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Confessions of a Ham Smuggler

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Did I ever tell you about the time my former Italian boyfriend and I were chased through JFK airport by beagles because we had packed a whole leg of Prosciutto di Parma in our suitcase? We were so busted. We had to be sequestered in a room and interviewed for hours and they took away the ham (ugh!) and made us pay a huge fine. This was back before proscuitto was legally imported here in the late eighties. Since then, I've made a proud point to include the title "Ham Smuggler" on both my resume and Linkedin profile.

For newcomers, Prosciutto is the word for ham in Italian. Prosciutto crudo is raw, dry-cured ham . The finest prosciutto crudos from Italy are Prosciutto di Parma (seen above) and Prosciutto di San Daniele. And now there's an American prosciutto being made by a husband and wife in Iowa that's besting the Italians - it's called La Quercia - it's made from pasture raised pigs and completely nitrate free! It's some of the most beautiful meat I've ever consumed and that is the truth.

The prosciutto and melon you see above was my lunch yesterday. I sat on my deck in the 90 degree heat and those flavors just hit the spot. It's a classic salty and sweet combo but with the added bonus of the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the ham and the sweet, dripping juices from the melon. It's a must-try combination. By the way, all varieties of melon are in season right now at your local farmers' market and just get a load of their smell. It's like an extraordinary perfume wafting in the air. You can't get those smells in the ice cold produce section of your grocery store - no sir, nope, no you can't.

If you're having people over and you want to throw together something that's simple, delicious and plenty sophisticated, get out a couple of platters and throw down slices of prosciutto and melon, good bread, a few beautiful cheeses, olives, some cut up summer tomatoes sprinkled with chunky sea salt and a shallow bowl of good extra virgin olive oil. Pair with a nice Rose or Frascati and you're golden, baby.

Buying Prosciutto:

Prosciutto should be sliced very thin so you can almost see through it. I happen to think it tastes best at room temperature. Replace your standard lunch meat with it on a sandwich and tell me your not happy. I dare you.

Prosciutto di Parma is available at Bari Foods, Marcey Street Market at Sam's Wine and Liquors, Fox & Obel, and Piatto Pronto in Andersonville just to name a few.

La Quercia Prosciutto is available online, at Provenance in both Logan and Lincoln Square, Zier's Prime Meats in Wilmette, And Panozzo's Italian Deli in the South Loop.

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