Continental Classics: San Daniele

21 January 2016, 09:38 AM
  • For thousands of years, San Daniele prosciutto has been the pride of the mountainous region of Italy which it calls home. Daniela Celledoni of Consorzio del Prosciutto di San Daniele explains what makes this traditional delicacy so special
Continental Classics: San Daniele

The story of San Daniele begins over two thousand years ago, when the Romans began to make proscuitto in the San Daniele area. They had discovered that keeping pork meat during winter at cold temperatures under salt they could preserve the meat for the entire year ahead. At that time, keeping food to last a long time was a major issue as, needless to say, there was no refrigeration! This was, and is, possible because of various factors. The microclimate of the geographical area is unique; it’s midway between the Alps and the Adriatic Sea, where the cool breezes from the mountains meet the warm breezes from the sea. The area is on top of a hill with a morainic soil so the water drains easily, and there is a main river beside this hill. All these things work together to form a particular microclimate which is the ideal combination of temperature, humidity and ventilation for maturing meat.

Today, the production process is still the same that it always has been – the technology has evolved, but is only used to keep the temperature consistent throughout the year. Prosciutto di San Daniele is made using only meat, salt and the unique natural atmosphere. There are lots of details which determine the quality of the end product –  for example the legs must be fresh. The process begins with the salting, the duration of which is dependent on the weight of the legs. The salt is then washed away using warm water then the legs are kept hanging in the maturing rooms at a low temperature (0-4°C) for four months. This ensures that no bacteria remains. After four months the legs are kept in different maturing rooms which have gradually increasing temperatures until they reach ambient temperature. The minimum maturation period is 13 months, as per the product specifications. After this time, all the prosciuttos are carefully inspected by the controlling body, and if they meet all of the necessary requirements they will be marked with the San Daniele brand. This is a very important step, as up until this time they are not recognised as San Daniele prosciutto – this represents a lot for consumers as they know that all San Daniele prosciutto will meet that high level of quality and care as standard. The influence of the microclimate means that you need to keep the drying process gradual. 13 months in another microclimate would create a different prosciutto; San Daniele prosciutto is recognised to be very tender and delicate in taste with a fantastic balance of sweet and savoury, and it wouldn’t be possible to create these qualities elsewhere. If it was produced in a drier climate, you would get a drier prosciutto with a more intense flavour. Another valuable element are the ingredients used – Prosciutto di San Daniele is made using the legs of Italian pigs born and raised exclusively in 10 different regions across northern and central Italy. It’s this dedication to quality and detail which have earned San Daniele prosciutto PDO status.

We have a number of documents which show that since it was first created San Daniele has been a highly prized food. In the fifteenth century the prosciutto was used like money – there are written contracts where people paid friends or renters for houses or land with San Daniele prosciutto, and we have proof that it was enjoyed by the nobility and royal families across Europe. It continues to enjoy a reputation for quality today.

For more information about Prosciutto di San Daniele, including how to sell and serve, see the full feature in the February/March issue of Speciality Food

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