Emiko's Big Feast: La Maialata, The Big Day

April 20, 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've been featuring Emiko Davies as she documents her whole-hog feast, La Maialata. 

Today: La Maialiata has arrived! Catch up with her earlier posts, The Butcher Knows BestPig's Blood for Dessert, and The Ethics of Eating Offal.

Town Hall Hotel

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Concocting my ideal dinner party was an easy task: take favourite ingredient (pork) and insert into every dish. Then invite fellow pork enthusiasts, find a suitable location to hold the dinner (our apartment is too tiny for a feast) and let the evening take its course. 

The idea then grew, thanks to the help of my Tuscan husband Marco, with whom I share a passion for traditional dishes and offal (amongst other things), to incorporate dishes made with cuts of pork that our Melbourne friends were likely not familiar with. Pretty soon the dinner was nicknamed “La Maialata” (maiale is Italian for pig and ‘maialata’ implies a certain amount of ‘pigging out’). We went over some of our favourite recipes from Tuscany and eventually moved further south to Campania to finally produce a menu inspired by two Italian regions, which actually could not be more different, gastronomically speaking, but which we wanted to bring together in a showing of some of our favourite ways to cook pork. Not every dish features a “less noble” cut, but the ones that do demonstrate just how deliciously Italians cook offal.

Setting Table

The meat was sourced from three different Melbourne butchers: two of my favourite Italian butchers, Brenta and Donati’s, for the offal and Hagens, an organic and biodynamic butcher for the rare-breed Berkshire pork. All the vegetables came from the organic markets at Melbourne’s lovely Queen Victoria Markets. And because offal and cuts like pork shoulder are so economical and we focused on local ingredients, we managed to keep a five-course meal for 10 people with plenty of wine (an Australian sangiovese) within a very reasonable budget. 

The menu was one of Tuscan and southern Italian traditional dishes – not something you would normally eat together in one meal. But we like to think it as a sort of “taster” or degustation of what you can do with different cuts of pork, Italian style. Dishes were served in small-ish portions, moving from ‘lighter’ flavours to heavier ones, so that our guests could happily make it to dessert!


The Big Day

Pigs have traditionally been butchered in the natural refrigeration of winter in Italy, and as a result, many offal dishes are typically cold weather ones that involve long, slow cooking on the hearth. We were able to use this to our advantage as much of the menu had to be done in advance, making the job on the day relatively easy. 

This meant in the morning I had time to design the menu, inspired by the bright yellow posters of ‘sagre’ (food festivals) held in Italian country towns. We wanted the dishes to each tell a story to our friends, the story of the tradition or the town where it comes from – these stories were included on the menu, so between courses they could read about what was coming up next.

After preparing what we could that morning, such as Marco’s rosemary schiacciata, we packed everything up and headed over to our dining venue for the night: the Town Hall Hotel, an iconic pub in Fitzroy, one of Melbourne’s oldest suburbs and certainly its most eclectic. 


The long wooden table was set with a white tablecloth, a simple centrepiece of young persimmon branches (a hint that it’s the beginning of autumn here in Melbourne) and candles in vintage jars. Glass carafes holding sangiovese, Tuscany’s favourite wine, served as a reminder of the wine by the carafe that you find in traditional Italian trattorie. Bowls of crunchy raw vegetable sticks for pinzimonio, an old-school Italian pre-dinner favourite, were placed along the centre of the table. Dipped simply in small ramekins of extra virgin olive oil seasoned with sea salt, black pepper and a dash of balsamic vinegar, pinzimonio not only makes a great aperitivo (the idea being that it ‘opens up your stomach’ and enhances your appetite, helping you get ready for the feast to come) but also serves as a palate-cleanser.


Tonno del Chianti 1

Our entrée featured one of my favourite cuts of pork, the shoulder (also known confusingly as a Boston butt). It’s a brilliant piece of meat that costs next to nothing and becomes extremely tender when slow cooked, hence its use in pulled pork recipes. 

We used it to make a Tuscan specialty known as tonno del chianti (“tuna from the Chianti”, a rather misleading name). It’s cooked in an entire bottle of white wine for hours until it falls apart just by looking at it. The result is delicate, shredded, soft meat that appears similar to canned tuna. It’s an unusual preparation of pork that was a logical answer to the problems Tuscan farmers faced when needing to butcher a pig outside of the winter season, pre-refrigeration age. After roughly shredding the shoulder into pieces, the meat is bottled in olive oil with bay leaf, peppercorns and juniper berries. If you don’t devour it all at once, it is meant to keep for a year.

Tonno del Chianti 2

It’s normally served very simply, alone with bread. Because of its namesake, we prepared it as a popular Tuscan salad that you’d normally find made with tuna, where it is tossed together with white cannellini beans and finely sliced red onion, dressed simply in lemon and olive oil.


