Emilia Romagna Cooking Vacation: Culatello and the King of Parma Ham
Prosciutto is one of the most popular cured meats in all of Italy, and it's widely available here in the States, selling in the tens of millions each year. But if you head to the Italian countryside just outside Parma, Italy, cooking vacation guests can discover a rare -- but renowned treat -- that is produced far less: culatello, a cured meat made from a prized part of the pig, the core of the inner thigh. In all of Italy, only 25,000 to 30,000 Culatello di Zibello DOPs are produced a year.
In fact, as Corby Kummer of The Atlantic points out, it's difficult to compare culatello to prosciutto, as the two meats are different in both taste and texture. While proscuitto is simply salted, culatello is cured with salt and pepper as well as garlic and wine; this is because, in part, salt alone won't cure the meat in this damp and humid climate in the Po Valley. In many ways, the flavor of culatello, famously aged in Antica Corte Pallavicina's 700-year-old cellars, is much more complex.
While your cooking class during "Flavors of the Real Italian Countyside" focuses on the pastas of Emilia-Romagna, the King of Parma Ham, Chef Massimo Spigaroli, is thrilled to talk about pork and his culatelli to anyone. But it's not just pork he understands. Chef Spigaroli started cooking as a child, and after graduating from the Hotel School of Salsomaggiore, he worked in 5-star restaurants. Today, he, along with his brother, own the farm, cellars, and property, which they've restored in recent years.
Of the culatelli production in Italy, Chef Spigaroli is responsible for selling about 5,000 of them, mostly to famous chefs and even the Prince of Wales.
Italy cooking vacations are about discovering a slice of life -- literally -- that can't be discovered anywhere else. And that's exactly what you'll find when you try Chef Spigaroli's famous cured meats.
By Liz Hall