The plain façade of La Quercia’s production facility located in Norwalk, Iowa reveals little about the excellent quality of artisan salumi being produced inside.
For those who have tried it, a thin slice of Prosciutto di Parma, the salt-cured and air-dried ham of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, paired with a cool glass of Lambrusco is a memorable experience. Taking this combination to the ultimate experience would involve finding a rare Culatello, cutting it to order from a hand-cranked Berkel slicer, and savoring it with a glass of Medici Ermete Concerto Lambrusco Reggiano, which creates a pairing so crystalline and pure that you’ll live the rest of your life frustratingly searching for a food and wine pairing that lives up to it.
And then there is Prosciutto di San Daniele, the famous and prized ham from the town of San Daniele in Friuli, Italy, which is equal, and for some, superior to the famed Prosciutto di Parma. In San Daniele, the air flows to central Friuli from the Adriatic which is said to contribute to the ham’s sweetness, and in Friuli you will often be received in a restaurant or in someone’s home with a slice of Prosciutto and a “tajut” (meaning “a cut”, or small amount) of Friulano, the crisp, dry white wine native to the region. Friulano pairs wonderfully with Prosciutto just as a slice of melon might: salty ham is countered by cool clean flavors of fruit and acidity. The Marche region south of Friuli is also said to produce a special Prosciutto of their own, although I have yet to try it, and of course the Serrano ham of Spain deserves to be mentioned. Wherever it is produced, Prosciutto is made from the hind legs of pigs slaughtered at an age between nine and eighteen months, and transformed into a wonderfully sweet and delicious end product using just a few additional ingredients: air, salt, time, and traditional knowledge.
La Quercia Rossa (heirloom breed) Prosciutto “a mano” with a glass of Doro Princic Friulano 2007.
Fortunately, airfare to Europe or an expensive Berkel slicer aren’t necessary to enjoy this wonderful style of ham. Here in the U.S., quality prosciutto is being produced from Armandino’s in Seattle to Salumeria Biellese in New York City. One of the very best domestic prosciutterias is La Quercia, located just south of Des Moines in Norwalk, Iowa. La Quercia is producing top-quality prosciutto, speck (smoked prosciutto), coppa (upper loin), pancetta (belly), and guanciale (cheeks). I recently returned home from teaching a sommelier course in Des Moines with a sample of all their products, all very worthy of an effort to find them. Prosciutto’s sweetness and nuanced complexity fades quickly, so I highly recommend buying all of these salt-cured, air-dried pork products as intact as possible, and slicing them yourself at home. Much of the pleasure of eating prosciutto comes from savoring its delicate texture which can easily be lost when it is sliced too thickly. Ordinary meat slicers do a fine job of producing thin slices of prosciutto, and the traditional hand-cranked Berkel slicers offer the greatest precision, but these machines are expensive and are impractical for the home cook. Enjoying prosciutto at home requires a technique known as Prosciutto “a mano” (cut by hand) and it takes a really sharp knife and some practice (see picture above—I need more practice) to produce long thin slices of beautiful prosciutto. Even if you’re knife skills need some work, pair prosciutto with a glass of crisp, cool white wine like the Doro Princic Friulano 2007 and call it a day.
posted on July 3 2009 by jesse