Emiko's Big Feast: Pig's Blood for Dessert

April 18, 2012

We want you to throw big parties, tell us about it, and win big (big!) prizes from Le Creuset. (Find out more here.)

All week, we'll be featuring Japanese-turned-Tuscan-turned-Aussie writer, photographer, and blogger Emiko as she documents her whole-hog feast, La Maialata. 

Today: Emiko searches for pig's blood -- and turns it into a dessert. This is the second of Emiko's Big Feast posts. Check out her earlier post, The Butcher Knows Best.

Shop the Story

Pig's Blood

- Emiko

When the idea came up to do a dinner based on each course made with different parts of the pig, dessert was easy. In fact, it was the first dish to be scrawled on the rough draft of the menu: sanguinaccio dolce, a southern Italian (particularly Basilicata, Calabria, Abruzzo and Campania) specialty of fresh pig’s blood cooked with dark chocolate and milk into a decadent pudding.

The salty, slightly metallic zing of the blood, which is what also gives the dessert its fantastic, custard-like texture, complements the flavour of the dark chocolate in a beautifully balanced way, similar to the savoury-sweet combination of sea salt and dark chocolate or salted caramel. 

I’ve wanted to try this dessert ever since a southern Italian friend recounted to me, full of nostalgia, that when he was a child, his small hometown near Foggia, Puglia, would hold an annual pig festival. It was an age-old tradition where the town pigs were butchered then celebrated by using the whole beast, right down to every last drop of blood. The fresh, warm blood was collected and then, on the spot, mixed with milk and chocolate and cooked into a dark, decadent, custard-like pudding – it was the highlight of the festival. 

Pig's Blood 2

This specialty has intrigued me ever since and as I looked further around I discovered more blood-based desserts and more of that nostalgia over the memory of these rich and traditional dishes. I found a cookbook of traditional Neapolitan desserts, which includes four different versions of sanguinaccio dolce, even one that results in a dense, chocolate log (rather than a pudding) flavoured with candied citron, pine nuts and spices like cinnamon. But during the seven years I lived in Italy I never had the opportunity to try any of the recipes – in 1992 an Italian law banned the sale of pig’s blood in many regions, so the only lucky people who can still make these traditional recipes get it themselves from their own pig. Slowly this tradition is being lost to a modern recipe without the blood, with butter and cornstarch feebly attempting to re-create the creamy texture that the blood gives.

Luckily, now that I live in Melbourne we were able to source some fresh pig’s blood from Donati’s Fine Meats on Lygon Street, a forty year old Italian family-run shop and one of the best butcher experiences in the city (think Puccini in the background and meat-themed artworks on the walls). It was our third attempt at asking for pig’s blood at a butcher – the previous attempts had been unsuccessful, the response being a slightly wishy-washy, “it’s difficult to get”. But then came Donati’s answer: “Sure, how much do you want?” 

Donati's Meats

Pig’s blood must be used when it is as fresh as possible, with many traditional recipes calling for “warm” pig’s blood, indicating just how fresh it should be and where it is likely to come from – home. Here, not only is blood not usually an ingredient people ask for at the butcher, but it is “difficult to get” in that a lot more attention has to be paid to sourcing blood for human consumption. Today’s abattoirs deal with hundreds of animals in a context that could not be further from the home-butchering that was traditionally done by Italian farmers or villagers of the past, where collecting the blood from just one pig was as simple as sticking a basin under the hanging carcass. 

Donati’s is the place where restaurants come for their meat products, so it’s also the place I was hoping to find unusual ingredients such as blood. They get fresh pig’s blood in every week and as long as you happen to get there before a restaurant does (it’s popularly used for making blood sausage), you’ll be lucky enough to nab some for yourself. 

While we’re waiting for our two litres of blood to be measured out in a thick, stiff plastic bag, we’re casually chatting with the butcher – a Sardinian native. One of the charming things about Donati’s is the Italian banter that you always hear. He asks us what we are planning on doing with it. “Un dolce” – a dessert – is our reply. He nods knowingly and says that his grandmother used to make a sweet, deep-fried fritter made of pig’s blood, walnuts and honey. There was that nostalgia again.

Pig's Blood 3

I jump on the back of the scooter with the glowing red bag of pig’s blood awkwardly but carefully held out to one side, while my husband drives. I think to myself, we could probably look almost normal if it was Naples, but we are actually weaving through Melbourne traffic – a memorable food moment if there was one.

Back at home, with our bag of pig’s blood, I am more than excited. I’m not one to be squeamish about any sort of food and have eaten my fair share of unusual and even grotesque things, but I have to admit that preparing this dish was slightly on the creepy side. Perhaps it’s just something about stirring a huge pot of thick, red blood – a colour and texture that could not be mistaken for anything else – that did it. Milk is added in equal amounts, and even that does little to change the colour of the intense red liquid. It’s when sugar and dark chocolate are added to the warming blood, that the mixture changes colour from bright red to the darkest, almost black, brown. As the chocolate melts and the blood thickens with the low and steady heat, it quickly turns into a creamy, luscious, custard-like pudding that can be scented with orange rind and cinnamon. 

This is what I love about experimenting in the kitchen with traditional, even ancient, dishes. They are so simple, a product of essential and thrifty cooking to feed poor, hungry mouths, and yet right now it feels like such a daring and experimental recipe. But I think just like the Renaissance masters were looking back at Ancient Rome, it never hurts to get a bit of inspiration from history when you need a good idea.


