Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano

There are two items I always have in my fridge and they are prosciutto and parmesan cheese.  These classic Italian items are so versatile they can be used to bring a meal together in minutes or lift an ordinary dish into another dimension.  And while I merrily use both prosciutto and parmesan in salads, pastas, sandwiches and commonly with a pre-dinner drink, my lack of knowledge on the making of these necessities and how to discern a quality product, was very limited.

Authentic prosciutto and parmigiano

Authentic prosciutto and parmigiano

I was very grateful when I was invited to a lunch at Balla to verbally learn more about prosciutto di parma and parmigiano reggiano, as well as (more enjoyably), in a four-course meal where the hero of each dish would be either the ham or the cheese.

Balla at The Star

Balla at The Star

Prosciutto di parma has been made since the Roman Empire and the centuries-old methods used to make prosciutto are the same methods still being used today.  The process begins with a specially-bred pig that is born and raised in one of the 10 designated Italian provinces.  The pigs are fed a diet of maize and barley and the whey from locally produced parmigiano.  When the pig weighs 160kgs (352lbs) the process of making the prosciutto begins.

Dining area at Balla

Dining area at Balla

The leg is trimmed to give it the classic ‘chicken leg’ shape.  The pigskin is covered in humid salt and the muscular parts are covered in dry salt and then it’s put in a climate-controlled cool room for a week.  The salt is then removed and the leg re-salted for another 15-18 days and then again, the salt is removed.  The leg is left to sit for 60-80 days.  The leg is then washed and dried and the drying process takes about a week.

The open kitchen

The open kitchen

Then the leg is hung on a special wooden frame for approximately three months in a room with windows on either side to create a flow-through breeze.  To prevent the outer layers from drying too quickly, sections are covered in a mixture of lard, salt and pepper and sometimes ground rice.

Chefs and good friends, Luca Ciano and Gabriele Taddeucci

Chefs and good friends, Luca Ciano and Gabriele Taddeucci

After seven months, the ham is transferred to the cellars with less air and light.  The ham can be left for up to 36 months.  After 12 months a horse bone needle is inserted into the ham and purely by smelling the bone, experts are able to discern the quality.  If the ham passes the smell test it is fire-branded with the Ducal Crown, a stamp of authenticity.

Table setting in the private room

Table setting in the private room

So really, all it takes to make prosciutto di parma is salt, air and time.

Beautiful fresh flowers

Beautiful fresh flowers

We tasted a 15-month prosciutto and a 24-month prosciutto. The younger prosciutto was lighter in colour, less salty and much softer.  Because it’s soft and because it’s less salty, this prosciutto would work well being wrapped around things like pork fillets, asparagus spears, melon or crostini.

15-month prosciutto is lighter in colour than 24-month prosciutto

15-month prosciutto is lighter in colour than 24-month prosciutto

The 24-month old prosciutto was more intensely flavoured and more dry because the extra hanging time removes more moisture.  It was therefore more salty.  I was asked which one I preferred but I’d be happy enjoying both.

Lunch menu

Lunch menu

The only parmesan cheese I knew when I was growing up was the green cylinder of powdered ‘parmesan’ we shook over our spaghetti.  It contained an anti-caking agent that gave it a vile taste and the cheese was known for its foul smell.  Thank goodness for progress because now there are many varieties of parmesan available.

The private dining room at Balla

The private dining room at Balla

However, with so many ‘parmesan cheeses’ available, it’s good to know how to recognise the authentic from the fakes.  Authentic parmesan is called Parmigiano Reggiano and carries a pin dot stamp on the rind and where appropriate, the Parmigiano Reggiano logo on the packet.

The ‘King of Cheeses’ has been made by hand for over 900 years.  Today, 373 dairies across a small region of Italy’s north use the same centuries-old rituals to create the prized cheese.

Beautiful fresh flowers

Love the green and white floral art

The cheese is made from cows who are fed on locally grown forage.  The milk is delivered to the dairies within two hours of milking.  The only ingredients added to the raw milk are salt, natural milk enzymes and calf renet.

Parmigiano Reggiano is 100 per cent naturally made with no additives or preservatives.  Every wheel is aged for a minimum of 12 months, the longest of any cheese.  Real parmesan has a distinct and unmistakable smell, a crumbly texture when cut and should melt in the mouth.  Parmesan is versatile and can be eaten in small chunks, used as a condiment grated on dishes or as an ingredient used in recipes.  If you hold a chunk up to your ear and break it in half, you should hear a crackling sound.

