Classic Italian Food – Grana Padano and Prosciutto di San Daniele:
Any fan of Italian food will know of Prosciutto di San Daniele. And of Grana Padano – a hard cheese that is not dissimilar to Parmesan. Knowing you like the taste of something and knowing a little about what you are eating are two completely different things, though, so I was delighted to be sent samples of both to review.
Grana Padano is a cheese that dates back to the 12th Century when Benedictine monks invented the recipe as a way to preserve surplus milk. It’s a raw cow’s milk cheese which is strictly regulated. The cows must be milked no more than twice a day and the cheese can only be produced in authorised cheese dairies. Once the basic curd is set and moulded, it is brined for 16-25 days. The cheese is then moved to drying rooms for a few hours before being taken to the cooler ageing warehouse, where they remain for at least nine months. At that point, they are inspected by testers from the Consortium of Grana Padano. Those cheeses that meet the quality checks are then branded, to ensure that even if you buy a small portion of cheese you can easily see that it is the real thing.
Proscuitto di San Daniele is produced with similarly rigorous traditional methods. Only Italian pigs can be used and the whole thighs are salted and left for as many days as they weigh in kilos to start the process. Then, the thighs are pressed, to help the salt penetrate deeply and left to rest hanging in a special room. After the resting period, the thighs are washed with warm water and then left to dry and acclimatise. A past of sugnatura (pork fat and rice or wheat flour) is applied to any bare meat to keep it tender and protected. Around four or five months from the start of processing, the thighs are moved to ageing rooms where they remain for at least thirteen months after the start of the curing process, they are inspected and those that satisfy the Consortium’s quality standards are branded. Each rind will have the breeders tattoo, a branding mark for the abattoir, a date showing when the process started and the brand of the consortium.
What did I do when I first got my samples? Simple. I made myself an easy lunch with a little of both, a ripe tomato and some green olives. No dressing, no salt and no pepper. I wanted to see how well the cheese and ham worked on their own. And, to be honest I was quite happy with that. The cheese is uniquely crumbly and salty so when you use it with a salad it is more inclined to crumble than to cut. And the Prosciutto is just divine. Perfect with a tomato or a few green olives. Neither really needs any kind of dressing, though if you DID want to add – a little proper balsamic might be good.
But, I’ve also been cooking and I’m particularly pleased with a recipe I’ve made for the 5:2 diet I am following. It’s really just a take on Spaghetti Aglio et Olio but made with courgetti instead of pasta. I’m sharing the recipe in a separate post because I want to say a little more about why it works so well as part of the diet. I am very much of the opinion that when you have good quality ingredients it is better to use them in simple dishes so that the flavour of each ingredient can ‘sing’.