“Norcia was a city fortified by huge walls when Rome was a sad little village of shepherds!” So says Alessandro Severini Perla of his town, founded 3,500 years ago. All Italians are proud of their hometowns, but Norcians go a step further. Perhaps it’s the history – not only was it founded by the pre-Roman Sabines, but St Benedict (he of the Benedictine monks) was born here and in medieval times the city was an independent commune in the Papal States.
Knowing Italians, though, that pride is more likely to be the food. Famous for its pig-rearing since the 12th century and surrounded by truffles, mushrooms and wild boar in the Sibillini mountains (part of the Apennines), this is one of Italy’s food hubs. Its pork-specialist butcher-delicatessens are so famous that they’re called norcinerie all across central Italy (the butchers themselves are called norcini). Here they cure the meat (prosciutto from Norcia is almost as famous as the one from Parma) and pass on recipes for salami and sausages through the generations.
Norcia is home to an astonishing number of superb ingredients, from truffles to prosciutto
Alessandro is both a nursino (Norcia native) and a norcino – the family business goes back to 1947, founded by his father Amedeo.
He works only with local meat, curing it himself and using his father’s recipes to make salami and sausages (from wild boar as well as from pork). He sells them alongside local products including truffles, lentils and spelt in his shop, Norcia Food, in the medieval centre of Norcia.
Norcia is the only town in Italy to have a foodie profession – norcino and norcineria – named after it
This used to be a huge weekend destination for Italians, but there isn’t the footfall here that there was – that’s because Norcia was heavily damaged in the 30 October 2016 earthquake that hit central Italy. The epicentre was 6km north of the town and devastated the area.
In Norcia, the basilica of St Benedict was destroyed, along with portions of the city walls and many other buildings. Restaurants and shops located in the town have either closed or moved outside into temporary accommodation – even now, you’ll find shops in Christmas market-style booths outside town, and restaurants in prefab buildings and above supermarkets outside town. It’s been nearly four years, yet many people have yet to get their livelihoods back. (Every purchase through Mangia Per Bene adds a voluntary donation to a local rebuilding charity – see our Giving Back page for details.)
We have centuries of experience of working with pork meat here, and we’ve boiled it down to a simple procedure: just time and salt – Alessandro
The situation in the surrounding villages is worse. This area is known for its pulses – the Piano Grande, 30km northeast of Norcia, is a vast mountain-wrapped basin where lentils, chickpeas and more are grown. In June and July, the pulses flower red, pink, violet and yellow, carpeting the plain. It’s one of Italy’s most famous summer sites. Although Castelluccio, the nearest village, and home to many who grow the pulses. was all but destroyed in the earthquake. (The charity your donations go to is based in Castelluccio.)
Norcineria is the art of transforming pork meat, and the centre of our art is the tradition of working with pork, creating products that are ever more simple and healthy – Alessandro
The people round here know tragedy more than most, but their pride in their town and their food is undinted. You’ll realise why when you try it.
We’re selling a range of Alessandro’s products, as well as ones from his shop (including Norcia truffles, said to be some of the best in Italy).
Wild boar sausages
My greatest pleasure is watching the faces of my customers as they try a slice of my prosciutto or sausages, and listening to their excitement – Alessandro
About the area: Landlocked Umbria is the ‘green heart of Italy’ and this is the greenest part of Umbria – wedged deep in the Sibillini mountains, part of the Apennine range. The area around Norcia is astonishingly fertile – it’s famous for its lentils and pulses, grown on the mountain plains near the town, as well as for truffles from the surrounding woods, and of course its pork products. Devastated by the 2016 earthquake, it needs as many visitors and business as it can get.
How we know him: We made an Italian rite of passage – lunch in Norcia – in 2019. Wandering around the town afterwards, we met Alessandro – in a chic white butcher’s coat, cutting up samples. Several tasters of cheese, prosciutto and salsiccia later, we walked out with a bulging bag of local goodies – plus a jar of truffles.