Culatello di Zibello is a typical product from the Lower Parma area (‘Bassa Parmense’), in the Italian region of Emilia Romagna, considered of such value to deserve the nickname ‘King of hams’. Never as in this case, the connection between a specialty and its territory of origin is not only very strong, but essential: the peculiar climatic conditions of its birthplace give in fact to Culatello the organoleptic characteristics that make it unique and, de facto, inimitable. Let’s find out these characteristics, with the precious help of the producers, gathered in the Consorzio di Tutela del Culatello di Zibello.
What is Culatello?
‘Culatello’ is a cured meat produced for many centuries in some villages of the Parma province: above all, the Municipality of Zibello. The connection between this specialty and its territory of origin is indissoluble: regarding this, it should be remembered that its unique taste depends, among other things, on the peculiar alternation in this area of hot and dry summers with cold and humid winters (*1).
Result of the processing of the finest parts of the pork leg, Culatello has a typical ‘pear’ shape, whose weight can vary from three to five kilos. Its flesh is reddish, surrounded by white fat. The taste is sweet and delicate, defined by a particular aroma developing during the maturing phase thanks to the formation of natural molds on its outer surface, and to the special characteristics of the maturing rooms.
*1: Not by chance, the connoisseurs of this specialty, describing its flavor, say it has the ‘aroma of mist’;
The history of Culatello.
It’s quite difficult to establish with precision the date of birth of Culatello. Although some claim it was served in 1332, during the wedding banquet between two scions of the Parma nobility (*1), this assertion is not supported by official documents certifying its veracity. For the same reason, it’s not easy to demonstrate another theory, also very popular, according to which, in the mid-15th century, the specialty was offered as a gift by the Marquises Pallavicino (*2) to Galeazzo Sforza, Duke of Milan.
All this should not surprise too much: the origins of the products closely linked to the rural tradition are almost always shrouded in an aura of mystery. However, it should be emphasized that, in the case of Culatello, it’s possible to hypothesize that these origins date back to the medieval period.
The oldest written records come down to us containing an explicit reference to this specialty are the ‘calmieri’ drawn up in the first half of the 18th century on behalf of the Duchy of Parma and Piacenza, also known as ‘Calmieri della carne porcina salata’ (*3): they are a sort of price lists of the cured meats marketed at the time (*4).
It’s worth noting that, at least initially, Culatello was cheaper than fatty salami (‘Salame Grasso’): something that, in time, would have changed. Throughout the nineteenth century, the delicacy enjoyed ever-growing fame, until, in the early 1900s, it found its consecration, starting to be considered the ‘King’ of cured meats.
*1: Andrea dei Conti Rossi and Giovanna dei Conti Sanvitale;
*2: The Pallavicino family (or ‘Pallavicini’), was one of the most important in Northern Italy at medieval times. They ruled, among other things, over the marquisates of Busseto and Cortemaggiore;
*3: ‘Price lists of salted pork meats’.
*4: The ‘Calmiere della carne porcina salata’ (1776), mentions two types of Culatello: the ‘Culatello without bone’, essentially a boneless ham, and the ‘Culatello investito’, contained in a natural casing and much similar to the specialty we appreciate today;
The pigs for Culatello di Zibello.
The Product Specification of Culatello di Zibello, whose respect is guaranteed by the Consorzio, concerning the pigs used to make the ham, refers to the Product Specifications of two other famous Italian specialties: the Prosciutto di Parma and the Prosciutto di San Daniele.
Its rules are very important, specifying, for example, the pig breeds accepted: they are the Large White, the Landrance, and the Duroc. The document states that only the muscular part of their thigh can be used: this, once trimmed properly, must get the typical ‘pear’ shape. Extremely important is the designation of the breeding area, which is limited to the territories of the Italian regions of Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy.
The preparation of Culatello di Zibello PDO.
The preparation method of Culatello di Zibello is the most important part of the Product Specification, recognised by the European institutions.
Let’s find how this specialty is made:
1) The rind and the superficial fat of the pig leg are removed first, then the femur and a great part of the remaining fat. During this phase, the butcher gives Culatello its characteristic ‘pear’ shape;
2) The leg (‘muscle mass’) is salted by hand (the ‘salting’ / ‘salatura’), sprinkling it with a mixture of sodium chloride (or table salt) and split peppercorns. The Product Specification allows the use of a mix of dry white wine and pressed garlic. This procedure can take anywhere from one to six days.
3) The leg is then placed in a cold room where, at a temperature between 0° and 5°, it slowly absorbs the salt;
5) The Culatello is tied very tight (‘legatura’) with a string, both horizontally and vertically (*1);
6) The Culatello is left to drain and dry for a period that can last from one to two months;
7) The seasoning takes place in rooms with frequent air exchange and a temperature between 13° and 17°;
The entire production cycle must last at least 10 months;
*1: The binding is very tight to avoid the formation of air bubbles;
The PDO mark.
On 2 July 1996 the European Community, with Regulation no. 1263/96, assigned the PDO mark (Protected Designation of Origin) to Culatello di Zibello. This appointment represented, at the same time, the recognition of the uniqueness of the product and the certificate of its quality. Every aspect of its production was regulated by a binding document (the Production Specification or ‘Disciplinare’), guaranteed by the Consorzio di Tutela del Culatello di Zibello.
The ‘King of hams’.
Culatello is also known as the ‘King of hams’: a bombastic title, there’s no doubt, due to the value, the typicity, and the ancient tradition of an ‘excellence of taste’ that, still today, is prepared by hand. It’s especially this last detail to make it a ‘limited edition’ specialty: the Consorzio has in fact preferred to focus on quality rather than quantity. This choice ended up affecting the price which turns out to be quite high but entirely justified.
