Above: expertly sliced Prosciutto di Parma and gnocco fritto at the excellent Osteria La Spiga in Seattle.
Even as Italian cuisine continues to reign supreme over contemporary culinary hegemony, a gastronomic tragedy unfolds across this great of land of the United States of America: poorly sliced prosciutto.
Sadly, it happens every day and all too often in this country: an eager and hopeful gourmet or an overly optimistic gourmand orders Prosciutto di Parma or Prosciutto di San Daniele at a charcuterie counter or in a fine-dining establishment only to have her or his porcine dreams shattered when the ham arrives too thinly sliced and practically liquefied in a big gooey blob of otherwise pink and white deliciousness.
As the great anglophone chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, one of the most obsessive prosciutto slicers I have ever met on the north American continent, has explained to me, it all comes down to the breadth of the beveled rotary blade employed in the act.
When the blade is too narrow, it applies too much friction to the cured flesh and as a result of the recalescence, the pig thigh begins to melt.
This phenomenon is exacerbated by the speed at which the blade rotates. Electric slicers, he told me, revolve so rapidly that they also increase the friction and temperature applied to the rosy goodness.
That’s why he and his ilk use manual slicers with specially beveled blades like those found on the famous hand-operated Berkel slicers.
Above: a great turnout for my Franciacorta tasting yesterday evening in Seattle, where wine culture seems to be rivaled only by coffee culture.
I was happy to discover that a Berkel slicer is used exclusively at the excellent Osteria La Spiga in Seattle, where I led a Franciacorta tasting yesterday evening for roughly 30 guests who were eager to taste and chat about the 11 wines I poured.
After the tasting, when I sat down for dinner with a few Seattle-based writers, the Prosciutto di Parma that arrived on our table was superbly sliced and melted in my mouth and not on the plate.
In my view of the epicurean world, prosciutto is a gold standard of food products and the expert handling thereof and therein is an acid test for a great Italian kitchen.
As the celebrated American artist Isaac Hayes once said (I can’t remember where), if a song doesn’t win you over with the first downbeat, it’s not a great one.
The same holds in the world of restaurateurship: if the opening dish isn’t perfectly executed, why bother moving on to the next?
I’m glad to report that I didn’t go prosciuttoless in Seattle, where I enjoyed a truly fantastic meal at La Spiga. I highly recommend it to you.
Heartfelt thanks to Ezra, Pietro, Cheryl, and the team at La Spiga for making my event so lovely. And similarly fervid thanks to Clive and Madeline for their camaraderie and companionship. It was a great night in Seattle.