A few months ago, we sent our Imports & Exports Procurement Manager, Scott Case, on an Italian trade mission to Italy. Along with representatives from several other specialty retailers from around the USA, he scoured local markets and shops for new products and visited with several producers of authentic Italian specialty products. This effort was to bolster trade with Italy and to ensure that the word is getting out about the great work these small, artisan producers are doing.
We’re thrilled to share with you all his adventures in Italy and some of the wonderful products he found while abroad. With any luck, some of these might be hitting our shelves and site in the coming months!
Scott’s Adventures in Italy, Day 4: Parma
The theme of today’s visits centered on the combination of the Italian approach to tradition combined with innovation. The quote, “L’innovazione e’ la traduzione riuscita bene,” or “Innovation is the result of well managed tradition,” came from Mirella Galloni, the daughter of the founder of Fratelli Galloni. Our fourth day in Italy ended in Parma with a visit to one of the Galloni prosciuttifici (prosciutto crudo plants.) In Langhirano, Parma, between the Alps and the Appenines in the Po River valley, the Galloni family has been building their reputation as one of the best producers of crudo since 1960. Mirella pays close attention to the traditional production, which her father started learning in 1938 as an apprentice. For example, what separates Galloni prosciutto from other brands is their patience in allowing naturally occurring yeasts to grow on the surface of the aging hams. To walk into the first aging room is like walking into bakery – the yeasty, bready aroma was really surprising.
Another distinction is that Galloni holds their hams back from sales until they have been aged a minimum of 16 months (in comparison, other prosciuttifici sell their hams at the USDA-mandated minimum 400 days). This is to allow more development of lysine, an amino acid, in the meat. Allowing for more lysine, as Mirella put it, creates a more flavorful and tender leg of crudo. Finally, while walking through the final aging area, I noticed that the legs of ham were a little dusty – not with yeast, but with a sandy colored powder, similar to something I had seen at Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm on clothbound wheels of their cheddar. Mirella confirmed my suspicions – these were the acari or mites. The exposed meat on the legs of ham had been covered with lard – manna from heaven for mites. While protecting the ham and keeping it moist inside, the mites would eat away at the lard. Mirella said that her father taught her that seeing a lot of mite “dust” on a leg of ham was an indicator of an exceptional leg of ham. Unfortunately, because of USDA rules, Galloni can’t allow too much miting so the aging rooms are scoured and cleaned every day. (In their other facilities, Galloni allows for more miting, as the European Union is not as strict as the USDA.)
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the tour had to do with the salagione, or salting, of the legs of ham. Unlike other manufacturers, who might use a machine to salt their prosciutto, Galloni’s mastri salatori (master salters) salt each leg by hand. Mirella said that industrial prosciuttifici can process up to 900 legs per hour; at Galloni, they max out at 100. The key is the salters’ expertise: they quickly analyze the color and texture of the raw product and determine exactly how much salt is appropriate – a darker, more rosy leg of ham might receive a generous rubbing; slightly less pink and the salter goes a little lighter. Also, the season plays a part in the salting as well – the meat reacts differently in warm weather as opposed to cold. In this way, the salters are like artists painting on a canvas, adjusting and affecting each leg to ensure that each leg comes out perfectly.
All in all, the trip was extremely educational, entertaining and, of course, full of great, delicious food. Thank you for sharing the journey with me!