We tried an 18-month parmigiano, a 24-month and a 36-month.  The older the cheese, the sharper it is.  My favourite was the 24-month parmigiano.  If you’re very talented and discerning, when you snap each of these cheeses at your ear drum, you are be able to tell which is which by the sound of the crackle.  I’ll leave that to the experts.

On the white plate, 18-month, green plate 24-month and black plate 36 month Parmigiano Reggiano

On the white plate, 18-month, green plate 24-month and black plate 36 month Parmigiano Reggiano

To celebrate Prosciutto Di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano, Stefano Manfredi and Gabriele Taddeucci of Balla created a unique menu.  We sat in the private dining room and after a glass of Prosecco our meal began with a shared antipasti.

A glass of Prosecco

A glass of Prosecco

The puffed pastry with artichokes and parmigiano reggiano cream was amazing.  I loved the cream and found it to be smooth and subtle and that it allowed the artichokes to shine.

Puffed pastry with artichokes and parmigiano reggiano cream

Puffed pastry with artichokes and parmigiano reggiano cream

The mozzarella and prosciutto di parma roll with rocket leaves is something I would like to recreate at home as this is a great summer dish and very pretty with the three colours.  The salty prosciutto combined very well with the mellow mozzarella and the fresh rocket gave the roll great crunch.

Mozzarella and prosciutto di parma roll with rocket leaves

Mozzarella and prosciutto di parma roll with rocket leaves

The calamari and asparagus salad with pan fried prosciutto di parma was everyone’s favourite.  A wonderful blend of colour, texture and flavour.

Calamari and asparagus salad with pan fried prosciutto di parma

Calamari and asparagus salad with pan fried prosciutto di parma

The primo course of parmigiano reggiano risotto with Il Caratello balsamic vinegar was a very smooth and rich risotto.  It was very simple with no added salt beyond what was in the parmesan cheese.  The balsamic was sweet rather than acidic and was a lovely contrast to the saltiness of the parmigiano.

Parmigiano reggiano risotto with Il Caratello balsamic

Parmigiano reggiano risotto with Il Caratello balsamic

The secondo course was a veal tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto di parma with artichokes and vincotto.  The veal was tender and rare and the 15-month prosciutto helped keep the veal moist while also adding a mild saltiness to the dish.

Veal tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto di parma with artichokes and vincotto

Veal tenderloin wrapped in prosciutto di parma with artichokes and vincotto

The dolce course was very interesting.  It was olive oil mousse with crispy parmigiano reggiano and marinated strawberries.  I had never before had an olive oil mousse and it was flavoured with vanilla beans and sweetened with icing sugar.  The mousse was very smooth and creamy and you could definitely taste the olive oil.  The parmigiano wafer was very crisp and provided a great contrast of texture to the mousse.   The strawberries had been marinated in vinegar, icing sugar and star anise and they gave the dish a lovely sweetness.  Gabriele said the best way to eat the dessert is to enjoy all three components on the spoon together and I would have to agree that together, this was an incredible experience.

Olive oil mousse with crispy parmigiano reggiano and marinated strawberries

Olive oil mousse with crispy parmigiano reggiano and marinated strawberries

Learning about prosciutto and parmigiano was fascinating and what impressed me is not only how old the methods used to create both products are, but also how both items are produced so very naturally.  Next time I shop for prosciutto I’ll be looking for the Ducal crown stamp of authenticity and making sure the parmigiana has the pin dot stamp.

Alternatively, we could head to Balla where quality authentic products are used to create a wonderful Italian dining experience.

Balla at The Star

Balla at The Star

Balla at The Star:  Level G, Harbourside, The Star, 80 Pyrmont Street, Pyrmont NSW

Ph:  02 9657 9129

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Comments

  1. G’day! What a wonderful and unique experience Charlie!
    I love prosciutto and Parmesan cheese….am craving some right now too!
    Great recipes!
    Cheers! Joanne

  2. What a gorgeous setting for a beautiful lunch.
    BTW – don’t get paranoid but men with beards are following you around….

    • You are so funny, Nancy. That’s exactly what I thought when I saw Gabriele as his beard is a new thing. What is this trend? I said to him, ‘You look just like my 21-year old son’ and he said, ‘I thought if I grew a beard I’d look like all the 21-year old Gen-Y’s’. Hilarious.