Panino con Porchetta 1

The next course was a panino con porchetta, a delectable specialty of central Italy where you find these made-to-order panini sold from stalls or food vans at fairs, markets and festivals. Traditionally, porchetta is a whole boned, roasted young pig, seasoned with garlic, herbs and wild fennel and roasted in a wood-fired oven. It is usually cut into huge slices and served simply on schiacciata (focaccia bread).

We’ve taken the porchetta idea but on a mini-scale, with what might be more technically speaking, arista: a Florentine specialty of a lean cut of loin, roasted with plenty of garlic and rosemary and eaten cold, sliced. 


We sourced our pork loin from the rare breed McIvor Farm in Tooborac, about an hour north of Melbourne. The farm raises organic, free-range black Berkshire pigs on wide open paddocks. Berkshires are said to be Britain’s oldest pigs but are today in dwindling numbers, at risk of disappearing completely if it weren’t for an interest in rare breed specialty farming (take note, unlike, say endangered animals, which obviously aren’t meant to be eaten, eating rare breed pork means supporting the farms that endeavour to keep these breeds going). The meat is juicy, tender and unbelievably flavoursome with plenty of marbling, so it is suited to long cooking, which we did the night before.

We served our ‘porchetta’ with cipolline in agrodolce (pearl onions cooked in a sweet vinegar sauce), a favourite Tuscan side dish to accompany roasts, on Marco’s rosemary schiacciata, made that morning while I was busy preparing the menus. The panini were presented individually wrapped in unbleached recycled parchment paper on a wooden board, for easy eating with hands, a little nod to the dish’s street food origins.


Ravioloni Finished

Pork cheeks are so underrated and in my opinion the best place to start for an offal-virgin. Cheap and forgivingly easy to cook, this delicious, fall-apart meat makes fantastic ragu or stew. Italians also cure pork cheeks for guanciale – a tastier-than-bacon product and the essential ingredient in a proper Roman carbonara. We wanted to use fresh pork cheeks to make a dish known as Tegamata, which we tasted when we witnessed our first pig butchering on a friend’s organic farm in San Gimignano.

Traditionally, the Tegamata is cooked in terracotta on a fireplace. The pork cheek is chopped roughly into chunks and cooked for hours with rosemary and sage. We decided that the delicious, fall-apart meat would make a beautiful filling for ravioloni (large ravioli), so we strained the stew, kept the meat for the filling, and reserved the rest of the sauce for the final finish.

Making Pasta

About an hour before our guests arrived, Marco whipped up some fresh egg pasta, rolled it out into thin, wide sheets and we filled our ravioloni – really the only major prep we had to do on the day. I am so glad we had a large kitchen for this; the bench space and huge boiling pots of water were very much welcomed! 

We served the ravioloni on a large platter for people to help themselves. The cheeks are another cut of meat that melt down into incredibly soft and tender pieces with slow cooking, even more so than the shoulder, making a rich, silky, ever so sticky and unbelievably tasty stew. Not a single drop of the sauce was wasted, our guests even used pieces of bread to partake of that favourite Italian habit, the scarpetta, to sop up the sticky sauce.



Our last dish of the dinner was another one that we knew right away we would make – it is Marco’s favourite. Pork liver is generally less commonly used than veal liver, some say it has a stronger flavour. Tuscans have a thousand different versions of this rustic country dish of fegatelli; each town has their own recipe. In Siena, they mince up the liver and make little balls, held together in the lacy bodice-like encasing of caul fat, which are then roasted in lard. In some places, it’s grilled or roasted on a skewer with alternate pieces of lean pork and bread. 

Pork Liver

We do it the way that you find it in Fucecchio, the town where Marco’s family live: whole, golf-ball sized chunks of liver, flavoured simply with fennel seeds and wrapped in caul fat before being roasted. But we added a little extra touch that we found in the 1920’s Roman cookbook writer Ada Boni’s Talismano della Felicita (The Talisman of Happiness, such a wonderful name for a cookbook), where the fennel seeds are pounded with breadcrumbs and garlic and the liver is rolled in this mixture before being wrapped up in caul fat and roasted until still blushing pink inside. Just before serving, the fegatelli were popped into a hot skillet with some olive oil to get a bit of golden-brown caramelisation and served with a shaved fennel salad to cut through the richness of the liver.



This was the dish that everyone was eagerly waiting for. The idea of eating blood, as a main ingredient in a decadent, chocolatey dessert, just brought out the blood-lusting vampire in everyone. 

Sanguinaccio dolce is an old southern Italian specialty of fresh pig’s blood, mixed with dark chocolate and milk into a decadent pudding, a dying tradition now in Italy since the 1992 Italian law banning the sale of pig’s blood.

We thought the custard-like consistency of the salty-sweet sanguinaccio dolce was suited to making into gelato (just cool and put it straight into an ice-cream maker). To accompany it, we also made a gelato di fior di latte al rosmarino. Fior di latte is the simplest gelato in the world: a mixture of milk and cream with sugar (no eggs). We infused the milk with a few sprigs of rosemary to add a bit of herby savouriness that we hoped would match the sanguinaccio. It was unanimously everyone’s favourite dish of the night.


