I’m so excited. In just three teeny tiny little sleeps I’m off to Italy on holiday (whoop, whoop!) and it goes without saying that the thing that’s at the forefront of my mind is the food. As I mentioned in my recent PDO post, in Italy produce quality is paramount and celebrated. The very best Italian meals, the ones that really stay with you, are the simplest, where the finest quality ingredients are prepared humbly, allowing the flavours to shine. Two such ingredients, which I’m lucky enough to be ambassador for, are the distinctive and historic products, Grana Padano Cheese and Prosciutto di San Daniele.
Both of these products have a tradition in their regions dating back many hundreds of years. In approximately 1135 the Cistercian monks from the Po Valley in Northern Italy developed an original recipe to use the excess milk produced in the area. Now, nearly 1,000 years later, the traditional methods of production remain practically unchanged, ensuring that the product continues to display the same characteristics that have made it so highly esteemed throughout the centuries.
Prosciutto di San Daniele has an equally rich and celebrated history. Mentions of local “pairs of ham” can be traced right back to the 1st-5th centuries BC, which seems absolutely incredible, and certainly since the thirteenth century prosciutto has been bartered for goods and bestowed as precious gifts. Even today, the local’s celebrate their prosciutto during the annual “Aria di Festa”, which my family (sadly without me) have actually been lucky enough to visit a couple of times. For a few euros you can savour Prosciutto di San Daniele simply wrapped around breadsticks, along with a glass of wine, whilst local bands play and fireworks flash into the evening sky.
Grana Padano Cheese and Prosciutto di San Daniele are the ultimate in traceable and premium products. They are both linked inextricably to the region where they are produced, inseparable from the geographical traits, climate, culture and people that create them.
Prosciutto di San Daniele is produced in the region of San Daniele del Friuli, where the breezes of the Adriatic sea meet the colder mountain air of the Alps, creating a unique dry climate with gentle winds that is ideal for curing meat. In addition to the climate and traditional production techniques, the raw material used has to meet very particular specifications: the pigs used must be born, raised and slaughtered within ten regions of northern central Italy, and must be slaughtered at a minimum age of nine months, weighing a minimum of 160 kgs. All these elements combine to produce a prosciutto which is sweeter, nuttier and darker in colour than other Italian prosciutto. The best way to enjoy Prosciutto di San Daniele, as they do at the local festival, is very finely sliced, so that it melts in the mouth, and served simply with breadsticks. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Like Prosciutto di San Daniele, Grana Padano cheese has to comply to strict controls over both the raw ingredients and the production process. The traditional methods of producing the cheese have been handed down unchanged through the centuries, ensuring that the product continues to display the flavour, aroma, texture, and appearance for which it is celebrated. The farming practices include a special cattle diet, which results in milk with a unique flavour. Only raw semi-skimmed milk from the designated production area can be used. The cheese rounds are aged for a minimum of 9 months and up to over 24 months, and only the best wheels receive the fire-branded logo which guarantees the high-quality, PDO product. The aging process is an essential ingredient in the production of Grana Padano. As the cheese matures, the aromas and flavours evolve. There are three different vintages of the cheese: Grana Padano (aged between nine and 16 months), Grana Padano ‘over 16 months,’ and Grana Padano ‘RISERVA’ (over 20 months). The different maturation stages give it a versatility that allows it to taste great with a wide variety of wines and recipes.
These two products represent the very best in Italian produce, which in my mind ranks them amongst the best in the world. In a nation that loves and celebrates the local, and local food above all else, they are the ultimate in traditional, local, quality produce.
This post was sponsored by Consortium of Prosciutto di San Daniele and Consortium of Grana Padano Cheese. Photos kindly supplied by the Consortiums and Hannah Waldron.