Being a street butcher in Naples is not for the faint of heart. “Rain, sun, wind, heat, cold… being on the street seven days a week means knowing how to face every type of weather,” says Gaetano Iavarone.
He is part of the invincible team behind Macelleria Iavarone, a butcher shop in Naples’ Sant’Antonio Market run by Domenico (Mimmo) and his three sons, Gaetano, Lorenzo and Davide. The so-called “street butcher shop” has a huge display of meat outside with only a small cash register inside. Also inside is a larger photo of Gaetano the elder, Domenico’s father, who opened the butcher shop 60 years ago. Domenico took over the reins 30 years ago and now runs it with his close-knit team of sons.
“We have all kinds of meat, from the best and most expensive cuts to the poorest and cheapest ones,” Lorenzo tells us. “Our clientele also includes many immigrants, poor people who appreciate the cuts of meat that wealthier Neapolitans ignore.”
Gaetano, the eldest son, is the first to arrive at 6 a.m. The suppliers come with their goods, and the schedule for the day is organized; most importantly, it takes at least two hours to prepare the stunning display of the street butcher.
“We attach great importance to aesthetics, it’s what impresses all those who pass by, and so every morning we are very careful to set up a nice layout,” says Gaetano as he continues to hang pork salami and kids (baby goats).
“At dawn the pigs arrive. All the parts have to be separated and one of the house specialties prepared: the artisanal soffritto,” adds Gaetano. Another culinary icon of the city of Naples, soffritto is a sauce made by slowly boiling the less valuable parts of the pig, which are then cooked in an aromatic tomato sauce with strong chile peppers. The spicy mixture is also called “soup” even though it’s most definitely a sauce, and is commonly used to flavor a great plate of spaghetti.
Meanwhile, customers begin arriving from every corner of the city. “Here I find the best soffritto in the city,” says 56-year-old Luca D’Auria, “I warm it up, add a little water, pour it on hot spaghetti and wait for my tongue to catch on fire.”
But since it’s spring, most visitors are coming for one thing: baby goat. In Naples there is an ancient tradition of cooking with kids, baby goats that are not yet a year old. Kid and lamb are prepared mainly in the oven, with potatoes.
The highlight of spring in Naples is, without a doubt, Easter. “Baked kid is a must on the Easter lunch table,” says Lorenzo, “so we sell thousands of kids and lambs during the Holy Week.”
After many years of experience, the Iavarones know how to select the best lambs and kids.
“In the lead-up to Easter, Neapolitans reserve a kid to be sacrificed for Sunday lunch from their trusted butcher. For such an important order, the client must trust the butcher, and we have never betrayed anyone’s trust,” he adds. After many years of experience, the Iavarones know how to select the best lambs and kids – it’s a skill that has been passed down through three generations of butchers.
But spring also means barbecuing on the terrace, so many customers come in to buy meat for grilling. “In Naples, everyone loves the back quarter of the pork to be barbecued in the spring. Here it is called locena, it is very fatty and therefore remains tender and tasty even after being cooked over embers,” Domenico says.
The two younger brothers, Lorenzo and Davide, never stop moving. Everyone knows what to do; Lorenzo deals with cured meats and cheeses. Out of the various cured meats that they sell, the Iavarones are perhaps best known for their artisan Neapolitan salami, as it’s called throughout Italy. Made with pork meat combined with fat and seasoned with pepper, chile flakes, garlic and wine, the dry cured, dark red salami is often served on special occasions in Naples, when someone is hoping to make a good impression.
“I only eat Neapolitan salami,” Carmela Esposito, a 56-year-old housewife, tells us as she picks up her weekly order. “The Milanese salami is inedible to me, and above all it gives off an odd smell.” In other words, even salami plays a role in the endless North-South struggle, Milan against Naples.
The shop also sells homemade cigoli (pork cracklings) that look just like French fries. “Cigoli are the pieces left over after pressing out all the lard from the pork fat. It is proof that nothing is really thrown away from the pig,” says Lorenzo. Today only a few butchers produce their own cracklings, which are cooked in a pan with salt and pepper until they are perfectly crunchy.
“We are here every day of the week, and every week of the year. From 6 in the morning until 8:30 in the evening, except on Sundays when we close at 3 p.m. to have lunch together at home, as a family,” says Domenico. In short, a family that operates like a well-oiled machine. It’s something we witness on our visit when it begins to rain – no problem, the four family members move like one body, with precise, known gestures. They open umbrellas, pull down curtains. Work continues.
“We love these festive periods,” says Davide, who is bursting with energy. “When the market is celebrating the holidays it becomes a whole family, and during the day we often stop to sing and dance all together. We all feel united.”
Davide knows a thing or two about living in harmony with others. From May to October, he is based on San Nicola, a tiny island in the Adriatic that’s part of the Tremiti archipelago. Together with his wife, Melania, whom he met here in Naples, he has split his time between the city and the island for the last five years, working at the butcher shop in the winter and managing a boat rental company in the summer.
But come winter, when he is in Naples, he doesn’t forget his fellow islanders (only 46 brave souls stay there during the cold months). Every Monday morning a car crosses the Italian boot towards Foggia and boards a ferry to the islands, bringing meat for all the inhabitants.
After hearing this story, we can’t help but think that Davide somewhat resembles Captain Jack Sparrow. “Come see me on San Nicola, from the urban paradise of Naples to a small seaside paradise,” he tells us. “And invite all of your readers as well.” Done! We’ll be visiting the Pirates of the Tremiti this summer.
Editor’s note: To celebrate the start of spring, we’re running a series entitled “Meet the Vendors,” where our correspondents introduce us to some of their favorite market vendors and their spring products.