All About Cured Meats

Cesara Casella from Casella’s Prosciutto

Cesara Casella from Casella’s Prosciutto

I love the cured meats we have in the store, but I never give them any attention in this newsletter, so today’s the day. We have a lot of lovely cured hams right now, so here’s a rundown of those beauties: 

Jamón Serrano – I think of this as prosciutto’s Spanish cousin who plays rock shows around the world. Everyone knows it, everyone’s happy to jam with it. Jamón Serrano is meatier than prosciutto with less fat marbling. If you’re feeling like imitating the Spanish, and who isn’t, ask for it sliced a little on the thicker side. This way the flavor is like BAM MEAT!! While I usually eat it by itself, I also like it in a sandwich – Serrano, cheese, and bread, sizzled up in a pan with plenty of olive oil until the cheese starts to get melty. Eat this messy sandwich with a tall glass of cold, crisp pilsner. And some potato chips. And a soccer match going on in the background! And a warm breeze coming in from the open door! Mmmm Spaiiiin. What were we talking about again?

Fermín Paleta Ibérico de Bellota – This is our fanciest and tastiest ham and really deserves it’s own newsletter, which it will get. This is the famous cured pork also from Spain which involves the black-footed pig that gorges itself on acorns, making the meat especially nutty and sweet. An Ibérico producer once told us that we should be eating slices the size of our tongues so we can experience the flavors across our whole palette. It is a truly special product and I always, always have it on my New Year’s Eve table because it’s my favorite way to celebrate and set a precedent for excellent things to come.

Jambon de Bayonne – France’s wonderful cured ham has only been imported into the USA since 2015, so we have a lot of Jambon de Bayonne eating to make up for! People in southwestern France have produced Bayonne for over a thousand years, though no one really knows who started making it when. There is a legend that the Count of Foix was on a hunt and shot a massive boar and although it was wounded, it was still able to escape the party. Months later, they found the boar perfectly preserved in a salt water spring, and this being 1000 years ago, they decided to take a taste. It was delicious and they started replicating the process on purpose. Thus, Jambon de Bayonne was born! While this first story is probably definitely true, the other, maybe more realistic option is that the Romans cured pork and brought it wherever they went. This is still kind of cool, but less romantic than a dashing count on a noble steed. I guess we can have a dashing Roman on a noble steed instead, that works too. Anyway, thanks to the counts, the Romans, and the French we have this tasty grassy, meaty, slightly peppery wonder. 

Pio Tosini Prosciutto di Parma – I have a bit of an emotional attachment to this one because when I first started at the shop, I worked in the meat section because the selection is much smaller than on the cheese side, thus easier to learn and manage. In my stress and panic of being “on stage” all day and trying to give customers the help they should be getting, I latched onto telling the Tosini family story. It was the first of many producers’ stories I would learn and love to tell. Pio was my safety blanket in salty, porky form. The Tosini family has been making prosciutto for over 110 years in the Emilia Romagna, Itlay. They work in the small town of Langhirano, just south of Parma, where a dry sea breeze blows across the hills and through the forests. The Tosinis say this breeze and a 20-month aging period gives their prosciutto complexity and sweetness. I agree.

Casella’s Prosciutto Speciale – All of us at the shop are pretty smitten with this prosciutto from Hurleyville, NY. Sometimes when we tell customers how much we love it, we get a skeptical look, “Prosciutto from New York? Is that any good?” I admit I too was skeptical when we first got it in, but one bite and I was completely hooked. Cesare Casella grew up in Vipore, Tuscany helping norcini (travelling butchers) prepare prosciutti. After they left, he continued to vigilantly care for the prosciutti as they aged, talking to them about their lives as pigs. This meat whisperer who often wears a bunch of fresh rosemary in his chef’s coat pocket because it is his favorite herb, came to the USA in the early 1990s to bring his food to the American public. He uses American heritage breeds to produce his luscious, melt-in-your- mouth prosciutto. Seriously, it will melt if you have the willpower not to chew it and shove another piece into your mouth ASAP because it’s TOO DELICOUS! 

For the love of cheese and meats with a story,