After so many years of tasting hams, the Spanish, Portuguese and Italian I finally concluded that the finest balance is Zibello Culatello. There are of course the legs of black pigs that are raised in Parma that are extraordinary but hard to come by.
Parma has the ideal climate for raising pigs and many generations of local producers have mastered the art of curing and preserving the meats. The most renowned producer is a kind-hearted gentlemen named Massimo Spigaroli.
Until now the highest quality I’ve tasted is his private reserve of Culatello, which has fantastic flavors, texture and marbled fat. His Culatello is matured in the ars on the banks of the river Po and of the lower Parma.
Taking Prosciutto as reference, which is made from the internal thigh, culatello is obtained from maturing only the rear muscle of the thigh, for at least 12 months. The 5 pointed crown branded onto it’s skin makes you easily understand that Culatello is the true King not to mention it ages for 3 years.
Its weight varies from 3 to 5 kg; its form is characteristically pear shaped while many lay claims to being the father to Culatello but I ignore those claims and simply enjoy it when it is just right.
To obtain a Culatello you have to “disassemble” a pig-thigh, as it is made from the large muscle mass in the rear leg of the pig. This means destroying the possibility of making a sought after prosciutto. That, combined with it being a relatively small part of the whole leg, its tremendous aging time, the fact that it’s the best part of the leg. The expertise required to make it, make it one of the most expensive salumi in Italy, particularly if it adheres to the DOP regulations to be a Zibello Culatello. Take this together with the craftsman’s workmanship; the lengthy maturing and its pleasurable taste explain it all.