La Dea della Porchetta

April 28, 2015 / Food & Wine
Pie' di Moggio, Rieti, Lazio

There’s Ceres, goddess of grains, Minerva, goddess of wisdom and Flora, goddess of flowers, springtime and fertility. Demeter watches over the harvest, Vesta, the hearth, and Pomona protects fruit trees, orchards and gardens. Abundantia’s name affirms she’s the goddess of abundance and prosperity..

But the Romans never adored a “dea della porchetta.” Near Rieti though, you can meet her, taste her porchetta… and her name is Dea (goddess). If not for eye-catching bright red and white umbrellas shading tables encircled by pots of cheery scarlet begonias, you might pass a seemingly nondescript shack – La Baita – along the road outside Rieti (northern Latium). But pull off to park near the trucks of savvy workers who know where to find good food – and head inside. “La Baita” – denoting a small wooden mountain refuge – is a refuge, but a culinary one: for those seeking uncomplicated simple goodness.

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On a recent visit, red-cheeked smiling owner Dea – in bright red shirt and pants – was slicing up porchetta, spit-roasted suckling pig seasoned with wild fennel and rosemary. Dea slices with the ease and expertise of a surgeon for after all, she’s had lots of practice: growing up in the tiny town nearby, Pie’ di Moggio (pop. 54 nowadays) she set her sites on becoming a butcher at a young age.

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She cared little for school and at fourteen, she apprenticed to a butcher – and over fifty years later, she’s still slicing up the pork goodness. I asked her, “Any regrets?” As she slipped the sliced porchetta onto a crusty roll, she answered, “if any, maybe that I could not continue my education. But I made sure our three children did: one studied law, the other is a pianist, the other – with two degrees – works for the health care system.”
“We’re only doing this now for passione,” she grins with a twinkle in her eye.

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Enrico, her retired banker husband, flanks her in this little food shack (he works mornings, Dea handles early evening and cheery tattooed assistant young Chiara fills in the afternoons). The first time we stopped at La Baita (which has become a favorite “culinary refuge” for us now, too), Enrico was at the espresso machine behind the prosciutto, capocollo, salamis and cheeses piled on the counter, while Chiara made sandwiches for a group of hungry workmen.

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The brightly-colored paper cut-outs tacked on the wall near the counter listed all the sandwich options – but how to decide? Porchetta? Grilled sausage? Grilled sausage with sheep’s milk cheese (pecorino)? Panino di prosciutto? Prosciutto sandwich with pecorino? Or how about marinated eggplants topping the porchetta or prosciutto or sausages? Or roasted peppers? Or wild chicory sautéed in olive oil and garlic? Or a spicy chili pepper sauce? Or… all of them? Or does mortadella, capocollo or salt-cured bacon tempt?

La BAita choices-sm
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I took Signor Enrico’s suggestion for a lunchtime sandwich – and it’s now all I ever have at La Baita: grilled sausage topped with roasted peppers, marinated eggplants, a touch of chili pepper sauce and a paper-thin slice of pecorino cheese. Red wine on the side, logicamente.

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One certainty: the pig reigns here at La Baita. “Each year, we buy about eighty prosciutto (the salt-cured hams of the back legs) and eighty spalle (‘shoulders’ i.e., hams of the forelegs) from local farmers,” Enrico told us recently as we munched our sandwiches, “But Dea’s not the butcher any longer.”

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Maybe not, but La Baita still offers all the pork goodness… of a goddess!

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Nothing better than this! A sausage sandwich with red wine-sm
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Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See www.annesitaly.com for more on her Umbria tours. Do see www.stayassisi.com for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

21 Responses to “La Dea della Porchetta”

  1. Anne, This is wonderful, and mouth watering. I love these places and I love your stories. I am doing well and I will be in touch. Kevin

    Reply
  2. Just last night Andrew Zimmer on the Travel Channel did an episode on Porchetta – must be a sign! Must go to Italy for delicious Porchetta!

    Reply
  3. Mary Cappiello

    Annie—your pictures and your writing always capture the look and feel of a place, and make us want to be whisked away to Italy to meet you at the very site you are showing us!

    Reply
  4. I see Pino sitting at the counter! Those sandwiches sound delicious.

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  5. Jack Litewka

    When the food sounds this scrumptious, you need to give us a more exact address. Or is the assumption we are to make, given that the town has a population of only 54, is that if we find the town, we’ve found the restaurant, because “downtown” is one block long? ;-)

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  6. This looks so cool!!! How long a drive from Assisi is this?

    Can’t wait!

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  7. Anne! I can’t believe it! I’ve been here. Many, many years ago my friend Alessandro from Narni took me to his favorite places up in the mountains there, and I swear we stopped at this place to eat. By then, I was so turned around that I had no idea where we were. Now when I go to Luco dei Marsi, I usually stop to visit Ale’, now in Terni, and take SS79 to Aquila and onward. It’s a beautiful drive. So, to get to this place, do I take the Provinciale 1 off of SS79 at Pie’ di Moggio? How far is this place from the turnoff? Do I get back on SS79 at Greccio? You can email me the details, or just give more detailed instructions here. Seems like others want to know, as well. Grazie!

    Reply
  8. Anne Robichaud

    Rebe’, yes, if you’ve been there, you’ll never forget it…will try to get exact address but as indicated, on left about 3 km from exit of tunnel you’ll enter near Rieti on the road from Terni

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  9. Angela MelcEr

    Okay, now I’m hungry! Porchetta and Pecorino Romano, who can ask for anything more?

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  10. Gull-Britt Lundsröm

    You really know how to make people long for Italien and its food!!

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  11. Stephanie Webb

    Oh, please Annie, pass me one of those amazing sandwiches!! What a delightful & delicious discovery. Thank you for sharing yet another must visit gem in your Bella Italia. I love your writing & the pics make me feel I’m almost there.

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  12. Mary Lynne

    I really, really need to work up the nerve to drive in Italy. I’ve been three times now – Florence, Perugia, Bologna and Sicily (with various visits to nearby places) and ALWAYS think “if you had a car…” And this is a perfect example – I love porchetta and looking at the map thought “gee, I could base myself in Perugia or Spoleto or wherever, and just drive all around the whole area, seeing and oohing, ahhhing, and eating!!” I did look to see about getting around by bus or train and there is actually a train from Perugia (or closer) all the way down to Rieti but, of course, once I got there, it’s not like I’d be right in front of this delightful place. Ah, well…My first porchetta ever was in Greve and it was love at first bite. :)

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  13. Sarah Walters

    If all goes right, maybe this fall? We will be visiting Dea for sure!

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  14. Frank Pici

    Oh my gosh, it looks sooo good! We will plan to stop there next time we are in Italy!!!

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  15. karen Kotoske

    Annie, please clone La Dea della Porcetta immediately and send to the US. I don’t think there is anything anywhere of what sounds like the most amazing and delicious sandwiches. Oh to be there with you all enjoying this bounty!

    Reply
  16. Jacqueline Dolph

    So inspired, Anne, that I made a little faux porchetta (from a pork tenderloin) as well as fava beans with fennel, fried polenta and a big insalata mixta. But longing to try the real thing.
    Jackie

    Reply

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