A Visit to D’Osvaldo, Prosciutto di Cormòns in Friuli, Italy & a recipe for Prosciutto Purses (Fagottini di Prosciutto)
“Each time a language (tradition) dies, another flame goes out, another sound goes silent.”
― Ariel Sabar, My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq
Quotes about “traditions” are typically about reasons why we should retire them rather than what we give up when traditions are lost. Traditions often have an important story that connects us to our past. While some traditions are probably best left behind, others should be preserved.
Over the past several years we have been traveling extensively throughout the South and most recently to Europe, in search of the best culinary stories. In our journeys we have met farmers, vintners, distillers, and food artisans who are trying to preserve or revive food traditions. Professionals from the corporate world, physicians, PhD’s, and attorneys have left burgeoning careers and headed to the farm. Others have chosen to operate small businesses where they craft a unique product that is made in small batches.
These farmers and artisans are not raising animals or making food products that are intended for the masses. Rather, they are breathing new life into a lost art and are returning to a simpler life that focuses on quality and taste which differentiates them from most large producers that are more concerned about uniformity, consistency, and maximizing profit.
In an effort to drive consistency and provide control over production for increased safety, government regulators have been tightening controls on farmers and food producers. Corporate farms sometimes support these regulations as it puts greater pressure on small producers and often leads to their exit from the market as it is too costly and burdensome to comply with the regulations.
On our recent trip to the Friuli-Venizia Giulia region of Italy, we met with several regional food and wine producers. One of the winemakers, Michele Moschioni (Moschioni Vineyards), spoke about the fact that he liked to produce wine that was different from the other winemakers in Friuli. It was his uniqueness that shows through in his wines and he was very proud of his craftsmanship. Michele told us if you have to conform, all the wines taste similar and the artisan’s ability is stifled.
In Friuli, there is a strong sense of individuality. While the regulators have been trying to force greater conformity and standards, as is true in the United States, many artisans in Friuli have clung to their traditional ways. D’Osvaldo, Prosciutto di Cormòns, is one of these artisans. Located in the Province of Gorizia in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region, this small family business is located 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) west of Gorizia, near the border of Slovenia.
Prosciutto di San Daniele is the prosciutto that most people associate with Friuli. Producing millions of hams each year, this region’s prosciutto characteristics are the result of a combination of the Italian pigs they use and their weight at harvest, the strict diet they are fed, the micro-climate of the region, and the protected process they use to cure the hams. San Daniele ham has been protected by the Italian Government since 1970. In 1996, it was recognized as a P.O.D. product (Protected Origin Denomination) by the European Union. These hams are cured strictly in sea salt.
Spain and Italy are known for aging their meats in salt. However, many countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, did not have access to large amounts of salt years ago. They used a smoking process to preserve their meats.
Wayne Young, our guide during our visit to Friuli while taking time away from his position as Sales Manager at Bastianich Winery, arranged for our visit to D’Osvaldo. One of two small prosciutto makers in Friuli, D’Osvaldo combines the tradition of two curing methods, salting and smoking.
We were greeted by Andrea (Andrew) D’Osvaldo as we arrived at their villa. He and his sister Monica are third generation artisans preserving their family tradition of smoking hams. Andrew and Monica gave us an inside look at D’Osvaldo’s meat curing process and shared their story of why the European Community is not willing to recognize their uniqueness as an artisan producer and is recommending they conform to approved methods of curing and aging.
Andrew and Monica’s grandfather, Luigi (or Gigi, as he was known), was a cattle trader and much of his business was with farmers in Hungary. To make their own prosciutto, salami and preserve the meat from his cattle, Gigi adopted the tradition of smoking meats as he had seen at the family farms in Hungary. He brought this tradition of smoking hams to Friuli eighty years ago. The company, D’Osvaldo was formed in 1940 by Andrew and Monica’s father, Lorenzo. It was here at the foot of the mountains in this ideal climate for aging hams, where they purchased the villa in 1982, and continue to salt, smoke and age the hams as their grandfather did eighty years ago.
D’Osvaldo produces only 3,000 hams a year that are highly sought after for their quality and unique taste. Their entire annual production is committed before the hams are aged between 18 to 20 months. They use Duroc pigs (originally an American breed) that are bred in Friuli and collaborate with local farmers to raise these pigs free range. Their diet is very important for the quality of the meat and the pigs are fed corn, soybeans, orzo, and potatoes to ensure a high level of fat. D’Osvaldo’s products are only sold in Italy to restaurants and specialty shops.
D’Osvaldo hams are known for the fatty leg and sweet tasting meat. The difference is in the way the pigs are raised and the process they use to cure the meat. In addition to hams, they also make: Speck (ham leg without the bone that is stronger in flavor due to a mixture of spices added during the aging process), Guancale (the cheek or jaw of the pig), and Pancetta (or bacon).
Andrew explained their curing process to us. The first step is to salt the hams. They begin this process in the colder months, starting in the Fall. The pigs will have achieved the proper weight and fat profile and the falling temperatures aid in the curing process. The individual hams are usually between 12 to 15 kilograms (26 to 33 pounds) to start. The salting is done with marine (or sea) salt. After 15 to 18 days, the hams will have lost much of their moisture. The salt is washed off and they are then hung on the second floor of the Fogolar Friulano (smoke house).
