My Ultimate Guide to Culatello: Uncovering the Secrets of Italy's Finest Cured Meat


I'm sure you've already heard about Culatello.

Some call it the King of Meat. But why all this hype? What's the difference with Parma ham?

This guide unlocks the secrets behind this gastronomic marvel, taking your taste buds on an unforgettable journey.

The History

You can trace the origins of Culatello back to 1735 or even earlier.
That year, a document from the Municipality of Parma mentioned its higher price compared to other pork products.

It was initially called investitura, as Culatello was considered too vulgar.

You can also find Investiture in a drawing by Giuseppe Maria Mitelli, an engraver from Bologna that you'd already know if you joined our Bologna Food Tour.

The drawing showcased a woman holding cured meat that looks quite like culatello. This cured meat was selected to represent the culinary excellence of Parma in the "Gioco della Cuccagna." This game is similar to a game of goose, where each region is represented by a distinct food symbol.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Culatello received praise from renowned figures like poet Giuseppe Callegari and writer Gabriele D'Annunzio.

Mitelli Cuccagnasm

Giuseppe Maria Mitelli - Gioco della Cuccagna 1691

How it's made

Do you know what sets Culatello di Zibello apart?

The land where it's born. Right in the heart of the Parmesan valley, surrounded by winter fogs and sultry summers.

In this special place, wet by the River Po, the finest pork turns into Culatello. It's all about the climate.

And get this: fog is considered just as important as salt, pepper, garlic, and wine. It's like an essential ingredient in the legend of Culatello.

So, what is Culatello?

Culatello Pigs

Black pigs from Parma

You start with the biggest muscle from the hind leg of the pig, without the bone or rind.

Unlike Parma Ham, which comes from the inner thigh, Culatello is all about that posterior muscle.
To get a Culatello, you've got to "disassemble" the thigh, separating it from the already refined Parma Ham.

Here's how it goes down:

  1. Cut: Right after butchering, grab a knife and start cutting the thigh at its base. The kneecap stays with the "Fiocchetto," while the femur remains attached to the Culatello.
  1. Cleaning: Get rid of the fat and rind to help with preservation and salt penetration.
  2. Shaping: Remove any excess femur and fat and shape the meat into that distinct pear shape.
  3. Salting: In artisanal production, salting happens between November and February, taking advantage of the weather conditions in the Parmesan Valley.
    After a few days of salting, the Culatello gets massaged and may even receive more salt. Then it gets washed, dried, and covered with a protective layer (blister) for better preservation.
  4. Binding: Tie it up with several close nooses, starting from the base and going all the way up.
  5. Maturing: Let it mature for 12 months. The underground cellars with a consistent temperature of 12-14°C and about 80/85% darkness are perfect for this. Over the year, the product loses around 40% of its weight.

In the video below you can watch the full process made by the hands of Micheli star chef Massimo Spigaroli of Antica Corte Pallavicina.

How to taste it

To fully enjoy the incredible fragrance of the "King" of cured meats, you need to follow some special rules.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Get your hands on some well-seasoned culatello. It's super hard, so be careful when handling and cutting it.
  2. Untie the strings that bind the culatello and give it a good brushing to clean it up.
  3. Tradition says you should wrap the culatello in a kitchen towel soaked in white wine or Fortana for a night (or longer if needed). Then let it rest in a cool place (around +5° to +15°).
  4. Once it's softened to the right degree, remove the skin and trim off the outermost fat. Slice it into thin pieces, preferably by hand. The direction and irregular thickness of the slices add to the taste, unlike a mechanical slicer. If you can't slice it by hand, it's best to use a manual slicer instead.
  5. To keep your culatello fresh, spread some olive oil and butter on the cut part, wrap it in a cloth (preferably linen) soaked in dry white wine, and store it in a cool place. Don't put it in the refrigerator, as it will dull the flavor.
Culatello cellar

Culatello cellar at Antica Corte Pallavicina

Where to eat it

When it comes to indulging in the finest Italian delicacies, few experiences can rival the pleasures of savouring culatello.

If you find yourself yearning for an authentic culinary adventure, look no further than our Parma Food Tour.

Join us on a journey through the gastronomic wonders of Parma, where you can relish the exquisite taste of culatello in its birthplace.

From hidden local food shops to renowned gourmet establishments, we'll guide you to the most renowned eateries, ensuring an unforgettable culinary experience.

Don't miss out on this opportunity to tantalize your taste buds with the finest culatello in the world!

[photo credits: Museo del Culatello]

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