Amongst the guardians of Semitic languages, pigs get burdened with a bad press. In some faiths, they are regarded as ‘unclean’ animals, mainly because, whilst rummaging in the wild, they will eat virtually anything – carrion, garbage, even animal excrement. Not so very different from my Jack Russell on a woodland walk.

Other, more secular thinkers, regard domestic pigs as recyclers and compost builders, almost on a par with the dung beetle. So, a possible proverb for our cooking day might be – waste not.

I am part of a generation that assimilated the compelling maxim that when it comes to butchering a pig, you can eat ‘everything but the squeal’. Once it helpfully defined a waste free gastronomy born of prudence, a refutation of nothing more than excess and disregard.

In Britain we now slaughter some 30,000 pigs every day. Alarmingly, 30% of all meat produced in the UK remains uneaten – landfill, the final destination. From farm to midden, as they don’t say in the supermarket commercials.

And I discovered that an educative seminar on the topic with most Gen Z incumbents might be a fruitless pursuit, following a recent conversation with the young bartender at my local. He was ‘resting’ during his degree course. It took a little time to demonstrate (with anatomical diagrams on a bar napkin) that the packets of pork scratchings he administered nightly were not the result of “like, weird-shaped” potatoes, but the once ‘waste’ product of his daily, reviving bacon butty. Once he came to terms with the idea that people were eating pink skin, not dissimilar to their own, he reduced it to, “like, just weird”. I kid you not.

It appears that Biblical texts fell upon a similar comparative adjective some time ago. Leviticus 11: 2, if for any reason you’re not in regular contact with your New English Translation.

Across many parts of rural Europe, when Autumn beckons, it’s time to kill the fattened pig in order to provide meat throughout the winter months. A time too, when summer fruits and vegetables become increasingly scarce.

A local Norfolk butcher, Brian, having succeeded his father in the trade, remembers as a child, local villagers bringing in their garden pig for slaughter. The cuts; sausages, hams, chops, hocks, bacon, pork ‘cheese’ and brawns were shared around the village, whilst another neighbour’s pig followed the same path a few weeks later, and a similar distribution occurred. The unarguable logic of keeping meat fresh, was to dispatch each animal in turn and as late as possible.

Originally a village tradition, this was a ritual engaging both family and neighbours. The elders initially handled the sticking and bleeding long before local butchers or abattoir workers were entrusted with the task. Fresh blood is still treasured for sausages (black pudding) and would once have been eaten fresh on the day. In Spain they bulk out their revered Morcilla (blood sausage) with rice, in France, their Boudin Noir is cut with breadcrumbs.

In Italy, hind legs (gammon) are salted and cured as prosciutto crudo. Sausage and salami are made from the lesser cuts like hocks, neck and fore-end. Cheeks become the much-exalted guanciale, the hero of this dish.The belly is again cured and most times smoked as pancetta, poitrine fumé or speck.

Ironically, this ritual culling was formerly a respectful celebration of a life, one that would in turn sustain lives and provide enjoyment at table during the winter months. Unlike so many of their intensively farmed counterparts – those that go for water-and-nitrate treated bacon, sodden hams, and the ultimate in profligacy, pet food – those pigs didn’t depart heedlessly.

The remarkable, although neglected, pieces, are the extremities. The nose, cheeks, ears, tongue, trotters and tail, once known as ‘butcher’s cuts’, are still prized at Fergus Henderson’s St John’s restaurant in London (his signature dish being Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad) or at Au Pied de Cochon nestling on the edge of the former Paris market – Les Halles. Their famous dish being Crispy Pork Trotter and Burgundy Snails.

In England, for the time being, pork belly fashionably occupies pole position on the menu of many gastropubs.

Nose to tail ingredients, all are celebrations in themselves. Although not at my local pub, obviously.

My cut of meat is Guanciale, and the recipe originates from the town of Amatrice (hence the name of the dish) in the commune of Lazio .

Spaghetti all’ Amatriciana from Theo Randall’s The Italian Deli (2021)

Serves 4

2 tbsp olive oil

150 Guanciale di Amatrice, cut into matchsticks

500 g tomato passata

350g Bucatini pasta

100g Pecorino (or Parmesan) plus extra to serve

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


Heat the oil in a heavy-based frying pan.

Add the chopped Guanciale and cook for about 5 minutes on a medium heat, until light brown.

Do not remove the excess fat as this is what makes the sauce so tasty.

Add the passata and cook gently for bout 15 minutes, until the sauce as reduced by half.

Check the seasoning – you probably won’t need salt, because the cured meat is salty, but you’ll need plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

In a large pan of salted boiling water, cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the packet cooking time, then, with a pair of tongs, transfer the pasta to the frying pan.

Add 2 ladlefuls of pasta water to the sauce and stir on a medium heat for 2 minutes.

Add the grated cheese and toss the pasta until the cheese has melted into the sauce, then serve in warmed bowls and add more cheese and pepper to suit.

Wine thoughts

Let’s step back and plump for a traditional Chianti. Made predominately from the Sangiovese grape in Tuscany, and, being a thin skinned grape, it tends to produce paler coloured wines that often err on the lighter side. Flashes of sour cherries and dried herbs join hands with gamey, smokey, balsamic vinegar notes to effortlessly keep pace with this elegant sauce. A suitably exciting partner for such a disarmingly simple dish.