Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews
Over 3 years of maturing makes for some magical cured ham!
Prosciutto di Parma is probably one of THE most famous foods
…on a very long list of famously flavorful Italian ingredients. But ironically, as wonderful as it is, as much as it’s been written up, exported, and talked about . . . very few folks outside its home region will have ever tasted it at its full flavored and exceptionally fantastic best. I say that because a) it’s true, and b) we have some Prosciutto in-house right now that might be better than anything most Americans will have ever experienced—I’ve been to the region many times and probably tasted a thousand pieces over the last 30-something years . . . but this stuff is blowing my mind!
Like all the Prosciutto di Parma we get at the Deli, this one comes from Giovanni Bianchi and the crew at Pio Tosini in the town of Langhirano, the heartland of Prosciutto production, in the Parma province.
Pio Tosini was founded back in 1905, in the era when Prosciutto di Parma was just beginning to shift out of being something made mostly at home in farmhouse curing rooms, and into the amazing ham we know today. Here in Ann Arbor, Rocco Disderide was in his third year in business in his new building at the corner of Detroit and Kingsley (where a nationally-famous Deli now resides). While Pio Tosini is relatively small as 21st century commercial producers go, it remains an inspiring center of artisan craftsmanship and careful ham curing. Carrying on the family’s intense commitment to quality, Giovanni Bianchi continues to craft amazing cured hams that, like what we have on the counter now, set the standard for Parma ham. As Malcolm Gladwell says, “If you work hard enough and assert yourself, and use your mind and imagination, you can shape any future you choose to embark on a reality.”
Not all Prosciutto di Parma is the same
There are significant differences in quality from one of the 150 or so producers to the next. What makes the best ones—like Pio Tosini—so much better? Better pigs, skillful salting, and maturing (Pio Tosini still opens the windows the way it’s been done for so many centuries, so the mountain air contributes properly to the curing. “The town has an excellent microclimate for curing,” Giovanni said. “It is dry and not too foggy in the winter.”). This ham is also cut by hand by the Deli counter crew from the bone—hams with the bone left in continue to develop in flavor (those with the bone removed get “older” but no longer mature). It is an amazing piece of cured pork. A small slice yields more flavor than a pound of a lesser product. A lovely sparkle of salt, rich, intense, and meaty flavors of the cured pork—all that maturing time concentrates the flavors. It’s got an umami flavor that’s so amazing it’s essentially undone me. It’s that good.
To be clear, older Prosciutto di Parma isn’t always better!
Most hams peak at 24 months—this one is an excellent and engaging exception! It’s velvety, red, rich, and remarkable; the perfect (to my palate) salt level—just enough to be a bit prickly on the palate. The aroma is amazing—the pinnacle of what great curing can mean for high-quality raw pork. The intense beauty of what a great aged ham can taste like. While Bellota (acorn-fed) Iberico ham rightly wins raves (it’s incredible), when you eat Parma ham like this you realize that it’s also capable of playing at that same level. It’s seriously show-stopping.
What do you do with Prosciutto this good?
Just eat it. In small slices. The simpler the better. Be sure to put it out at room temperature so the true, full, complex flavors come to the fore. If you want a few accompaniments, a bit of Parmigiano Reggiano would be good—the Parmigiano from the Borgotaro co-o (in the mountains of western Tuscany) is high on my list right now. Maybe some dried pears (we have great ones at the Cream Top Shop) or some hazelnuts (we have wonderful Piemontese hazelnuts at the Deli). A bit of good bread—maybe a fresh loaf of Paesano from Zingerman’s Bakehouse. That’s it. Eat. Savor the moment. And appreciate every moment because, even in Parma, ham like this is not an everyday experience. —