Tuscany has always been very famous for cold cut’s production. The ancient experience of local manufacturers in pig’s farming, the respect for ancient traditions and the particular features of the territory make it possible to produce important and high quality products, as Prosciutto Toscano DOP.
History and curiosities
Pig’s farming has always been one of the most important activities of Tuscany, thanks particularly to the production of high quality products. In fact, it’s not by chance that Tuscany is one of the regions with the highest number of pork’s products with PDO and PGI mark.
The reasons of this important record date back to many years ago, when the local population started to breed pigs in the domestic production. Meat was processed to create ham and other cold cuts, useful to give nourishment for the restricted familiar contest.
The first evidences of pig breeding in Tuscany date back to Carlo Magno’s age, in Ninth century. Some texts of this period describe the first rules about ham’s production, even if the real appearance of Prosciutto Toscano does not take place before Renaissance. This great cold cut gains an important role only under the House of Medici, with the appearance of a rudimental Regulation, very similar to the actual one.
The most relevant aspect of Tuscan’s hams, particularly, is the typical climate of the area. In fact, cold winters help to slow down food deterioration during seasoning, without using a large amount of salt. In this way, ham obtains a specific taste, not exaggerate or too salty.
It’s for the importance of ancient culture and local features, that in 1996 European Union recognized the Protected Designation of Origin to Prosciutto Toscano.
Production and Regulation
As for the other PDO and PGI products, Prosciutto Toscano should follow the rules expressed by its Regulation, starting from the research of raw materials to ham commercialization.
Meat used for Prosciutto Toscano DOP comes from pigs born, grown and slaughtered in Tuscany and surroundings, as Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Lazio, Marche and Umbria. Pigs must have specific features, necessarily certified by the livestock from which they come from, to make tracking easier.
Pig’s thighs arrive to the factory, where they reach the typical arch form, removing pork rind and the excess of fat. Now meat can pass to the salting process, during which it is massaged with salt, juniper, garlic and other spices.
For 3-4 weeks, thighs move to specific refrigerated rooms, at a temperature of 4°C, to allow salt and spices entering into the meat.
After 3 months, thighs can be washed with water, to remove salt and natural mold.
Therefore, there is maturing process, that occurs in three steps. The first is a three-months seasoning, in specific rooms at constant humidity, allowing drying of meat.
Later meat is massaged with “sugna”, a mixture of pig’s fat, wheat or rice flour and other spices. The surface presents a rich layer of black pepper, so that the internal part maintains soft, despite the constant drying.
At the end we find the real seasoning process, which does not end before one year.
Before entering the market, thighs must be controlled. The positive result ends with the mark of Prosciutto Toscano DOP.
Taste and characteristics
Prosciutto Toscano DOP distinguishes from the other local cold cuts for specific features.
The first is the completely different aspect, for the presence of a compact dark rind, due to the black pepper on the surface. Moreover, differently from other hams, Prosciutto Toscano has a typical arch shape, rounded on the top and a little bit trimmed on the lower part. Inside, meat has an intense red color, with little fat streaks.
Taste is the real discovery of this cold cut. In fact, Prosciutto Toscano has a very delicate taste, but at the same time it is pleasantly scented, thanks to the presence of sea salt, natural spices and pork’s fat.
Prosciutto Toscano DOP has very interesting nutritional facts. Meat is full of noble proteins, vitamins and minerals. Despite the presence of fat, meat remains lean. In fact, fatter parts are present only in the external part, so that it is simple to remove this portion, to enjoy a good, digestible and light ham.
Prosciutto Toscano gives off all of its qualities even if tried alone, cut in slivers with a knife. To make degustation easier, combine ham with some local bread, rustic but not too salty.
Prosciutto Toscano is great for every moment. For a delicious appetizer, we can combine it with some toasted bread, seasoned with ham, fresh tomatoes, salt, olive oil and oregano. As an alternative, a traditional condiment for toasted bread is butter and figs. To realize an excellent dish, we should select high quality ingredients, choosing local figs or Fichi di Cosenza DOP.
We can combine Prosciutto Toscano even with soft cottage cheese, as ricotta seasoned with herbs or Pecorino Toscano DOP.
Great also with vegetables, as Carciofo di Paestum IGP, tasty and spineless, or Asparago Verde di Altedo IGP, from Emilia-Romagna.
Prosciutto Toscano has a very delicate taste, which requires a red wine, but not too full-bodied, as Chianti DOCG, young, lively, with a pleasant scent of violet, or Rosso di Montalcino DOC. As an alternative, we can choose a white wine, as Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG, fruity and floral.