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Oxford Companion to Food: Renaissance Meat Carving

In my family the job of carving the turkey on Thanksgiving is given to the man of the house, usually my father. He uses an electric knife to slice the meat and gets to snack as he goes. I shudder though to think of him performing the same task without the electric knife, seems to me fingers might get chopped off. But that is where Cervio Vincenzo, carver extraordinaire comes in. Check out his entry in the Oxford Companion to Food.

Cervio Vincenzo (c.1510-c.1580) for most of his life an officer of the household of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, was famous as a carver and is now remembered for his posthumous book on the subject, Il trinciante di Vicenzo Cervio. This was first published at Venice in 1581, ‘edited by Cavalier Reale’, and including a separate section by Reale. The extent of Cervio’s own contribution to the book remains uncertain.

Cervio believed that the only true method of carving was the Italian one:

Jaine_cover_image_1to hold the meat or other food up in the air, on a fork, and apply the knife to it in this posture. This technique transformed a practical operation into a spectacular exercise of virtuosity. In contrast, the German practice was to carve foods anchored on a plate or table.

Il trinciante was the most complete, but not the first, treatise on carving in the Renaissance period. The earlier works by Romoli (Singolare dottrina, 1560) and Scappi (1570) would have been familiar to Cervio, but were no doubt considered by him to be insufficiently comprehensive. Such a criticism could not be made of his own book, which devotes 10 chapters to the status and duties of a carver, and no fewer than 76 chapters to the carving of particular foodstuffs. It contains, however, only two illustrations. Cervio’s book provides, incidentally, much information about the foods eaten at an Ilalian court of that period.

Want to learn more? Check out the our other Food and Drink posts.

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