Hailing from the Parma region of Italy, Culatello is considered a superior cured meat from the pork haunch, which boasts a clean and delicate flavor unlike many classic Italian cured meats. The hind muscle of a pig's thigh, usually reserved for prosciutto, is boned, and the best part is reserved. It is then salted, spiced, and then tucked into the pig's bladder, bound with string and dried for two to three months in a well-aired environment.
Following this, the meat is transferred to a humid, dirt-floored cellar for at least 10 months of aging. During this process, the culatello loses about half of its weight and the final product results in a distinctive pear-shaped ham with uniformly red meat, speckled with pieces of white fat between the muscle fibers. Culatello's scent is intense and distinctive, while the taste is sweet and delicate – a perfect addition to an antipasto platter. The cost is pricey, about 35 to 40 dollars per pound, or four times more than a normal prosciutto.
Recently, Italian health authorities have determined the traditional environment for aging culatello unsanitary, and that producers should tile their cellars to eliminate the humidity that seeps up from the area's underground lagoon. Industrial manufacturers must comply with the law, but a few artisans, known as "Norcinis," still make culatello in the traditional method.
According to Faith Willinger (www.faithwillinger.com), the Arcisodalizio per la Ricerca del Culatello Supremo, a fraternal organization, hosts a culatello competition in the castle in the village of San Secondo on the last Saturday of March. Here, guests can taste culatello at its finest. Contact Lino Pezzarossa, Arcisodalizio per la Ricerca del Culatello Supremo, Castello di San Secondo, San Secondo 43019, tel. 39-0336-565-011.