  3. Being a food blogger takes you to some interesting places. The food is beautifully presented, and it’s interesting to read about all the care that goes into these products.

  4. Charlie, I am so jealous. I would love to just bring home that whole wheel of the king of the cheese and the leg of parma… Delicious and informative day for you.

  5. I have huge ham and cheese envy. Talk about top of the line!

  6. Interesting! Lucky you!!! I want that prosciutto di parma roll! Looking forward to your re-creation of it 🙂

    Julie
    Gourmet Getaways

  7. I always use to find it difficult to find the genuine articles here on the Gold Coast when I visited, but I have to delicatessens that stock some of my favourites, one even has a cheese room! What a delicious day you must have had 🙂 Liz x

  8. Reggiano is a favourite in our household although truth be told I love it and eat it much more than hubby. He mainly enjoys it as an “invisible” ingredient 🙂

  9. I had no idea how these Italian staples were made!! What an amazing experience and delicious meal!

  10. That’s a BIG Parmigiano wheel. Salty is my favourite of the 5 flavours and your post has given me some recipe ideas that I’d like to try … luckily I HAVE both items in the deli drawer of my fridge right now too.

    There are so many things to learn at those types of gatherings and we’re lucky to benefit from the information you’ve gathered. Many thanks. 🙂

  11. I learn so much about foods every single time I read your posts. Quite different from the rather ordinary foods that I eat.

  12. You are killing me! Parmesan cheese is always on tap here but prosciutto is a luxury item; they good one is not found locally and the sticker-price at good delis is astronomical here.

  13. Wow! What a fabulous experience! I can just imagine all the wonderful flavours.
    Have a super weekend ahead Charlie.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  14. Hi Charlie, what a great experience, I bet the Prosecco was perfect with the cheese and appetizers. Great post!

  15. What fun!

  16. Yummy! What an experience!

  17. A prosciutto and Parm tasting and lunch? That is something I could not refuse! I want to make those mozzarella prosciutto rolls, too…though it all looks worth recreating!

  18. Oh wow, I would have loved to attend this one… lucky ducky! Such an interesting and delicious event! Love Balla!

  19. What a fun day! didn’t have any idea (and had never even considered) how these things were made either.

  20. What a wonderful experience. Thank you for taking us with you.

    I know that it would be a bit of a hike for you, but Paesanella at Haberfield have a mozzarella roll similar to the one above. In fact, they have two – one with prosciutto & spinach and the other smoked salmon.

  21. How wonderful to really learn from someone who knows their product so well Charlie. We grew up with those ‘green tubes’ as well and they should definitely be outlawed indeed! Xox

  22. I loved reading this Charlie, I think I’m just a little bit like you were & never really appreciated how much time & process went into the creation of whats become such a staple must have piece of heaven. Thanks.

  23. Their prosciutto process is a lot more in depth than ours. The meat looked delicious and the cheeses a treat!

  24. This food looks like my idea of heaven. I can’t decide which dish appeals most, but those puff pastries are screaming at me to try to recreate them. I once took a course in balsamic vinegar and then one paired with it on Parmesan cheese at an IACP Convention. After trying to decide which country the cheese came from, we then had four pieces of the real deal from Italy and had to tell which season they were from–looking for the taste of chestnuts, hay, etc. Wow! I had no idea. I can imagine that this was a fantastic experience for you, because it certainly is for me as a loyal fan reading about it!

  25. This is a meal and event that I would have loved. Parmigiano Reggiano is one of my favorite ingredients as “the real thing” elevates whatever you put it on, so I always have some. I also adore prosciutto de Parma, but don’t have it as often as the the price is very high. What a fantastic meal and I learned a lot I didn’t know about these two products I love…thank you!

  26. I would have absolutely LOVED to have been at this tasting dinner. What an incredible spread. I swear I have Italian somewhere in my blood, although I’ve yet to find it. You wouldn’t know it by my food tastes though. It looks like you had a delicious evening.

  27. Oh you lucky girl!! Two of my favorite ages and salty goods! Bet your mouth was bursting with flavors of all kinds by the time the day was done.

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  1. […] and produce tour of Italy.  While there he visited the town where prosciutto di parma is made and stamped with the ducal crown.  James now stocks that authentic Italian prosciutto and you will find it’s much more […]

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