Tuesday evening, I was invited to attend the 50th Anniversary gathering for the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma (the association of producers who safeguard its brand and quality) held at Osteria Morini on the edge of Soho. Now that my evenings are not occupied with culinary school courses, studying for exams or taking on extra kitchen shifts to practice for practical tests, my schedule has opened up so that I can get out and enjoy some of the food events taking place in the city. Having lived and studied in Bologna, Italy for several years, Prosciutto di Parma has a special place in my heart and in my belly, so I was really excited that my calendar was open for me to be there.
The evening was a celebration of all things prosciutto, with the meat incorporated into each of the dishes that was served. To start off, I couldn’t resist trying a cocktail version of that standard dinner party appetizer Prosciutto e Melone (melon – usually cantaloupe – served with paper-thin slices of prosciutto). As you can see from the photo, this adaptation was a fizzy melon-based drink with crunchy prosciutto crumbs dusted around the rim. This concoction took a bit of getting used to, seeing solid food in liquid and alcoholic form, however, it really, almost perfectly, captured the bite of ripe, juicy fruit paired with salty meat that makes the dish a summertime favorite.
What I was really there for was to sample some prosciutto, so my next stop was over to the display table where they had samples aged for various time periods: 12-, 18-, and 24-months. This was a cured meat-lovers dream with platters of rosey-pink ribbons of pork edged with glistening white fat piled high, waiting to be served to the guests. There was a small plate to the side of the display with some sliced mortadella and other salumi, but the real belles of the ball that evening were the varieties of Prosciutto di Parma.
Trying each of the selections side by side opened up my understanding of just how the aging process works to create this product. Every one of the different types of prosciutto has a distinct texture, taste, and mouthfeel, depending upon how old it is. My favorite had to be the 24-month, where the meat was delicate, yet full of deep flavor, and the fat had a lusciousness that made it just melt on my tongue. This is the kind of combination that can make you swoon and pine for more.
To complete my culinary exploration on this topic, I headed over to the table where a representative from the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma was slicing pieces of meat by hand for everyone to try. Again, there were some distinct differences from the previous samples I’d eaten. The color of the meat had deepened into a light brick color. The fat was even more meltingly tender and the flavor of the meat seemed saltier and crisper somehow. It reminded me more of a Virginia country ham than of a prosciutto. I think my favorite of the ones that I tried was the 24-month-old. That meat was still delicate and fragrant with the fat so beautifully soft and tender.
After all those samples of salty, fatty meat, I was ready to see what else the chef had created using prosciutto. Fortunately, a server was walking by with some tempting Prosciutto Ice Cream Cones with Balsamic-Berry Sauce. I was intrigued to try these sweet-savory combinations, to see if it would all work together. While I didn’t get a lot of porky flavor in the ice cream, it was terrific-tasting and the sauce was a great match for it.
Wondering if there should be a bit more prosciutto represented in the dessert that I’d just eaten, I didn’t hesitate to take one of the Prosciutto Panna Cotta with Apricot Jam and Prosciutto Crumbles that was offered by another server who was passing them out. This dish definitely captured the essence of prosciutto in the panna cotta. The dollop of apricot jam provided a balance of sweetness to the pork undertones of the creamy panna cotta, much like the pairing of melon + prosciutto, with an extra pop of meatiness from the crumbles sprinkled on top.
In case anyone was hungry or hadn’t yet had their fill of prosciutto-themed dishes, there were also some other stations with other items that demonstrated the wide variety of uses for this food and showing that it doesn’t always have to take center stage on the plate. There were rich, pillowy Cappelletti filled with hearty truffled ricotta, melted butter, and prosciutto. Next on my plate were Tortellini Zingara creamy, meat-filled pasta served with peas, red peppers, and asparagus. Rounding out the trio were delicate, light Farfalle with Asparagus and Prosciutto.
Because one of the things I miss so much about living in Italy is the incredibly delicious handmade, housemade pasta, for me, this was the perfect way to end the evening. I couldn’t leave, however, without a last look at the star of the evening, the beautiful leg of Prosciutto di Parma that was on display by one of the carving stations. After the prosciutto tasting sessions at this event and after munching on several dishes made using prosciutto as an ingredient, I left with a greater appreciation than ever of the work and craftsmanship that goes into making this product.