Culatello di Zibello in cooking.
True Culatello enthusiasts love to taste this ham alone (in ‘purezza’) or, at most, accompanied by white bread and a curl of butter. The people of Zibello often eat it together with the mixed pickled vegetables produced in the area.
However, this does not exclude that the specialty can give its best also in more elaborate preparations such as, for example, dumplings, risottos, and exquisite tagliolini.
The preservation of Culatello.
The best way to preserve Culatello, once it has been sliced, is to moisten the exposed part with butter and olive oil. The ham must then be wrapped in a cloth and placed in a cool and dry place.
Slow Food Presidium.
Thanks to its ancient tradition, great quality, and strong bond with the territory to which it belongs, Culatello di Zibello has joined the group of Slow Food Presidia from the Italian region of Emilia Romagna. For more information, please visit the official website of the Slow Food Foundation.
For more than thirty years, between May and June, in the Municipality of Zibello, a festival has been held dedicated to what is considered by many to be the ‘King of hams’: Culatello.
The event attracts thousands of passionate food lovers who gather to celebrate, and taste, the famous specialty. More information about the festival can be found by accessing its official website: www.festadelculatello.it .
D’Annunzio and Culatello.
Gabriele D’Annunzio was undoubtedly one of the most famous (and characteristic) Italian intellectuals. Much of his life was dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure in all its forms (he even wrote a novel about this subject): among these, the pleasure of eating. It’s therefore not surprising that the ‘vate’ (as he was nicknamed), had a great passion for Culatello, as he states in 1931, in a letter to a friend: “Dearest, I’ll make you smile. I am a greedy lover of Parmense Culatello”.
Perhaps not everyone knows that there is an actual museum dedicated to Culatello ham, housed in the Antica Corte Pallavicina, a medieval manor that once belonged to the noble Pallavicino family. The visitor is accompanied along a route, explaining the history of the famous specialty, its close connection with its territory of origin, the technique and tools for its preparation, and the steps of seasoning. For more information, please visit the official website of the Museum.
Zibello: the ‘cradle’ of Culatello.
The zone of production of Culatello is of fundamental importance: its peculiar climatic features contribute in fact to the development of the organoleptic characteristics that make this specialty so unique.
*1: In 2016, the Municipalities of Zibello and Polesine Parmense have merged, giving birth to the Municipality of Polesine Zibello;
THE MOST TRADITIONAL PRODUCERS
This article is the result of the collaboration between WebFoodCulture and the Consorzio di Tutela Culatello di Zibello, the association that brings together the producers of the famous ham. The information provided describes the actual characteristics of the specialty.
“THREE SLICES OF CULATELLO, AT ONCE!”
Culatello di Zibello PDO on video.
Here follows an interesting video showing, step by step, how Culatello di Zibello PDO is made.
ONLY THE MOST TYPICAL AND TRADITIONAL FOOD & WINE
Music by Verdi for Culatello.
Giuseppe Verdi, the most famous Italian composer, had a great passion for good food.
Note: join Spotify and listen to the full songs.
Culatello di Zibello DOP: calories and nutritional values.
One hundred grams of Culatello di Zibello PDO contain:
- Calories: 327 kcal;
- Proteins: 29 gr;
- Lipids: 23 gr;
- Carbohydrates: 0.00 gr;
- Fibers: 0.00 gr;
The ham also contains vitamins of the group B. Among the minerals: sodium, potassium, iron and phosphorus.
The right wine for Culatello.
Culatello di Zibello can be accompanied by:
By medium-bodied red wines with good acidity and aromatic persistence (e.g. Sangiovese di Romagna, Fortana del Taro, or Lambrusco) when served, for example, on a buttered crouton, on a ‘torta fritta’, or as an ingredient in a dish of tasty tagliolini with parmesan.
By white wines with good acidity, aromatic persistence (e.g. Sauvignon or Verdicchio) and, if desired, bubbles (e.g. Champagne or Franciacorta), when served alone or with bread or breadsticks;
Consorzio di Tutela del Culatello di Zibello: contacts.
The Consorzio di Tutela del Culatello di Zibello was founded on January 8, 2009:
1) To check for compliance with the Production Specification of the specialty;
2) To promote Culatello di Zibello both in Italy and around the world;
3) To defend Culatello di Zibello PDO from any imitation attempt;
Address: Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, 34, 43016 Polesine Zibello (Parma) – ITALY
Website: Click here.
Mail: Click here.
Tel.: +39 0524 99131
The images bearing the logo ‘webfoodculture’ are copyrighted.
The following images are public domain:
img-01 (*) – Portrait of Galeazzo Maria Sforza, P.Piero Pollaiuolo, 1471 (Wikipedia Link)
img-02 (*) – Photo of the Prince of Montevevoso, Gabriele D’Annunzio, 1920 (Wikipedia Link)
img-03 (*) – Portrait of Giuseppe Verdi, Giovanni Boldini, 1886 (Wikipedia Link)
img-04 (*) – Gabriele D’Annunzio, 1922 (Wikipedia Link)
cc-01 – Large White pig, image belonging to Grimlock (Wikipedia Link)
cc-02 – Landrace pigs, image belonging to Whgler (Wikipedia Link)
cc-03 – Duroc pigs, image belonging to rockindave1 (Wikipedia Link)
cc-04 – Gnocco fritto, image belonging to paPisc (Wikipedia Link)
Images published courtesy of:
crt-01 – Images published courtesy of the Consorzio di Tutela del Culatello di Zibello;
(*) The copyright of this image has expired.
(**) Image released in public domain by its author.