In late August of 2011, I was on my way to Milan’s Linate Airport to catch a flight. As I passed by Parma (I was going North) I realized that I had time for a nice long lunch. What an opportune moment this was!
It did not take much to exit the Autostrada del Sole (A1) and head for the small community of Polesine Parmense.
In the small area northwest of Parma, by the river Po, a small miracle is taking place for centuries now, thanks to the artisans who know the craft of producing the King of Salami, the Culatello.
The river is the creator of dense fog, especially in the cold months of the year. It is this foggy environment that is required for the aging of culatello. And this is the reason why culatello is not produced – naturally – in any other part of Italy or the world.
Polinese Parmense is bordering to Busseto, the home town of Giuseppe Verdi, and the locals proudly declare that “Bassa Parmense”, the small area northwest of Parma, where Polinese Parmense is located, has given to the world culatello and Verdi. Why should anyone ask for more?
Culatello is made of the upper thigh of the pig, i.e. the buttocks. Its name derives from the italian word “Culo”, which means buttocks. The muscle is cut out of the rest of the leg’s meat, trimmed, and bagged so that after it is done it resembles a really bif pear.
I chose the restaurant “Al Cavalino Bianco” where the Spigaroli brothers, Luciano and Massimo, have created a big name for themsleves. Today they also operate a gourmet restaurant in the restored mansion “Antica Corte Pallavicina”, where Luciano is the chef.
I tasted the culatello of 13 and 20 months, and was in heaven. The 13 month culatello was more moist and tender. I ate it first as I should, because what came after than needed the proper background.
You cannot appreciate the 20 month old culatello unless you had the 13 month old. The meat is slightly drier, more brittle, but the flavours are more mature. This also shows if you try to measure the mode and speed of your eating. With the 20 month old, I fould myself imitating the motions of wine tasting, eventhough I could not swirl the culatello in my mouth. The process was long, and started with smelling the paper-thin slice.
The Spigaroli brothers keep their culatelli in the cellar of “Antica Corte Pallavicina”, and this is a great motive for the weary traveller and culatello aficionado to spend the night there, in one of the beautifuly restored rooms overlooking the pastures of Polesine Parmense.
Luciano Spigaroli who manages “Al Cavallino Bianco” is a real enthusiast and professional at the same time. His brother Massimo was in the USA on business, so I did not have a chance to meet him. One more reason to visit the brothers again, this time to taste culatello again, but also to taste the gourmet creations of Massimo.
In closing, a few words of wisdom about culatello, from Peppino Cantarelli, as quoted by Burton Anderson in his wonderful book “Treasures of the Italian Table”. Peppino answers the author’s question “What should I look for when I buy a culatello?” Here is part of the answer:
“Well, first the mold. If it’s white like flour, that means it was aged artificially. Look for muffa verde (green mold that forms naturally and allows the culatello to mature) , because the green develops only in natural conditions. Also it should have a fuller pear shape than an industrial type. ”
On my way to Linate I was a happy man. After all, it does not take much to experience happiness.