Le Creuset has generously offered to reward our Big Feasters for all their hard work, and as our second Big Feast, Emiko will win, in the color of her choice (flame, cherry, fennel, Caribbean, or Marseille): a 3 1/2-quart round French oven, a 9-inch iron handle skillet, and a 1 1/4-quart precision pour pan. Pitch us your Big Feast at [email protected] for a chance to win up to $500 in Le Creuset booty.

le creuset

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jessica
  • john
  • Sokra
  • aargersi
  • fiveandspice
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.


Jessica December 14, 2017
I searched for blood and finally found some but had to buy a whole gallon. I made irish black pudding with some of it but I'm stuck wit the better part of a gallon of pigs blood in my fridge. That's how I came across this recipe not sure I'll have time to make it as I'm leaving for a trip soon but maybe next time I have a gallon of blood in my freezer
john June 29, 2014
Using raw pig's blood is extremely unhygienic and will make you seriously sick. Think of the bacteria and think of how dirty pigs are. The Department of Health need to be notified before someone gets really sick of eating stuff like this. I will honestly sue any restaurant that does not warn me before they serve me this stuff. It is truly one of the most disgusting things.
Emiko June 29, 2014
So sorry you feel this way, John, but the blood is not used raw, it is well and truly cooked through - much more so than your medium done steak, for example! And we are talking about a respectable, cultural tradition, something that has been done for centuries across actually many cultures - I think if you did a little research you would find that cooking with pig's blood is actually quite a common thing to do, making good use of available protein and not letting food go to waste!
john June 29, 2014
Oh sorry. If it is cooked it should be fine. I just saw some tv show that uses raw pig's blood in a chocolate dessert and that just freaks me out:)
john June 29, 2014
but here is why you shouldnt eat pig's blood and even pigs.
Sokra April 23, 2012
Ooh, I just have to try this! I was just wondering if this could be made from frozen blood, which is reasonably readily available where I live, or should I try to get some straight from a butcher.
Emiko April 23, 2012
I would definitely go for fresh blood, I even asked my butcher about freezing some of it (because I had so much of it!) to use the rest later and he advised not to, for what we were using it for, it was best fresh. Have a chat with your butcher perhaps and good luck!
aargersi April 18, 2012
I am curious - you must have gotten it the morning of right? Because wouldn't it ** COVER YOUR EYES SQUEAMISH FOLK ** clot? It looks and sounds amazing! Can't wait for the rest if the feast!!
Emiko April 18, 2012
ha, well it certainly was extremely fresh but it's not just that, the blood was all ready to go - salt added to the fresh blood stops it from coagulating and it will remain in liquid form until it's cooked. If you're dealing with fresh blood without any alterations then it will coagulate and in fact there are other traditional Tuscan recipes (savoury ones) that call for coagulated blood, which you can't get back out of the liquid version once the salt has been added. So if you wanted to try this or other blood recipes, best thing to do is to check with your trusted butcher about it depending on what you need it for!
fiveandspice April 18, 2012
Ooh, wow. Blood pudding is really common to buy in butcher shops in Norway, but it's a savory pudding. I really can't imagine doing the cooking of the blood myself though. At all. You are hard core, lady!
duclosbe1 April 18, 2012
Weaving through traffic on a scooter with a bag of fresh pig's blood. Memories, indeed! Planning this meal sounds like one wonderful adventure! I can't wait to see how it all turns out.
ChompingTheBigApple April 18, 2012
I feel like this must be one of the richest, most decadent tasting desserts. I am saddened by the thought that I did not know about this when we butchered a pig when I was a child and we let it all go to waste (and oh, the morcilla that we could have made as well)! Perhaps one day I will get the opportunity again.
arielleclementine April 18, 2012
fantastic!! can't wait to hear how it tasted :)
mrslarkin April 18, 2012
Madonna mia. I'm just gonna stick my paper cut into a jar of Nutella and call it a day, ok? Well-deserved win, Emiko. Bravissima!
drbabs April 18, 2012
Emiko April 18, 2012
:) grazie!
Burnt O. April 18, 2012
Ok you win. I would definitely try this, but I'm not sure I could get through preparing it. Well deserved Feast win. Can't wait to see what's next!
drbabs April 18, 2012
Emiko, I so admire you. I could barely read this without nausea bubbling up; how on earth did you carry warm pig's blood through the streets of Melbourne? How did you cook with it? And eat it? Unfortunately, my stomach is not that strong. Hats off to you for this great adventure.
Emiko April 18, 2012
I was just praying the bag wouldn't burst! cooking with it was fascinating, as it acts much like eggs do when heated (like in a custard for example) and eating it was the most thrilling part. It's absolutely delicious, I think it's just that our minds play tricks with us on what we find acceptable to eat - more about this in the post coming up tomorrow! ;)
Kitchen B. April 19, 2012
:-) Reminds me of a conversation I had with a vegetarian friend who argued that meat tasted of nothing....to my trigger of 'tofu and soy products taste of nothing'. It made me stop and really consider if I could remember the taste of just beef...no seasonings or flavourings, just pure beef. I know we all have mindsets and what I love about food is challenging some (if not all of those). Thanks Emiko - my Artusi book twin.
dusty516 April 18, 2012
This reminds me of when I was in Finland recently and my friend innocently turned to me and asked me, "Do you eat blood?" I was a little taken aback, thinking that something was being lost in translation, but it turned out that reindeer blood is an important ingredient in pancakes, especially in the Lapland. We ended up not having them and now I'm a little sorry I was so squeamish!