Culatello the king of cured meats - how to visit the producers in Italy.
Culatello is an Italian cold cut obtained form the best part of the pig: the back legs. The main differences between Parma ham and culatello are the followings: area of production, and the technique of curing the meats..
Culatello and its area of production – Parma province.
This ham is produced north of Parma on the flat lands of Pianura Padana. The huge flat lands that stretch from the Alps to the Apennini mountains in Italy, The PDO area of production is tiny making this product unique, highly sought after and luxurious, notably the towns of production are Busseto, Polesine Parmense, Zibello, Soragna, Roccabianca, San Secondo, Sissa and Colorno. Here the climate is much more humid and foggy than anywhere else in the area. Because of this characteristics it would be impossible to cure the ham on the bone as we would do for the Parma ham. Therefore with culatello the bone is removed to obtain 2 cuts, the main one culatello (literally the little ass) and the fiocchetto which is the inner muscle of the leg. The ingredients are just freshly slaughtered meat, salt and pepper.
How culatello is cured – the brick cellars.
Culatello requires humid brick cellars that are in the basement of buildings. The ham is then placed in a natural casing (pig bladder), tied and rubbed with salt and pepper only, also the meat need to reach the producer quickly from the moment of the slaughter to keep the bacterial load low, which helps to cure the meat without the use of artificial preservatives. Culatello will spend at least 12 months in these traditional cellars before being inspected by the experts of the consortium of Culatello di Zibello. The product is examined with a wooden mallet checking for potential defects.
Parma ham VS Culatello of Zibello.
Is one better than the other? Well there will be a lot of debate if we say so. In short they are 2 different produces. Parma ham has a very sweet taste and it is cured with very little salt however it is produced on a larger scale with a larger output while still maintaining the consortium high quality. Culatello remains a niche gourmet product still made by a handful producers with methods that track back to their grand fathers or sometimes their grand grand fathers. Culatello is also more difficult to obtain and it is more labour intensive than Parma ham. Finally culatello has a more elegant, fragrant, structured and prolonged flavour than Parma ham. It is drier in texture and more savoury and the taste keeps flowing as you chew it.
The final product – how to prepare it.
When finally becomes the so acclaimed gourmet products (it can cost up to 70 euros a kg), the meats are bright red with nice marbling of fat, which enhance the delicate savoury taste. In order to eat the ham, you will need to prepare it. You will need to remove the strings used to tie it, and soak it in wine for a few hours. This will help to remove easily the bladder . Once this is done you will have to slice it very thinly. A slicing machine gives the best results.
How to eat Culatello di Zibello.
Culatello it is a great appetiser, and it would go with a glass of Fortana del Taro wine, or Malvasia and why not with a nice glass or Lambrusco. As part of your appetiser dish you can also add some shaving of Parmesan and few drops of balsamic vinegar of Modena or Reggio Emilia.
How to visit a culatello producers in Parma.
Emilia Delizia can organise a culatello English guided tour, from Parma as part of our gourmet tours in Italy. We can pick you up from your hotel or meet you at a designated location. Our tours will always include a detailed visit and a generous final tasting. Don’t forget that this experience can be mixed with the Parmesan production, wine tours and balsamic vinegar production and cookery experiences.
Culatello making classes – Culinary experiences in Parma
For those interested in a hands on approach, we organise culatello ham curing techniques. Our highly trained master curer will show you how the make the precious ham. The typical class will last one morning and the participants will learn how to prepare, cure, and tie the meat according the ancient Italian tradition. Your product will be aged in the cellars and it can be sent to you when it is ready.
Cualtello tasting visits with cycling along the Po’ River.
The Po’ river has a lot to offer, in terms of gastronomic adventures that can be combined with cycling tours departing from Parma with destination Cremona, of course with the use of river boats. The Po’ also has a network of cycling paths touching many producers of culatello.