Battle of the Dishes: Salumeria Biellese's House-Cured Prosciutto Versus Its Prosciutto de Parma
In yesterday's New York Times restaurant review, Sam Sifton wrote about SD26's cured meat selection:
Left: Salumeria Biellese's house Berkshire prosciutto; Right: Prosciutto de Parma
But it is a hard truth that in Manhattan in 2009 excellent meats from "Italy" are not what people want. Weird but true: They want salumi out of a basement in Greenpoint, made by some kid with tattoos who dropped out of Wesleyan. Local is the new authentic.
The passage did not make us think fondly of some trust-fund drop-out tinkering with salami, but instead of Marc Buzzio, Salumeria Biellese's master charcuterie-maker whose family has been fashioning cured meats the same way since 1925, in very low-tech digs on Eighth Avenue. (And fighting the USDA to be able to continue using the old-fashioned methods.)
The truth is that making raw meat safe and delicious to eat with nothing more than salt, air, and time is both an art and a science, a cascading sequence of events that must be managed by a salami-maker who really knows his or her stuff: A person like Buzzio, who hangs salted Berkshire pork legs to dry for at least 12 months before they're transformed into prosciutto, and ready to eat.
Salumeria Biellese sells both the classic, imported prosciutto de Parma, and the house-cured version. We tasted them both side-by-side.
The differences between the two prosciuttos are obvious, but both are stellar examples of the magic of dry-cured pork. The breed of the pig, what it has eaten, the weather at the time of the drying, and how long the meat is hung to dry for all influence the resulting prosciutto.
When unwrapping the two hams, the first thing you notice is that they have very distinct aromas and appearances. The prosciutto de Parma smells sweet and vaguely yeasty. It's pale pink in color, striated with creamy fat, and translucent. The Biellese prosciutto has a more robust aroma--a funky, dark smell--and is less delicate-looking than the ham from Parma, almost opaque and rosy orange.
The prosciutto de Parma is so soft it almost feels like skin. It tastes sweet and nutty, and the salty-porkiness emerges gently at the end of a mouthful. The one from Salumeria Biellese, on the other hand, hits you over the head with full-bodied porkiness, and finishes funky and earthy.
One is not better than the other. But they'd be best used in different ways. The prosciutto de Parma is best for putting out on a tray and eating at room temperature by itself, so that its delicacy can be appreciated. The Biellese version would be good that way, too, but it could also stand up to other ingredients in a sandwich, could be wrapped around Parmesan-stuffed dates, or draped over a salad.
376 Eighth Avenue