Many people get confused about Italian prosciutto. In Italy you will find two different types: the “cotto” or cooked ham and the “crudo” or raw, more often known abroad as Parma ham.
Raw ham is pork that has been cured using salt and it is left to dry naturally for several months.
Parma ham or prosciutto from Parma is only one type of Italian raw ham.
Another type is the “San Daniele” produced in North Eastern Italy in San Daniele del Friuli an area between the mountains and the sea. This is 30 minutes away from my home town so I grew up eating this type of ham.
Prosciutto di San Daniele carries the “Protected Designation of Origin” – the P.D.O. label– which ensures its authenticity of origin.
There are 31 companies in San Daniele who produce this type of ham and are all part of a Consortium.
What’s so special about this ham? It’s the area where it is produced.
The area of San Daniele has the perfect microclimate for maturing the ham. It is situated in the foothills of the Pre-alps, 252 metres above sea level. It gets the fresh winds descending from the Carnic Alps and the warm, salty breeze from the Adriatic sea. The Tagliamento river which flows close to the hill functions as a natural thermostat.
San Daniele ham is made uniquely with the rear thighs of Italian pigs originating from the 4,200 authorised farms which all located in Northern Central Italy.
I was longing to visit a producer for a long time. I visited “Prolongo” a family run artisan prosciutto maker which was originally founded in 1957 by Giovanni Prolongo whose family had practised the pork butcher’s art for generations. Now it is the grandchildren, Arianna and Alessio, who continue the tradition of prosciutto making with the same care and attention as given by their grandfather.
San Daniele ham only has two ingredients: meat and sea salt with no preservatives or additivies so it can be considered a healthy natural product.
The pigs are fed on a diet of good quality cereals and whey and they must be at least 9 months old at the time of slaughter. The thighs must weigh at least 12 kg and as soon as they arrive they undergo a preliminary conformity check.
After the first 24-48 hours, according to tradition, the thighs are covered in salt and left for as many days as their weight in Kilograms.
After the salting process the legs are pressed to allow the salt to penetrate better and to give the ham a better consistency. This is unique to San Daniele and it gives it its traditional guitar shape.
The legs are hung up to rest in special rooms at a controlled tempererature until the fourth month after the start of the curing process.
The next process is the “sugnatura” where a paste made with a mixture of pig fat and rice flour is applied to the exposed side of the rind to maintain its softness.
I was shown the distinctive windows on both sides of the room which were 1 meter distant from each other. They had no glass windows only holes to allow the fresh air from the mountains on one side and the warm air from the sea on the other to come in.
In a different room, the cellar, the maturing and drying process is refined and completed.
The total maturing time of the San Daniele ham is at least 13 months.
During the curing process the ham is constantly monitored. One way to check it is to pierce it with a horse-bone needle and smell it. The experience and the knowledge of the person making the ham will be able to tell how the process is developing.
Marking: at the end of the maturing process the INEQ – North East Quality Institute, authorised by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry – carries out the inspection that verifies compliance of the regulations that all the ham producers must adhere to and if everything is in order a mark will be applied to every single ham.
San Daniele is also a pretty town to visit with many places to taste its delicious ham.
Many thanks to Consorzio Prosciutto di San Daniele.