We Italians favour tradition. It is said that the Romans discovered the process of air curing and it’s a centuries old tradition we still follow and respect today in San Daniele del Friuli.
Here, we love the passing of time – we cure our prosciutto for a minimum of 13 months, after all. So you see, time is always on our side. But did you know just how much time?
THE ORIGINS OF PROSCIUTTO
It was the Celtic people in northern Italy who first began preserving pork with salt and the Romans who later began air curing. There is evidence of a market taking place in San Daniele as far back as 1063, so it’s likely that, by this time, the curing and selling of prosciutto was commonplace in the region.
That’s because the people of San Daniele had discovered that the area provided the perfect conditions for air curing. Winds blowing down from the Carnic Alps meet the breezes coming in from the Adriatic Sea, creating a unique micro-climate and providing optimum temperature, moisture and ventilation conditions. It was soon discovered that prosciutto kept perfectly without the need for added preservatives.
The word prosciutto comes from the Latin pro (meaning before) and exsuctus (meaning to suck out) and that’s basically what adding salt does, it removes the moisture from the meat.
Over the centuries, San Daniele prosciutto has not just been enjoyed at mealtimes, it has also played an essential role in the local economy and has been used to barter for products or as a payment for property, goods or services. Old documents even show that around the year 1490, cured meat was used, in one case, to pay lawyers in a local dispute over fishing rights!
It’s said that Napoleon’s army knew that Prosciutto di San Daniele was a great delicacy and took great quantities of it back with them from Friuli to France.
TWENTIETH CENTURY DEVELOPMENTS
With a history dating back centuries, it was only natural that the reputation of prosciutto from the Friuli region spread throughout the world. It also became important to protect the unique conditions and traditions behind the product.
The Prosciutto di San Daniele Consortium was set up in 1961 to offer a guarantee of quality and authenticity. In 1970 Denomination of Origin standing was granted under Italian Law and in 1996 the EU granted it Protected Designation of Origin, PDO, status.
This means that only prosciutto that conforms to strict maturing methods and geographical factors can bear the name Prosciutto di San Daniele. The pigs come from farms situated in ten regions of central Northern Italy – Friuli Venezia Giulia, Veneto, Emilia Romagna, Lombardy, Piedmont, Tuscany, Marche, Umbria, Abruzzo and Lazio.
Each phase of the preparation, including salting and maturation, must also be done in the San Daniele area.
Our Prosciutto di San Daniele is made from just two ingredients – the meat of pigs born and bred in Italy, and sea salt. We don’t use additives or preservatives, preferring the natural rhythms of nature and time.
The ancient technique used for maturing our prosciutto contributes towards giving it its delicious taste, softness and aroma. We wanted to celebrate that and so, in 1990, compulsory branding for the Designation of Origin was introduced. Buyers have the assurance of knowing it’s San Daniele prosciutto once they see the brand – our guarantee of authenticity.
Also in the Twentieth century, we celebrated another first – the launch of our now annual Aria di Festa in 1985 – a festival dedicated to Prosciutto di San Daniele and the local area. Since the turn of the 20th century, local businesses in the area have gathered together over the course of a few days to celebrate and showcase their produce, and the Aria di Festa grew naturally out of this tradition. Still going strong and celebrating its quarter century anniversary in a couple of years, the festival attracts visitors from across Europe.
What will the future hold for Prosciutto di San Daniele? Spreading the word about our prosciutto across the world will continue and we will branch into new markets. Visitors will continue to visit our town and enjoy our annual Aria di Festa but who knows what other wonderful developments we will celebrate over the coming decades?
One thing is certain, however, the time-honoured traditions and methods that have served us well since Roman times will continue to be respected.
While we look to the future, we will always celebrate and honour our past.