Culatello is one of the most prized salumi in Italy: mentions of this delicacy date back to the 15th century. Culatello is produced in the flatlands located north of Parma, near the Po River.
The city of Zibello is epicenter of production, due to its particular climate that is ideal for aging the meat. The thick fog that rolls off the Po and the biting cold of the winter give culatello its characteristic sweetness and fragrance.
Culatello di Zibello DOP
Culatello is made with the muscular part of the hind leg of pigs that were born, raised and slaughtered exclusively in Emilia Romagna and Lombardy. The meat is then processed in the communes of Polesine, Busseto, Zibello, Soragna, Roccabianca, San Secondo, Sissa and Colorno, in the province of Parma. The thigh is skinned and deboned, and the best part, or heart, is removed and salted immediately. (The remaining part of the meat is used to make Fiocchetto).
Twine is then wrapped around the meat in a spiral fashion, giving the culatello its signature pear shape. The meat is left to rest and after a couple of days it is massaged, causing the salt to further penetrate the meat. The culatello is left to rest again, in a cold environment, and is then encased in a clean, dry pork bladder and tied up well.
At this point, the culatello is placed in humid, room-temperature cellar for at least 12 months. Once it has been aged, the culatello should weigh between 6 ½ and 11 lbs and have kept its characteristic pear shape.
In order to make culatello, it is necessary to break down an entire pig’s leg, eliminating the possibility of making procsiutto out of the meat. The cut of the meat, the craftsmanship, long aging time and unique flavor all contribute to the high price of culatello. Gabriele d’Annunzio was a real fan of this “salty compact pork”. In 1891, he wrote that culatello “is aged only in the square of land surrounding Zibello, where the air of the Po is often humid and good for the mold that preserves this fatless cut of meat".
Even the consumption of culatello has its own guidelines for bringing out the most flavor and fragrance. Well-aged culatello, which is hard to the touch, should be cut free from any twine, rinsed in tepid running water and carefully brushed clean.
The meat should be softened in very dry white wine for a couple of days. Then the skin should be removed and any fat trimmed off. The culatello is then ready to be thinly sliced by hand. The direction of the cut and the slightly irregular width caused by the blade of the knife contribute to the experience and flavor of culatello. Otherwise, one would use a meatslicer and the resulting slices would be precise and even.
The best way to conserve culatello, once it has been sliced, is to spread a little olive oil or butter onto the exposed part. The meat should then be wrapped in a towel, preferably made of linen, and moistened with dry white wine. The culatello should be kept in a fresh place, but definitely not the refrigerator, which would destroy the flavor.
Culatello di Zibello was given the DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) label from the European Union.
In the library
A. TACCA, Salume dei poeti, poesia dei salumi: storia e geografia del culatello, in Parma economica, 1993, n. 3, pp 67-72.
G. TRIANI, Elogio del Culatello. Il salume dei re tra storia, letteratura e gastronomia, Parma, STEP, 1998.
INSOR-Istituto nazionale di sociologia rurale, Atlante dei prodotti tipici: i salumi, Roma, Agra – Rai-Eri, ;
L. ROMANELLI, I salumi d'Italia, Firenze, Nardini, 2002.