The Ultimate Ham and Cheese
Posted: Monday, October 1, 2012
They share more than just a hometown. The cheese we call Parmigiano-Reggiano and the air-cured ham Prosciutto di Parma are both carefully controlled and regulated specialty foods. As sparkling wine made outside the Champagne region in France cannot be named Champagne, similar products made outside Parma or made therein but not according to very specific standards cannot be called Parmigiano-Reggiano or Prosciutto di Parma.
And there's another unique connection these delicacies share: the full-bodied, slightly nutty flavor and silky texture of Prosciutto di Parma results from the Parmigiano-Reggiano whey that is sometimes added to the Parma pigs' diet. Prosciutto di Parma can only be made within the geographical boundaries of the Parma production area, but even hams produced in this region that do not meet the requirements set by the producers' Consorzio cannot be branded with the official Parma Crown certification; neither are they allowed to even bear the Parma name. Parma pigs must be specially-bred Large White, Landrance or Duroc breeds, born and raised by authorized breeding farms located in 10 regions of central-northern Italy. In addition to the Parmigiano-Reggiano whey, these pigs enjoy a specially regulated diet blend of grains and cereals that ensure a healthy, heavy pig with a moderate, appropriate amount of daily growth. It's a process that takes longer and costs more but produces a uniquely better prosciutto than others.
Ways to Use Parma Ham
- Thin slices of Prosciutto di Parma are a welcome addition to antipasto and tapas-style sharing plates: pair with breadsticks, melon, cheese, figs, nuts and any kind of charcuterie.
- Serve slices with fish fillets.
- Toss with pasta, peas and cheese for a fresh pasta dinner.
- Stuff chicken with cheese and Prosciutto di Parma.
While we often commonly refer to it simply as "Parmesan," the official name of the cheese since 1954 has been Parmigiano-Reggiano, a testament to the role played by producers from both Parma and Reggio in defining the character of this extraordinary cheese and the methods they developed for making it properly. Four years ago, European courts ruled that cheese cannot be called Parmesan unless it conforms to the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) standards for Parmigiano-Reggiano, being produced in Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna or Mantova, Italy. Members of the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano follow strict production standards and collectively market Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Kowalski's Signature label Parmesan cheese is incredibly special. Officially labeled Caseificio di Cavola 993 Parmigiano-Reggiano (993), this raw cow's milk cheese comes from one of 12 small farms in Cavola, Emilia-Romana, Italy, in the Modena mountain region – 3,000 feet above sea level. Farmers in the Cooperative di Sociale Cavola produce small batches of cheese, in a process eight centuries old. Each wheel is aged for 24 months (as true Parmesan must) directly on the farm, rather than in a warehouse, to produce a cheese with superior flavor and texture. 993 has fruity, tropical, almost pineapple-y aromas, characteristic nuttiness, low acidity and a soft, moist paste with a delicate granular texture. It has a slightly salty, rich, sharp and sweet flavor.
Find Kowalski's Signature Parmesan Cheese in the Imported Cheese Department and Prosciutto di Parma in the Deli Department.
Photos courtesy Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma.