Carne della Terra “Meat of the Land”
As the popular saying goes, “You are what you eat!”. This stands to reason that you are also what your food eats… you are also where your food grows… you are also where your food lives. In Italy, few things exemplify this attitude more than the process of making Prosciutto.
There are several varieties of prosciutto from different regions of Italy that all have the same thing in common. They all start with a well-raised, lean pig. Each pig gives the prosciutto it’s own unique flavor based on where it was raised, what it was fed and how the land was cultivated. For example, the Parma prosciutto pigs mature in northern Italy where they are fed select grains and leftover whey from the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese-making process in order to give it a flavor and aroma that is unlike any other.
This procedure is so important to the Parma Prosciutto process that the European Union has created strict laws and guidelines to ensure it’s authenticity.
The EU has similar mandates for several different regions of Italy where other, just as unique, prosciutto is being made. Prosciutto di San Daniele offers a darker and sweeter flavor, a result from the region’s low humidity and the marrying of breezes from the Alps and Adriatic Sea, and is characterized by its unique guitar-like shape. If you have the pleasure of finding yourself in Italy, take a enogastronomy tour in Friuli, which highlights the regions architecture and traditions as well as offering perfect pairings of wine and local food, including a visit to the prosciutto factory. Every June, San Daniele hosts a four day extravaganza bringing people together to honor the town’s beloved ham. “Saporito”, meaning tasty and salty, coins Prosciutto di Toscano, which is said to be saltier than other regions to off-set the traditionally salt-less tuscan bread made in response to the high tax on salt back in the day.
(This makes me think of a salt pig I saw at a restaurant once, which was literally a wooden carved pig, filled with salt. A political statement or a play on prosciutto, perhaps?)
Regardless of the variation, all prosciutto begins and ends with the pig. No later than a month after birth, a special tattoo is applied to the thighs with the breeder’s unique code and animal’s birth date, which is recorded and signifies that all rules and regulations were met to standard, insuring it’s quality, and is finished with the “bollatura”, the official branding. A label well deserved if you ask me. The pig is preserved with only air, sea salt, time, and more time. It doesn’t get any more “all-natural” than this.
The European Union is trying to help us protect a belief. The belief that each meal is a unique experience, one that tells a story of the land and allows us to appreciate the various nuances and subtleties of its origins. The belief that our food should not have to be overly complicated or pumped with chemicals to taste good. The belief that the quality of ingredients matter.
In the story I like to believe in, these animals roam the Italian countryside with a certain sense of “swine pride”. Their lives enriched by the open air, the lush green vegetation and the caring hands that have nourished them along their way to becoming an integral part of the flavor of Italy’s culture and pride that is still celebrated today.
What story does the food that you eat have to tell you?
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