Antica Corte Pallavicina is an ancient oasis in a desert of fog.
Reach this silent land to open the door of a 700 years old cellar.
And get inside the forest of culatello guarded by Massimo Spigaroli.
The rise and fall of the ancient court
Antica Corte Pallavicina was a court of Marquesses Pallavicino, one of the most popular Italian noble families.
The castle was built in 1320 and then became a farm in the 700s.
Its cellar was used to season culatello, cured meat and cheese, refine wines and store the products of the countryside.
From the end of the 18th century, the court began a slow decline.
Marie Louise, the Duchess of Parma and the wife of Napoleon, garrisoned here her frontier guards to protect the flourishing river traffic and lowered the towers.
Later the court was divided into small dwellings and used by peasants and fishermen. Then Po' river changed its course, flooded and took it over.
But like a dusty watch lost in a drawer, Antica Corte Pallavicina needed just restoration and someone with the will to recharge its mechanisms over and over.
And this person has the name of Spigaroli.
In the hands of Spigaroli
The first impression you get of Massimo Spigaroli is that he's always focused.
Sul pezzo I'd say in Italian.
He doesn't speak much and his cold look behind the big glasses inspires a mix of respect and fear.
Since he was a kid, Massimo would help his family on the farm and kitchen. Then he graduated from the hotel school in Salsomaggiore and started to travel and work in the best restaurants in Italy and France.
In 1990 Spigaroli family bought and restored the ruins of Antica Corte Pallavicina.
30 years later, the court is Massimo's dreamland.
Here he breeds rare black pigs, established a culatello museum, and he transformed food from subsistence to pleasure at Cavallino Bianco, for sure one of the best Michelin starred restaurants in Emilia Romagna.
If you expect to see Spigaroli in the dining room for selfies you'll get disappointed.
It's easy to find him near the kitchen, giving directions to his trusted staff or taking care of flouring a wooden board of ravioli.
Culatello: hail to the king?
Ok, the charm of the court, the peace of the river...c'mon let's say it clearly.
You drive to Antica Corte Pallavicina for 1 reason: culatello.
And it is worth it.
But don't call culatello "the king of meat".
Yes, it's expensive (70€/kg), Giuseppe Verdi loved it and Prince Charles collects his own in Spigaroli's cellar.
But it's a ham with no bone and rind, seasoned with pepper, garlic, Fortana wine, and Salsomaggiore's salt, stuffed in a pig's bladder and hung in a cellar with open windows for about 14 months.
During this time the most important ingredient of culatello works silently.
It massages the meat, blows humidity on it, and gives to culatello unique flavors impossible to find elsewhere.
No kings grow up in these lowlands.
Only thoughtful people, with respect for their land, and the ability to get the best out of what they've been given.
Antica Corte Pallavicina
Strada Palazzo due Torri, 3, 43010 Polesine Parmense PR
Tel. 0524 936539