Quiz: It’s a delicate, rosy cured meat, made from the hind leg of a Po Valley pig. It’s aged for nearly a year, sliced razor-thin and served as the star of the antipasto platter. And it’s among the most prized products of the region of Parma.
Prosciutto di Parma? Wrong—it’s culatello.
While Parma’s PDO-protected prosciutto is often considered the king of Italian hams, there’s another meat that reigns supreme. Prosciutto is made from the muscle of a pig’s hind leg, but culatello takes just that muscle’s center—a choice cut of an already-prized leg of ham. That meat is then boned, rubbed in salt and often wine, and wrapped in the pig’s own bladder, before it’s left to age for at least ten or eleven months in the humid air of the Po River valley. The result is a meltingly tender, almost buttery ham with a flavor less salty and more delicate than a traditional prosciutto.
While culatello is renowned in Northern Italy, however, and culatello di Zibello
has earned PDO status, it cannot be imported to the United States. FDA concerns over sanitation and contamination have kept the meat from American shores. In response, some domestic salumiere
—including the Seattle shop Salumi
, owned by Mario Batali’s father Armandino—have taken to producing the meat themselves, in accordance with strict health regulations. Of course, with American pigs, Washington soil, an altered process, and a Northwestern climate, the culatello will inevitably differ. But with Italian imports prohibited, domestic culatello may be the next best thing.