Culatello di Zibello, or the King of Hams, comes from the Lower Parma province, specifically the Italian region of Emilia Romagna.
As a decade-long carnivore lifestyle devotee, I’ve tried different meats from around the world.
I first discovered Culatello several years back, and I’ve been eating it since. I was immediately wowed by the cured meat flavor and made it my mission to find out more about this ham.
Here’s everything you should know about Curatello, including its history, how it’s made, and how to store it.
- Culatello comes from the Po river area in Italy, and it’s one of the premium Italian meats favored by Giuseppe Verdi.
- Culatello comes from the pork leg and is stuffed in a natural casing consisting of a pig’s bladder.
- You have to be careful when storing Culatello to preserve it properly.
- Culatello is part of the Slow Food Presidia group, a non-profit organization that promotes Parma products.
What is Culatello?
Culatello is a cured meat that comes from Italy, and it's one of the most prized meats in this country.
Culatello di Zibello is made in the Italian province of Parma. The area’s hot and dry summers and humid winters give the meat a unique taste.
This meat comes from the leanest part of the pig’s buttocks. The meat is cured, has a pear shape, and usually weighs around 6 1/2 pounds.
The size is relatively small because of the Parma climate, which makes it impossible to age the whole leg of pork.
Culatello is only produced in the municipality of Zibello (thus the name Culatello di Zibello), while the processing is also done in several neighboring towns.
“Culatello is a piece of pig meat, which is salted and bagged in a bladder. It distinguishes from products such as Parma Ham (that is salted and not bagged meat, fitted with pork rind) or salami (that are made with minced meat and also flavored and bagged).”
- Silvano Romani, Seller of Parma Products
Culatello is produced from September to February from pigs exclusively bred in Lombardy and Emilia Romagna. Then, the meat is matured for a minimum of one year.
After this time is up, an inspector checks the meat for any oil or bad fermentation. Culatello gets a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) certification if everything is fine.
Culatello di Zibello PDO guarantees the meat was made according to set standards in Parma. This certificate also verifies Culatello di Zibello comes from one of the three accepted pig breeds (Large White, Duroc, and Landrace).
It also means the meat comes from the muscular part of the thigh and from the pigs born in the designated Culatello breeding area.
Culatello di Zibello is a premium product and is a part of the Slow Food Presidium, an organization that promotes quality foods.
Its color is red with white fat, and it tastes sweet. Its unique flavor comes from the natural molds that form on the surface in the special maturing rooms.
How is Culatello Made?
Culatello is made from the most muscular part of the pig’s behind.
There are several steps in making the Culatello di Zibello:
- Cutting — The pig is butchered, and the thigh is cut up to the base, so the femur is still attached.
- Fat and rind removal — Both the fat and the rind are removed from the meat so that the salt can penetrate better and there’s good preservation.
- Grooming — The lemur is removed, and the meat is trimmed to get the famous pear shape.
- Salt — Salt and spices are applied to the meat for up to three days. A mix of dry white wine and garlic can also be used. When these are washed off, the meat is dried and stored in a protective bladder.
- Tie — The Culatello ham is tied with string both horizontally and vertically, so it keeps the shape.
- Maturing — The maturation period lasts 12 months. During this time, Culatello is placed in underground cellars with humidity levels of 80%. By the end of the maturing process, Culatello’s weight will be 40% down from the original one.
The nutritional values of Culatello do Zibello per 100 grams are 224 calories with the fat or 189 without the fat .
This meat has high cholesterol, sodium, and saturated fats, so it’s not a good choice if you’re trying to lose weight or if you suffer from medical conditions, such as hypertension .
However, if you eat it occasionally, you’ll get a good amount of potassium, mineral salts, thiamine, and other good substances.
The Proper Way to Store Culatello
Culatello di Zibello is more delicate than other kinds of meat, so you have to store it carefully.
When you open the Culatello, you have to keep it wrapped in a linen cloth in a dry and cool place.
You should moisten the exposed part of the meat with olive oil and butter and then wrap it in a cloth.
Note: Don’t store Culatello in the fridge because that would deaden the taste.
Culatello vs. Prosciuto Crudo
Both Culatello and Prosciutto di Parma are from Parma, both are made from adult swine, and both Prosciuto and Culatello di Zibello are PDO certified.
However, unlike Prosciutto, Culatello is made only with thigh muscles and doesn’t have any fat or rind. It’s also treated with table salt.
Prosciutto has some fat and rind, is treated with sea salt, and loses about 4% of its total weight.
Why Is Culatello So Expensive?
Culatello is so expensive because it’s made from the best cut of the pig and requires a lot of expertise to produce. It also comes exclusively from the river Po area.
What Cut of Pork is Culatello?
Culatello cut of pork is the pig’s hind leg.
Should You Try Culatello?
Culatello is one of the most prestigious and delicious cuts of meat, so you should definitely try it if you get a chance. Even Giuseppe Verdi was a fan.
This meat comes from San Secondo, Busetto, Colorno, and a few other cities in Italy. It can’t be transported because it’ll lose the flavor, which makes it a rare delicacy.
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