La Maialata Guests

It was a true celebration of the pig via some of our favourite (and newly discovered) traditional regional Italian recipes – and I don’t think it will be the last. There are still a few more dishes we had in mind that could easily fill up a menu for La Maialata ‘Part Two’, including a Roman recipe for pork heart soup and Sardinian porceddu (whole roast suckling piglet) – but it’ll be hard to find another pig dessert that will top the excitement and reactions to the sanguinaccio dolce gelato.

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.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Emiko
  • hardlikearmour
  • luvbuttah
  • mrslarkin
  • Midge
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.


Emiko April 24, 2012
For those who were asking, here's the recipe for the tegamata (braised pork cheek) ravioloni: Thanks again everyone!
hardlikearmour April 23, 2012
What a gorgeous feast! I love that you transformed your chocolate blood pudding into a gelato. Your photos are stunning. Congratulations on a job well-done.
luvbuttah April 22, 2012
What a feast for the mind, eye and palate! Thank you for sharing! You have a gift! Congratulations and please let us know what color you choose! :)
mrslarkin April 20, 2012
What a beautiful, memorable feast. Thank you, Emiko, for sharing it with us. Congratulations!
Emiko April 20, 2012
Wow, thanks everyone for the amazing feedback, I'm so happy to have had the chance to share this feast and everything leading up to it with you all (thanks Amanda, Merrill & the team!). x
Midge April 20, 2012
I am in awe, Emiko. It was such a treat just to read your account and look at your stunning photos, but oh to have been there!
Emiko April 20, 2012
Thank you Midge! :)
gourmettenyc April 20, 2012
Emiko, as always your photographs are absolutely beautiful and the food looks incredibly delicious (in particular, I've been eyeing the ravioloni). I only wish I could have flown over to Australia to take part in your Big Feast!
Amanda H. April 20, 2012
Emiko, thank you for this enormous treat. Every post was brilliant and inspiring!
Emiko April 20, 2012
Thank YOU Amanda! So glad to have been part of your big feast project - I really look forward to seeing the others!
sygyzy April 20, 2012
Jaw dropping! Everything looks delicious and the photography is top notch. Congrats Emiko!
lazychef April 20, 2012
This sounds amazing. Can you please post (or direct us to) the recipes you used? the tegamata and pork liver in particular sound like dishes I would love to recreate. But major bravo for the beautiful photos, food, and writing!
Burnt O. April 20, 2012
Yes- recipes please! That Tonno del chianti is simply inspired.
Emiko April 20, 2012
Thanks! I'll be posting the recipes on my blog over the next few weeks, so I'll update this thread with the links!
fiveandspice April 20, 2012
Stunning, truly. There simply isn't any other word for this feast, Emiko. Really amazing. Your friends are so lucky, and we're lucky to have gotten to read about it!
duclosbe1 April 20, 2012
What a stunning meal. Congratulations!
arielleclementine April 20, 2012
beautiful and inspiring! well done and congratulations!
aargersi April 20, 2012
Wow - I am SO impressed by every bit of this! Photos, writing, and in particular the FOOD! I have learned so much following your Big Feast - Bravissima! (is that the right word?)
Emiko April 20, 2012
That is the right word! ;) thank you so much!
drbabs April 20, 2012
Burnt O. April 20, 2012
Impressed does not even begin to convey how I feel about your Feast and the write up Emiko. Food52 deserves some credit for creating the opportunity for you to express your talents and share with us your unique experiences and knowledge, but seriously - this was so over the top well done. Speechless. I learned so much.
ChompingTheBigApple April 20, 2012
Emiko--Gorgeous and stunning. What I would give to have been part of that feast! What liquid did you use to braise the pork cheeks? That sauce looks heavenly. And with the pork loin/porchetta, do you remove it from the oven based on internal temperature and if so, at what temp? (have been trying to perfect my roast pork and yours looks so lovely).
Emiko April 20, 2012
The pork cheeks cook down in their stew, it's just an amazing cut to cook with! We did add a bit of water and some wine, then separated the meat from the liquid (meat inside the ravioloni, strained liquid became the sauce) - I'll post a link to the recipe here soon! For the pork loin, yes, we went by temperature (I have an unreliable oven, time-wise) and took it out at about 70-75C (I think that's about 170C). It came out beautifully juicy and moist but I'd also credit that to the quality of the free range berkshire!
ChompingTheBigApple April 21, 2012
Thanks! I follow your blog so will be waiting anxiously for that pork cheek recipe. I've had it in restaurants (or at least beef cheek) but would love to make it at home. I'm lucky to have a few farmers at my local farmer's market here in Brooklyn that carry some beautiful pork, so will have to see if they can bring in the cheeks for me.