We have already ordered our cotechino, actually two of them. There is no other way for a Bolognese to mark the end of the year or New Year’s Day.
Cotechino originates from Modena, a city 30 miles to the East of Bologna. “Cotechino di Modena” has a long history and has a protected geographical indication (PGI), which marks traditional products with specific regional origins.
Alternative to Cotechino
For centuries Mirandola had been an independent principality but, in 1511, had come under siege by the army of Pope Julius II.
The inhabitants of Mirandola had to find a way to preserve the meat of pigs and avoid wastage during the siege. Thus, they mixed the meat, fat, and rind of pork with herbs, and then stuffed this mix inside either pork intestines (to make cotechino) or inside hollowed-out pig’s trotters (to make zampone).
Cotechino and zampone have a similar taste. I prefer cotechino, as it has slightly less fat. Neither of them is actually a lean meal, but there is no harm from celebrating every now and then.
Cotechino and zampone are some type of large sausages but, unlike sausages, they are not meant to be barbecued or grilled. Cotechino is boiled in a water pan, then sliced and served steaming together with lentils and mashed potatoes.
Where to buy
If you are in Bologna, you could go to salumeria Simoni, a popular delicatessen shop in the town centre, and buy a fresh cotechino. Fresh cotechino, though, needs to be kept refrigerated and should be cooked within a few days.
If you live abroad a more practical solution is to buy pre-cooked cotechino: it comes sealed inside a vacuum-bag and can be kept and shipped at room temperature. It would then be cooked inside the vacuum-bag in boiling water, before being sliced and served.
Bologna and my Dad
On Christmas Eve my father used to take me round the antiquary book shops in Bologna. Dad had an interest in the history of agriculture, a topic he had written about.
One of dad’s articles is about Vincenzo Tanara, a Bolognese agronomist and author of a 1651 treatise entitled L’economia del cittadino in villa (The economy of the citizen in the country). Tanara mentions zampone in his treatise.
This year Bolognese gathering for a Christmas or New Year’s meal may have a worry. Garisenda, one of the two iconic medieval towers of Bologna, is in peril. Built in 1109, the tower has been leaning since and was shortened in the 14th century. Since October 2023 the leaning has reached a critical point: the tower is now at risk of collapsing.
The “two towers” are a symbol of Bologna and many Bolognese people will donate to the Crowdfunder, that will help meeting the restoration costs, well before sitting down for a meal with either cotechino or zampone.
I live in Durham, and, in many respects, I am a Dunelmian. However, when it comes to the Christmas festivities meals, I am still a Bolognese.