Emmanuel Tresmontant - 2011-07-05
Do you know what the Rolls Royce of Italian ham is? With scarcely 15,000 hams produced by approximately fifteen producers per year it has to be the Culatello di Zibello. The variety made by the Spigaroli brothers, whose ancestors were the suppliers of Giuseppe Verdi, is worth making an excursion in order to sample it.
So we find ourselves in Polesine Parmense, 30 miles north west of Parma, immersed in a luxuriant and rustic landscape, on the banks of the river Po, where the old 15th century castle of the Marquis de Pallavicino stands. In former days the ancestors of Luciano and Massimo Spigaroli were tenant farmers under the Marquis. These days the brothers have reversed family fortunes by becoming the owners of the castle, which they transformed in 2000 into a farm, luxury hotel and gourmet restaurant.
Even though the Culatello di Zibello ham seemed likely to dissapear as it was deemed too scarce and expensive, Massimo and Luciano managed to re-establish and revive the native breed of black pigs required for its production that had been abandoned in the 1970s in favour of more lucrative livestock.
What is Culatello? It's the very essence of a leg of ham – the most tender and delicate part. It is a select cut weighing only 4 to 5kg (from the ham itself which weighs around 15 kg) and has the appearance of a large pear. After dipping it in salt, the brothers Spigaroli cover it in a white wine moistened pig's bladder that allows the meat to breathe.
“Parma Ham is usually matured in dry air conditions. However the Culatello needs humidity and mildewy conditions which after a couple of winters gives it its unique flavour” we are told by Luciano, whose great-great grandfather was the supplier to Giuseppe Verdi.
Upon visiting the castle's cellars you wil see hundreds of Culatello suspended from the ceiling and its maturation lasts from18 to 42 months. Names of great restaurateurs can be seen displayed on slates to show that such and such a piece has been reserved for the likes of Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse and Michel Troisgros.
Even Price Charles has asked the Spigaroli brothers to make Culatellos from the hams of his own pigs raised in England which are sent here to be matured.
This ham is impressive upon tasting due to its smoothness, its fruity, soft texture and freshness. It's as if the fog from the Po had communicated its fragrance to the meat! This is a real treat to be consumed with good bread and an authentic traditional Lambrusco!
The Spigaroli brothers restaurant was awarded a Michelin star in 2011. You can enjoy a simple and refined cuisine here which highlights this pure product: Culatello board, herb tortelli with ricotta, Parmesan gnocchi and frogs legs, hare agnolotti and balsamic vinegar, beef fillet roulé and vegetables, honey parfait with apples, homemade ice cream ...
Antica Corte Pallavicina Relais
Strada del Palazzo Due Tori, 3
Polesine Parmense (Parma)
Tél. : +39 05 24 936 539
Rooms: 140-250 €.
Set Menus: 70 €. A la Carte: 75 €.
Visits and tasting sessions are possible by appointment only.