into a tomato sauce that is used for strascinati or orecchiette, or it can also be used in the preparation of hearty vegetable soups.
The production of Ventr is still found in some municipalities of the Potenza area, in particular in the Aviglianese area (Avigliano, Filiano) and in some municipalities around the Lucanian Dolomites (Castelmezzano, Brindisi Montagna, Trivigno). These territories of the Lucanian hinterland are characterised by the high presence of woods and pastures, which are well suited to the wild breeding of pigs, which have been essential for the sustenance of the Lucanian families in the past two centuries. The climate of these mountain areas was never particularly hot in the past, which meant that ventr could be kept in traditional clay pots in lard even for long periods of time. Currently it is also preserved vacuum sealed.
In order to recover every part of the pig, after stuffing the small intestines for sausages, cotechino and pezzente, and the large intestine for sopressata, the stomach or the part of the large intestine known in the dialect local as “orvl” (known in other areas by the term muletta), is then stuffed using a bit of the sausage mixture that was kept aside, mixed with grated cheese and eggs, as these were ingredients that were commonly available in peasant families. The sausage was then closed by sewing it with a needle and thread. The skin was then pricked with the prongs of a fork, or a special salami pricking tool and boiled in salted water for about half an hour. Later, after removing the sausages from the copper pot and having pricked them again, they were then placed under a press for one night to remove all excess liquids.
They were then hung with string for about 20-30 days in the room used for drying, together with the other sausages. They were then cleaned with a cloth and kept in lard or under vacuum seal. According to some testimonies, among the Trivignano families there were also those who added cracklings to the mixture, known as “frettl” in the local dialect. Some families from Avigliano and Filiano only stuffed the sausage mixture, without adding eggs and cheese, and some did not even undertake the cooking step.
The practice of stuffing pork in the Basilicata region was already common in Roman times and it is widely documented. According to oral tradition it is certain that in the second half of the nineteenth century there was already the custom of producing this sausage during the ritual killing of the pig. All the secrets related to the production of ventr were handed down from mother to daughter, while the men took care of the breeding and slaughter of the pigs; often it was the children who took care of taking the pigs to pasture in the woods. In the Murattian Statistics of D. Demarco, when he came to the area and reported the number of pigs present in 1811, the pigs are indicated by using the term “neri”, an important note that leads us back to the native breed of the black pig. From this it can certainly be deduced that in the past the meat used for the production of this sausage belonged to this native breed.
The custom of producing sausages using the stomach or the caecum is also present in other regions of Italy, but with significantly different stuffings and processing methods, thus obtaining different products.
Today, butchers are seeing less and less demand for ventr, so it is produced essentially for domestic consumption in those families that still usually carry out the domestic slaughter of pigs. But there are fewer families that are undertaking this practice and the new generations are less exposed to the typical flavours of these particular products, which large companies have never been interested in mass producing.
There is therefore a need to start paying attention to these products, which are the result of the need to not waste anything and to give value to even the less noble parts of the animal by using simple ingredients that are available to every humble Lucanian family. It is important to develop, among other things, procedures aimed at obtaining healthy food. Cooking in fact allows this product to be preserved for a long time and removes the increased risk of contamination which could arise if the casings were not thoroughly cleaned. It also allows for part of the fats to be released and removed during the cooking and pressing steps, thus obtaining a healthier product. It is equally important to educate the tastes and habits of consumers and producers to sensitise them to the consumption of these products and the adoption of practices that have a real impact on environmental sustainability, as well as safeguarding culture and traditions.