18 June 2009

The other red meat

Whenever we return to Philly after a few weeks in Italy, we wonder at the lack of good American aged ham. Lots of classic European foods and beverages have been successfully adopted and adapted by high-quality small producers in the US: wine, espresso, cheese, chocolate, beer, and bread are just a few. So why not ham?

The imported prosciutto available in the US is either from Parma or San Danielle, and both are excellent examples. But they're a tiny fraction of prosciutto styles in Italy where, until recently, each village made its own, and now at least each region has its own, the flavors influenced by what the pigs eat and the environment in which the hams age. As an American friend living in Italy remarked a few years ago when we were discussing the lack of such hams in the US, "making prosciutto is really easy."

I can't vouch for that, personally, but salt-curing meat isn't exactly a new science. So again, why not quality hams in the US? According to a recent article in the NYT by Harold McGee (author of the excellent book on the science of cooking, On Food and Cooking), there actually is quality ham being produced in the US, and s'prise, s'prise, the key is using mature, fatty pigs instead of rushed-to-market pigs and taking a leisurely approach to the aging. I don't know how one gets ahold of it if you're not a chef using enough to buy a whole leg, but I do know that whenever it is we return home, I've got a few trips to make through ham country.

1 comment:

  1. Pigs definitely matter. As you've noted before, ham is big in France but, just as in the US, the European White is the dominant strain. We have a friend who is involved in trying to "bring back" the Gascon Black and establish an AOC for it. The hams are precious and spoken for so he eats the other parts. Those were the best tasting pork chops I've ever had.