Culatello 37 Months Seasoned. Al Cavallino Bianco Restaurant. 2011 Michelin Guide Star. Antica Corte Pallavicina Relais. Polesine Parmense. Emilia Romagna. Italy. Europe. (Photo by: Eddy Buttarelli/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Food - Drink
The Medieval Italian Ham The US Has Been Missing Out On
Cured meat is both a lucrative industry and time-honored art form in Europe, especially in Italy. Fine cured meats must be made under a strict set of rules and produced in the right region for the best results, and one lesser-known cut outside of Italy is culatello, a delicious ham that has been made since medieval times.
Culatello comes from the lowlands of Parma province, north of the Emilia-Romagna region, and has been produced by Zibello area farmers as far back as the 1300s. One of the oldest cellars used for curing culatello can be found at Michelin-starred restaurant Antica Corte Pallavicina, which has been around since 1320.
Culatello has a similar color to Spanish jamón, but the texture of thin lardo (cured pork fat) that dissolves in your mouth. The meat is seasoned with amounts of salt, black pepper, and garlic before it is wrapped in a clean pig's bladder, and fog from the nearby Po River keeps cellars cold and damp while the ham ages.
This Italian ham was once banned in the U.S. due to strict regulations on "raw" pork products that could spread swine vesicular disease, culatello included. In 2013, the USDA decided that the northern regions of Italy were clear of this swine disease, but it wasn’t until 2017 that culatello was cleared for import.