Culatello is a pear-shaped, air-cured ham made the province of Parma in the region of Emilia Romagna, Italy, particularly the towns of Busseto, Colorno, Polesine, Roccabianca, San Secondo, Sissa, Soragna, and Zibello. All these villages are on the right bank of the Po River.
The ham is made from November to February from rear parts of the back thighs of pigs. The pigs have to be born, raised and slaughtered in either Lombardy or Emilia-Romagna.
The meat is boned, skinned, salted, and let cure in a refrigerated room for 6 to 8 days (the meat is massaged for the first two days of this to work the salt into it.) A mixture of rock salt and crushed pepper is used in the first days, with garlic and white wine added towards the end of the salting.
The meat is then shaped into a pear shape, packed into a pig's bladder, and tied with a net of string, ensuring there are no air pockets inside. It is then hung to dry and age for at least 12 months, though the aging can go up to 3 years. The first 2 to 4 months are in a well-ventilated area; the remainder of the aging time is in a humid cellar. The cellars used to have dirt floors, but by law the cellars now have to be tiled. Only industrial producers, though, have to comply with the law, not small artisanal producers.
The ham loses about half its weight during aging. A finished weight ranges from 3 1/2 to 11 pounds (3 to 5 kg.)
The meat comes out red, with white fat, and a sweet, delicate taste.
It is very expensive, as the whole thigh could have been used for prosciutto -- it costs about 4 times as much as prosciutto.
Culatello di Zibello is a PDO ham since 2 July 1996. Its production is administered by a consortium called "Consorzio del Culatello di Zibello", headquartered in Zibello.
Plain "Culatello" isn't a PDO ham, and sells for about half the price.
To use, remove string and either:
- rinse the ham under running water and scrub, remove bladder casing, trim away external fat;
- or put in a pot of wine for 3 days, then trim away external fat
To serve, cut into thin slices.
To store after that, rub the cut part with butter and olive oil, wrap in a cloth. Store in a cool place (not a fridge.)