Prosciutto – Parma or San Daniele – Which is the best?
Prosciutto, we think we know what it is, we like it and we buy it. Prosciutto means ham, the cut of pork that is the upper section of the leg just underneath the shoulder. The shoulder has another name, spalla. There are two categories of prosciutto, one is cotto, or cooked, while the other is crudo, meaning raw but intending seasoned. A regional variation from Alto Adige, the part of Italy that speaks German, is Speck. Speck is a prosciutto crudo, without the bone, that is seasoned with rosemary in the first brine and before the drying process is smoked.
Prosciutto cotto is our ham and does not need additional mention while prosciutto crudo deserves further attention. Within the prosciutto crudo family there are two primary divisions, each claiming to be the best prosciutto crudo. They are Prosciutto di San Daniele del Friuli and Prosciutto di Parma. There are several factors that differentiate the two and the resulting flavors. The taste of the meat is greatly influenced by what the animal eats, thus each type defines, by law, where the animals come from. The second, and just as important, is the method of preparation and in particular the amount of salt and the length of time that the meat is cured.
The resulting taste may seem similar to the novice first time buyer, but within a couple of weeks the differences are evident and each individual will have his favorite. The prosciutto from San Daniele is sweet with a full bouquet and a lingering aftertaste. This delicacy is best shaved thin and consumed with bread or grissini, perhaps combined with a small amount of fresh soft cheese, to appreciate its sweetness. Do not waste the taste using this product in elaborate dishes, the natural flavors and balance will be lost. The perfect wine is a pinot grigio from Friuli. Wines with more distinct flavor will dominate the prosciutto and the result will be an incapability to fully appreciate the prosciutto.
The prosciutto from Parma is savory. It can support sautéing while retaining its distinct taste. The prosciutto from Parma is also about 20% smaller in size than prosciutto from San Daniele. While the prosciutto from San Daniele is for the extreme lovers of prosciutto, the prosciutto from Parma has a wider range of uses. Its savory flavor will balance more savory foods and can be used on pizza. Prosciutto from Parma, although best with a pinot grigio, can be paired with an Arneis, Greco di Tufo, or even a Verdicchio. It has the substance to balance the more flavorful whites.
Both types of prosciutto should be sliced paper thin. The perfect use is as an appetizer with bread, in sandwiches without condiments , or as an entrée with cheese.
Most US produced “prosciutto” are not really prosciutto but speck. Speck is marvelous, slightly smoked, soaked in brine and cured for about 18 months, but not prosciutto. If you want to experience a true prosciutto look for the fire-branded trademark. It will clearly indicate “Consorzio di San Daniele” or “Consorzio di Parma”.
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