Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The best prosciutto I have ever tried in the US (and possibly in Italy)

This blog exists because I love American food, this is obvious. There are a few things though that I can't bring myself to like: American cured meat is one of them. You see, I could never be a vegetarian because I love the pig, and especially its cured meat. But up until today, I have considered American cured meat a farce: most of it is disgusting, full of water, tasteless, and nasty looking. I have been missing my salame, my coppa, my culatello and my prosciutto. And I wasn't surprised when I had heard that for the opening of Eataly in New York, they had imported pig's sperm from Italy to raise Italian pigs here and have "real" Italian cured meat.

But last week I discovered La Quercia (la Kwair-cha, the Oak): it is a company founded in Iowa in 2000 by Herb and Kathy Eckhouse. The couple, after spending a few years in Parma, Italy, came back to the US and asked themselves a simple question: why can't we (in the US) produce prosciutto which is as good as in Italy? We have the pigs (in Iowa pigs outnumber men...), we know the Italian process...

I am surprised that somebody came up with this idea only in 2000. After all, the US has been making cheese that can rival with most of European cheese for years now (this is something that French and Italian people will kill me for, but it is the simple truth. And truth can hurt). So why not cured meat?


I had the pleasure of talking to to Herb Eckhouse last week in Chicago, when he came for a tasting of his cured meat at the Italian grocery shop Panozzo. Not only is he an extremely nice person, but his cured meat is THE REAL DEAL. He makes them using only salt (and in same cases spices) as the additional ingredients to the pig (and in some cases he uses only acorn-fed pigs). He follows the Italian traditional method, and even his machines are imported from Italy. And the result? OUTSTANDING.
It looks like the real deal. It tastes like the real deal. (Photo from La Quercia FB page)
His prosciutto, his speck (smoked prosciutto), his coppa, are extremely good. I don't know if they are better or worse than the ones you can find in Italy. Most Italians will tell you that the ones in Italy are better "because they are in Italy". To me this is a very stupid argument, and it doesn't mean anything. But I have been told I am a food traitor, so here you go.

What I can tell you is that the prosciutto by La Quercia has consistently been recognized as one of the best prosciutto available in the US. And not only if compared to domestic prosciutto, which is really a joke, but also in comparative tastings with prosciutto di Parma, prosciutto di San Daniele and others.

Now, if you thought that this prosciutto would be cheap because it is American you would be very wrong: it costs 3 times more than an imported Parma ham. Yes, you got that right: this American ham costs three times as much as the imported Italian ham.

But the question you need to ask yourself is: is it worth it? And my answer is a resounding yes. For at least two reasons: 1) it tastes PHENOMENAL; and 2) La Quercia only uses antibiotic-free pigs, and in some cases it uses pigs raised with acorns, exactly like in Italy they used to do. The only ingredients that you will find are pigs and salt. No nitrates (like in the Jamon iberico, which I personally do not like).

So, my advise to you, Constant Reader, is to go to Whole Food or Panozzo, and ask for La Quercia: you can take the classic prosciutto, but if you have never tried speck or coppa, buy them. You will come back to thank me (while I am thanking the Eckhouse...)

(Please note that I had originally written that ALL of La Quercia's prosciutto is made from acorn-fed pigs. This was incorrect, and I therefore changed the text).


Fabrizio Cariani said...

I heart la quercia.

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Doesn't it taste great?

Francesca said...

... credevo che ci fosse solo mais nell'Iowa! la prossima volta visiterĂ² "La Quercia".

Tuscan foodie in America said...

Ciao Francesca: merita!

Anonymous said...

Ha, you need to get to Virginia or North Carolina and try some country ham! My buddy's dad has some country hams hanging in his shed in Salisbury, NC -- best damn thing you'll ever taste.

A Tuscan foodie in America said...

Hi there, thanks for commenting. I have had NC's country hams, and they are VERY good. But they are cured in a very different way than in Italy or at La Quercia. They are both good, but difficult to compare.

Brandorr said...

Have you tried Volpi Prosciutto? I find it fairly good, especially if you consider that it is half the price of the italian stuff. I also think that the quercia better be amazing as a quick price check indicates it costs about double the price of imported prosciutto di parma!!

A Tuscan foodie in America said...

Hi Brandorr, welcome and thank you for your message. I did try Volpi, but I didn't find it particularly good: yes, it is a lot cheaper than La Quercia or the Italian thing...but this is one of those cases where I'd rather spend a bit more and have the real deal.

La Quercia does cost a lot more than the Italian counterpart, you are absolutely right. I wonder if this is related to their raising practices and the fact that they are doing a lot of stuff by hand.


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