On a cold and snowy March morning (we live in the frigid north) my husband and I had the pleasure to meet Marc Berarducci, a talented chef with 25 years of experience in Italian and European cooking. Marc is also the author of two cookbooks : My Old World Kitchen: Some of my Favorite Italian Dishes (volume 1) and My Old World Kitchen: Eating Healthy Italian Style (volume 2).
In a warm coffee shop, while he sipped espresso (very Italian) and I hot chocolate, Marc introduced us to the ins and outs of one of Italy's most adored salumeria (air cured meat) - Prosciutto. For the next hour and a half my husband and I were totally immersed in the details of production, provenance and regional tastes. I am now thrilled to share with you the wealth of information that Marc so graciously shared with us.
The word prosciutto comes from the Latin perexsuctum which means dried thoroughly. Its production dates back to Pre-Roman times when salting and curing were paramount to the preservation of meats.
"Prosciutto is in essence an Italian ham which comes in two varieties: cotto (cooked or boiled) and crudo (raw), well, not really raw because it is cured in salt." The curing process which can last anywhere from two months to two years influences both cost and flavor. Another factor that influences flavor is the aromatics with which the prosciutto is infused during the curing process. Some examples are: fennel, garlic, and pepper; their use is mainly driven by regional tastes. Prosciutto crudo tends to be saltier and the taste of the aromatics is more pronounced. Cotto on the other hand, has a milder sweeter taste.
Prosciutto comes from the hind legs of the hog. Italians manufacturers being very particular about their prosciutto demand that the hogs are born and bred in the specific area where the prosciutto will be produced. This restriction allows for total quality control from start to finish. Furthermore, the animals are also fed a diet in accordance with what the animal would normally eat, thereby allowing the end product to continuously achieve its characteristic taste and excellent quality.
Prosciutto is produced in various regions of Italy; the best is produced in the Emilia-Romagna region of the country where the city of Parma (one of the greatest producers) is located. Thus Prosciutto di Parma is considered king, for lack of a better word. Located between Milan and Florence, Parma's history dates to 183 B.C. when it was founded by the Romans. Prosciutto di Parma is protected under the designation of P.D.O. or Product Denomination of Origin. Other prosciutti (plural) are manufactured in other regions of Italy, for example: Prosciutto Toscano from the region of Tuscany.
Prosciutto is delicious, lean and relatively healthy. According to Marc it is often used in red sauces. "Italians often accompany prosciutto with melon, or figs and sometimes eat it in a sandwich. Prosciutto is best consumed at room temperature; this is when the flavors are most pronounced."
The manufacturing of prosciutto is big business "Italian style" according to Marc. What he means is that its production is highly important, produced in large quantities without compromising its artisan quality." Companies like Citterio make an outstanding product said Marc.
I asked Marc what his favorite way to eat prosciutto was. This is what he said:" I most enjoy it sliced very thin accompanied with melon, pears or figs and a nice glass of Chianti!" Sounds like heaven to me.
"Italians love contrast" said Marc, this is why you will find contrasts in the food." It is not unusual to have a dish with sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy all in one!" check out my prosciutto appetizer on this blog. Once again I would like to thank Marc for graciously sharing his time and knowledge with my husband and I. Grazie!!!
Stay tuned, because this coming Fall 2014 my husband and I will have the unique opportunity to watch how prosciutto is made when we visit the home of a local family who every year make their own prosciutto and sopressata. We can hardly wait!! Ironically their name is Fuda (pronounced food-a). Now, isn't that a funny coincidence?