A couple of days ago, Erika of In Erika’s Kitchen asked chef, restauranteur and KCRW’s “Good Food” host, Chef Evan Kleiman, why we are not making quality prosciutto here in the States. Prosciutto along the ranks of that from the region of Parma. Parma, located in the Northern half of Italy, is one of the top producers of quality prosciutto. Thanks to the Parma Ham Consortium, along with the Protected Denomination of Origin (P.D.O.) the region has a cultural and legal protection over the production of its product. Due to the layout of the Apennine mountains, the surrounding hilly landscape and pigs chosen and bred by authorized breeders, Parma ham is a result of several unique factors that make it stand out among other cured meat producers. After a couple of hours learning more about Prosciutto di Parma with Evan Kleiman, we were given a rundown of the specific elements that contribute to the making of Parma ham that make it stand out in a class all its own.
For many of us, we may find the specific jobs of Parma ham handlers to be slightly comical. There is a Master Salter who controls the amount of preserving salt used on the meat. There is also someone in charge of opening and closing the windows in the seasoning rooms, so that the local air will dry the meat at the appropriate rate, time and pressure. This process repeats as the cured ham makes its way through various seasoning rooms, each time picking up a new brand mark on the rind. Finally, after one year, if they pass the test, each one will receive the Ducal Crown branding and be available for sale. There are more than 170 members of the Parma Ham Consortium who follow these same procedures, holding on to a high level of tradition, quality and care for the final product.
Many of us here in the L.A. scene know Chef Evan Kleiman from her years running Angelli Cafe, as well as hosting KCRW’s “Good Food”. Now that the restaurant’s doors have closed, Chef Kleiman has been able to experience a year traveling, learning, cooking and telling new stories upon each return. She traveled with the Parma USA team to Parma, Italy for a true blue look at the full production phase. And of course, she ate. There was no shortage of food, although there was a shortage of vegetables in the mix. It is a land of prosciutto, cheese and balsamic vinegar. You have to roll with the punches. Kleiman’s recommendations for prosciutto are simple to remember: Buy high quality, do not cook it, do not be afraid of it just because it is pork. Kleiman actually compared it to sushi. Due to the preservation process, as well as the cut of meat, it is much easier for the body to process, breakdown and strip for nutrients in comparison to other meats. In that way, it is a fairly healthy option in moderation.
We were teased with plates of 18 month and 24 month cured and 24 month aged Parmigiano cheese. Soon, it was time to eat. Kleiman prepared a quick risotto with a couple sticks of butter, onions, rice, chicken stock, water and a topping of prosciutto. We munched on her perfectly crusted pizza with onions, mozzarella and proscuitto. The prosciutto was draped on top as soon as the pizza came out of the oven. Next up, a beautiful plate of juicy dates stuffed with a mix of goat cheese, lavender and fennel pollen, then held together with prosciutto. Dessert was indeed a sweet treat. We crunched on candid shards of prosciutto topped with a mixture of ricotta cheese, sugar, lemon oil and chunks of dark chocolate. It was quite the lunch.
With such a small, intimate group at the event, we had plenty of time to ask Evan a number of questions in regards to prosciutto or anything else. Apparently there is a severe lack of vegetable intake in Parma, they are very serious about stopping anyone from smuggling Parma ham through customs, and the Italians have a special word that you must know if you want to make great risotto. The latter has nothing to do with prosciutto unless you eat the two together. Oh, and Evan does all of her baking in a toaster oven. That may have been the most shocking bit of information we learned all day. Here is a short video:
There are a number of ways to incorporate prosciutto into various meals throughout the year, whether it’s a special occasion, holiday or just the week night meal. Evan Kleiman showcased four different uses for prosciutto, and the above photos from Prosciutto di Parma should offer inspiration as well. For more recipes, videos, photos and information about Prosciutto di Parma, check out the official Facebook page.
Disclaimer: We were invited to attend this event hosted by Prosciutto di Parma. Attendees received prosciutto as a parting gift. All opinions are our own.