The bottom floor of this building is where the special blend of cherry, laurel, and grape woods burn over a stoked fire infusing the meat for three days. The fire also heats a heavy iron pot filled with water and aromatics including juniper, rosemary, fennel, and melissa (lemon balm). As the water evaporates, the essence of herbs intermingles with the burning woods on the fire. The smoke wafts up the chimney to the second floor and flavors the hanging meats. Andrew called it, “the subtle and lovely smoke,” while describing the tradition of his grandfather from almost a century ago. “The smoke is always moving as it drafts up through hay and barley,” he told us. It is this special blend of herbs and wood that make their hams so sweet and unctuous and in such demand.
After three days, the hams are moved to the top level of the villa to begin the one year aging process. On cool and dry evenings, the windows are opened to circulate the air throughout the room. This location and the particular climate in Friuli is an important part of the aging process. Over the course of the year, the hams will again lose a portion of their weight.
Between 6 to 12 months, a mixture called sinai is placed on the hams. This combination of pig fat, rice flour (gluten-free), and spices protects the ham and prevents it from drying out. This is the last process the hams will undergo. The hams will lose approximately 30% of their weight in the total curing process with a final weight ranging between 8.5 to 13 kilograms (19 to 28 pounds).
To understand the taste of these prized hams, Wayne Young said it best. “Growing up in New Jersey, salami was Hormel. When I moved to Italy and went to Valter Scarbolo’s La Frasca (La Frasca is a restaurant where we dined one evening while in Friuli), where he makes his own cured meats, and he shared some with me, I said to Valter that ‘I saw God’s face. This is what salami is.’ Some guy who makes it in his garage with no machinery or chemicals knows how to make it best.” The artisans that take the time to create something very unique in small amounts is what makes these products extraordinary.
While still on sensory overload from the aroma of the charred woods and herbs and the smells of the sweet, cured hams hanging in the the aging rooms, we drank wine and tasted the prosciutto and speck. That rich, deep unctuous flavor of the prosciutto with its buttery smoothness was sweet and filled with a smoky subtlety that played on our palate. The speck was fatty and rich with a little pepper note. The cured meats were paired with Friulano made on property from their own grapes and tempered the saltiness of the ham and spice of the speck. I, too, had a religious experience.
This wonderful tradition of a small artisan producer is under pressure from the European Community to force compliance in their curing process and ingredients. For about four years the D’Osvaldo family has been in a battle to keep their time honored tradition of smoking meats. The European Community does not recognize by law the specific methods that are required to make their hams and want them to either chemically smoke their meats or switch to smoking with sawdust and wood chips that are certified. Monica told us, “We hope the EC will recognize that some artisanal and natural methods have to be preserved with specific laws. But for now, there are no changes.” Somehow, I doubt the aromatics and resulting flavors could be preserved from sawdust and wood chips. The uniqueness of D’Osvaldo would be lost.
For every tradition that dies, another flame goes out, another sound goes silent. We need to help preserve these family traditions, small businesses, and artisan products. If we lose all of this, we lose our individuality and much of our heritage. We need to pass down traditions to the next generation so they can continue to create these products that are a part of our families, culture, and food heritage. You don’t know what you’ve gone till it’s gone.
Thank you so much to Andrew and Monica for sharing their family’s history and the process of how they preserve their meats at D’Osvaldo. We enjoyed our time visiting with them and would have stayed longer tasting their incredible hams and drinking Friulano, however, we were on to our next stop in Friuli, Michele Moschioni, the winemaker.
While I cannot buy D’Osvaldo prosciutto in the states, I was able to purchase Prosciutto di Parma from the Parma region in Italy for this recipe from Lidia Bastianich, Fagottini di Prosciutto di Parma or Prosciutto di Parma Purses.
I loved the simplicity of this recipe which truly highlights the saltiness of the prosciutto along with the slight sweetness of the Grana Padano cheese. Of course, the pretty little package that envelopes these flavors, makes for a lovely presentation. Sautéed for just a few minutes in unsalted butter, this melts the cheese, and adds another layer of flavor. Serve them with either fresh figs or melon, as the recipe suggests.
I will be preparing these often for guests as they were lovely to serve and perfect with a glass of white wine before dinner.
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Prosciutto di Parma Purses (Fagottini di Prosciutto di Parma)
Yield: 20 purses
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 3 to 4 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Notes on prosciutto from Lidia Bastianich: Prosciutto is a salted and air-cured ham with a wonderfully rich flavor that is meant to be enjoyed without much embellishment. Therefore, buying the best quality prosciutto is of the utmost importance.
The authentic Italian prosciutto that is available in the United States comes from two regions of Italy--there is Prosciutto di Parma, from the Emilia Romagna region which has a crown embossed on its rind and Prosciutto di San Daniele from Friuli which has a ham embossed on its rind. Look for these signs to insure authenticity. Prosciutto should have a bright rose pink color with a complex sweet and savory aroma. Get your prosciutto from a source that sells a lot of it, and buy it sliced thin and as close to the time of consumption as possible.
10 slices of Prosciutto di Parma
About 1/2 cup freshly grated Grana Padano cheese
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
20 sturdy fresh chives, each at least 5 inches long
1. Cut the prosciutto slices crosswise in half to make pieces that measure about 4 inches square. Place 1 teaspoon grated cheese in the center of each square. Gather the edges of the prosciutto up over the cheese to form a “purse” with a rounded bottom and ruffled top, pinch the prosciutto firmly where it is gathers, and tie a chive around this “neck.”
2. In a large, preferably nonstick, skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over low heat. Add half of the purses and cook, shaking the skillet very gently occasionally, until the undersides of the purses are golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add the remaining tablespoon butter and cook the remaining purses in the same manner. Serve with fresh figs or ripe melon wedges.
Recipe courtesy of Lidia Bastianich