Quinto Quarto (The Fifth Quarter)
A peculiar aspect of Roman cooking is Quinto Quarto, “Fifth Quarter.” What is it? At the end of last century, one of the most modern slaughterhouses in Europe was built in Rome in the Testaccio suburb. Hundreds of butchers, called vaccinari (“cow workers”), worked in the establishment.
Roman butchers were very skilled and famous for their ability to refine any cut of meat. At first, the cows were split in half, and then in four quarters. What was left over—the skin, head, tail, liver, and all the rest of the offal—was called the fifth quarter. Considered meat of poor quality, the Quinto Quarto was given to the butchers to round up their meager pay. Most of the butchers who received these meats supposedly sold them to restaurants in the area.
Roman cooks have created a culinary universe of first-quality dishes around the “fifth quarter.” In about thirty years, the “inferior” cooking of the vaccinari became renowned citywide and evolved into dishes for connoisseurs. We present the recipe for tripe, one of the most famous dishes.
The large use of “weird” meats, such as abbacchio (milk fed lamb), testina (lamb’s head), pagliata (milk-fed lamb bowels), heels, offal, and the like have given Roman cooking a reputation of brutality and truculence. Old Roman traditional cooking has not found many fans among new immigrants and tourists. Many culinary guides don’t even mention these types of dishes.
Roman meat cooking is not only based on the “fifth quarter.” In reality, Roman cooking is very versatile, reflecting the melting pot of races and traditions that have contributed to Rome. Its repertoire includes delicate gourmet dishes like Saltimbocca and robust dishes like Garofolato, a meat stewed in tomato with cloves.
Il Macello (Roman butcher shop), engraving by B. Pinelli, 1831. Many shoppers line up to buy meat cut to order on the spot. A sign on the wall reads “veal 7 per pound.”