Monday, July 13, 2015

Italy: San Daniele del Friuli

     We arrived very late on a Thursday evening and were lucky that the gate guards were still manning the office.  We checked in and after a short drive around the compound, we found ourselves looking into a guest room that made an old college dormitory room look like luxury accomodations.  We were in Northern Italy for a swim meet and while the pool facility was spectacular, our living arrangements were, frankly, horrid.  We had arrived in advance of the swim meet and we knew that we definitely needed to have some sort of sightseeing plan.  There was no need to stay around the compound, even if it was located on the Adriatic.  
     Armed with several options provided by the father of Dear Daughter's best friend who was from the region, we headed out after a breakfast of stale bread and cold coffee.  The first city was just that...a city with little charm and no reason to stay.  We considered backtracking and heading to Venice, which was only 45 minutes away but we had already been there, done that...twice.  Nearing eleven o'clock and with stomachs grumbling, we started in the direction of San Daniele del Friuli.  Perhaps, it would be a smaller village and would provide some sort of decent lunch options.  
     We hit the mother-load.  San Daniele del Friuli is the home of Prosciutto San Daniele.  Now, I had heard of Prosciutto di Parma but I had never heard of Prosciutto San Daniele.  However, in my mind, cured ham was cured ham.  We were about to get a huge education not to mention a lunch worth remembering.
     Prosciutto San Daniele has a Protected Designation of Origin or PDO.  Extremely important in Italy, it means that specific requirements and regulations are in place.  The pigs have to be born and bred in one of 10 regions of Italy.  There is no freezing of the meat and contains no additives or preservatives.  The hams must be cured in sea salt and left for at least 13 months to mature.  The farms are regularly inspected and even the pigs' diets are dictated by the Production Specifications of Prosciutto di San Daniele.    The Consortium seal is branded into the meat along with an ID code, which identifies the farm where the pig was raised, the month of the pig's birth and start date of the pig's processing.  
     What makes Prosciutto San Daniele different that Prosciutto di Parma?  Prosciutto San Daniele has the trotter still attached - which is the foot of the pig.  The producers believe that this enhances the maturation process and the foot is frequently cut off to make a good soup base.  Its lower salt content makes the ham sweeter with a more delicate flavor.  Finally, the town's location provides a unique microclimate for curing with winds coming from the Alps in the north to mingle with the sea breezes of the Adriatic coming from the south.
      Prosciutto making has been occurring around this villages for thousands of years.  The Celts first brought the process of curing meats with salts to the region.  Taxes were frequently paid with prosciutto and it is said that Napoleon retreated to France with 2,000 hams. Even today, doctors frequently prescribe it as a good source of protein.
     So here, we are in prosciutto heaven.  Every restaurant in town boasts prosciutto. How do we pick a place?  Easy - the one closest to our car park.  L'Osteria is right across the street from our parking lot and on the edge of the village.  Upon entering, we are immediately in a small bar area.  It is still a bit too early for lunch so we sit at the bar and order glasses of white wine.  The bar area has seating for ten or so people and even now, there are three or four older gentlemen are drinking coffees or small glasses of wine.  We see the first diners enter about 15 minutes after our arrival.  We watch them with great interest as they speak to the waitress and a bevy of dishes begin to arrive.
     Without much thought, we realize that we are destined for lunch here.  We speak no Italian but through hand signals we are guided to a small table in the middle of the room.  We never received a menu but that was not a problem.  We pointed to our neighbors' table as if to say, "We will have what they are having."  Moments later the train of dishes started to appear.  First, a plate of sliced Italian bread heaping with lardo drizzled with a balsamic glaze.  Yes, you have guessed it...lardo is pork fat that has been cured with salt and spices and before you turn your nose up at is amazing!  Then a large plate of freshly sliced Prosciutto San Daniele came accompanied by smaller plates of mozzarella, local cheeses, balsamic marinated pearl onions, peppers, Italian bread and breadsticks.  Given my love of picnics, this was the best indoor picnic - EVER!
Luscious Lardo!

     The town isn't too bad either; small and quiet with wonderful old chapels containing ancient frescos and prosciutto shops on every corner.  I managed to bring a kilo back to Belgium with me and we munched on it for weeks.  Even now, the memory brings a smile to all of us.  Upon arrival in the States, we wondered if we would ever find Prosciutto San Daniele here or lardo.  In Berlin, we all were giddy when we found lardo at the KaDeWe and I have to say, it managed to come home with us.  Back in Pittsburgh, we were thrilled to see Prosciutto San Daniele for sale at our favorite Italian Market.  With each visit, at least a pound comes home with us.  Even last night after a weekend of swim meets, we gathered around the kitchen table and recreated the meal.  It was delicious.
Plates of beautiful mozzarella and freshly sliced Prosciutto San Daniele

Marinated onions

     So imagine my surprise today, when after doing a bit a research, I learned that the Prosciutto San Daniele that we buy here is not the same Prosciutto San Daniele that we bought there.  Oh, it still comes from pigs from one of the 10 regions or Italy.  It even is made by the some of the same producers.  However, in the United States, the foot is not allowed to be attached - so the trotter is cut off before shipping.  I can deal with that but more importantly; however, is that there is a bacteria that is in the ham...very small traces...which is not allowed in the United States.  The hams bound for the US cannot come into contact with the hams bound for Italy and the rest of Europe (or the world).  Europe allows 100 units per gram of the bacteria, which is slight.  The US allows 0.  Given all of the stringent regulations placed on the Italian producers, I think we are lucky that any of this delicacy even makes it into the US.  
     Now, I wish that I had never learned this fact.  I would have been blissfully happy going on throughout my life thinking that I was eating the exact same ham as I did in Italy.  However, the bottom line is:  Do I like what I can get here?  The answer is definitely YES and the memory of that wonderful lunch will be remembered with each future bite.
     Now to Clarion River Organics and our shipment of last week:  Much of what we received requires no or little cooking:  a head of red lettuce, a small batch of carrots, sprigs of dill and five ears of sweet corn.  I haven't been able to cook with the peas that we have received for two consecutive weeks because Dear Daughter will eat them all - raw.  For the B and C (broccoli and cauliflower), I will take the advice of a friend and make soups.  I am actually eager about the Cauliflower Soup with Chorizo Breadcrumbs ,which I will make tomorrow night.  If it good, I will share it with you later in the week.
     Even with the CSA, I could not pass up the opportunity to do a bit of farming.  Take a look at this!

One Zucchini and One Cucumber Plant!


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