Italian families in Melbourne get together for a pig’s day

In garages and backyard barns across Victoria, families congregate to turn whole pigs into sausages and small goods.

Each year, cold weather heralds the beginning of the season when immigrant families, mostly Italians, heed their culinary traditions of preparing and preserving meat for the meager winter months. “All we ate during the winter was back home,” says Antonio Bonacci of Lalor.

Bonacci immigrated from Calabria’s Dicultura region in 1970, at the age of 11. And now, from the roof of a backyard shed, dark red salami hangs with the pepperoni sauce his family made for the summer.

The salami is colored dark red by the pepperoni sauce made in summer. Photo: Paul Jeffers

The shed is heated by a wood fire. “You need to control the temperature and humidity as the salami begins to ferment,” he says. “On cold days I light a small fire. It also gives salami a touch of smoke.”

Talking to the ageBonacci is surrounded by his adult children and nephew. They just spent the morning smashing a full-scale pig to make small items.

“The capucolo comes from the neck,” Antonio says. “The loin makes a lombo, the belly becomes a pancake, and the back leg will be prosciutto.”

The pig is sliced, chopped, salted and stuffed into casings to make fresh and salted sausages.

The pig is sliced, chopped, salted and stuffed into casings to make fresh and salted sausages. Photo: Paul Jeffers

The rest of the pig is sliced, chopped, salted and stuffed into casings to make fresh and salted sausages. On the stove is a pot of bones and cook the skin in tomato sauce. This is sugo for the noodles served at lunchtime when the Bonacci brothers arrive to make more sausage.

Bonacci’s nephew, Victor Bonacci, works as a retail butcher. “It’s not just bastards who do that,” he says. “Every year I get more and more Anglos buying pigs so they can do the Italian thing in their backyard.”

His uncle replies, “In Italy, the tradition is not what it used to be. When we come home, we see fewer young people making [smallgoods]. “

Italian restaurateur Guy Grossi says Melbourne is a stronghold of traditional Italian culture.

“We have a beautiful culture that arrived in the mid-20th century with these immigrants,” he says. “We call these Italians Melbourne.”

“They still collect tomatoes in the summer to make passata [tomato sauce]. They make funghi sott’olio [mushrooms under oil] In the fall and giardinera [pickled vegetables].

Smallgoods made in the Bonacci family's return shed.

Smallgoods made in the Bonacci family’s return shed. Photo: Paul Jeffers

“You hardly see it in Italian cities, not as here in Melbourne where it thrives.”

Despite the understaffing at the Florentino and Umbra restaurants on Bourke Street, Grossi ordered his entire pig to spend a day making sausages and small goods with his family.

“We practice the cooking rituals that were common to most families for my father’s generation in Italy. We are fortunate to retain these skills.”

The descendants of Italian-speaking immigrants who came from the Swiss canton of Ticino during the gold rush continue a 160-year-old tradition. Families have been gathering in barns around Daylesford and Yandoit to make a spicy beef and pork sausage called The Bull Boar this winter.

“There is a huge amount of garlic, spices and red wine as groups of family and friends gather to make sausages,” says Gary Thomas, a chef in Daylesford, whose family hails from Italian-Swiss.

Their original recipe evolved into beef and pork sausage of which there are over 35 different family recipes, many of which are still made every year to this day.

“In the past, Bull Boar sausages were air-dried. Now we have refrigerators. But people come together to make bull boar. We cook them, eat them, and drink wine. It’s a simple pleasure.”

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