What is Culatello? Origin, Nutritional Values and Recipes

Culatello di Zibello is such a valuable cured meat that in 1996 it obtained the DOP mark, that is the Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Denomination of Protected Origin).

Its origins date back to 1735, when it was explicitly mentioned in a document written by the city of Parma, where the prices of products obtained from the various pork processes were listed.

This food has been held in high regard since then, as you could see reflected in its higher price.

In the past Culatello was known as “investitura“, as the term “culatello” was considered vulgar as it alludes to the backside of the animal.

This cured meat was also mentioned by many intellectuals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as Gabriele d’Annunzio and Renato Brozzi.

Nowadays it is very much appreciated by an increasing number of people not only for its excellent taste, but also for its excellent nutritional properties.

Why is it called Culatello? What is its history and which animal does it derive from?

Culatello gets its name from the leanest part of the buttocks of the pig, which are boned, rolled and stuffed in a bladder.

It is a cured meat of peasant origin from the Bassa Parmense area of Parma, from when families used to slaughter one or two animals a year to provide for their nutritional needs.

Its small size is due to the humid climate, which made the proper aging of the whole leg of pork impossible.

The production of Culatello is limited to the municipality of Zibello, while the seasoning and processing are allowed in the following neighboring towns: Busseto, Soragna, Roccabianca, Colorno, San Secondo, Polesine and Sissa, where still today many special festivals are organized to celebrate it.

The production of this food takes place between September and February, and exclusively uses the meat of adult heavy pigs bred in Lombardy and Emilia Romagna.

The maturing process has a minimum period of 12 months.

How is culatello produced? Ingredients, calories, and nutritional values.

Culatello is produced from the biggest and most muscular part of the pig’s hind limbs, which is boned and deprived of the rind.

Unlike prosciutto, this cured meat is obtained by seasoning the inner muscle of the thigh, which is literally broken down.

Here are the production phases of Culatello:

  • Cutting: as soon as the butchering of the pig is finished, the thigh is cut with a knife up to the base, leaving the femur attached.
  • Degreasing and rind removal: the fat and rind are removed from the meat to facilitate both the penetration of salt and perfect preservation.
  • Grooming: this phase involves the removal of excess fat, the removal of the femur and the trimming of the meat, which takes on the typical pear shape.
  • Salting: the product is massaged with salt and spices for two/three days and then washed, dried and placed inside a protective bladder.
  • Tying: the Culatello is tied with several loops of string to keep its shape;
  • Maturing: the period of maturation is 12 months and takes place in special underground cellars, where the temperature is 12°-14° C and the humidity reaches 80-85%. At the end of the seasoning process, the weight of the product decreases by about 40%.

As for nutritional values, the caloric value of 100 grams of Culatello is equal to 224 calories with its fat included, otherwise it drops to 198 calories.

However, it should be noted that, as it has a high percentage of cholesterol and saturated fats, it is not particularly suited for regular consumption and for those who want to lose weight.

Moreover, it is not recommended for people who suffer from hypertension, as it contains a considerable quantity of sodium.

If eaten with moderation, this cured meat is capable of giving the body potassium, phosphate, mineral salts, niacin, thiamine and conjugated linoleic acid, substances which can prevent breast cancer in women.

It’s also worth noting Culatello contains a considerable percentage of protein (25-29%), low carbohydrates and has high digestibility.

Recipes with Culatello

Here are three recipes using culatello, which will allow you to savour it and enjoy its organoleptic qualities.

Risotto with Culatello

Ingredients:

  • 320 grams of Carnaroli rice
  • 1 liter of meat broth
  • a tablespoon of chopped onion
  • half a glass of white wine
  • 60 grams of butter
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 12 slices of culatello
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • grated Parmesan cheese to taste

Preparation

  1. Sauté the onion with a drizzle of olive oil in a saucepan, add the rice and let it toast.
  2. Pour in the white wine and allow the alcohol to evaporate.
  3. Add a pinch of salt, a grind of pepper and the stock and cook the rice, remembering to stir occasionally so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
  4. When cooked, turn off the flame, add the butter, the Culatello cut into strips and the grated cheese.
  5. Stir and serve immediately.

Macaroni with Culatello ragout

Ingredients:

  • 180 grams of macaroni or other short pasta
  • One small onion
  • One celery stalk
  • one carrot
  • 150 ml of tomato puree
  • two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 80 grams of culatello cubes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • grated Parmesan cheese to taste

Preparation

  1. Chop up the onion, celery and carrot and fry them in a little oil in a casserole.
  2. Add the Culatello to the sauté ed vegetables and cook for a few minutes.
  3. Pour in the tomato puree, add half a glass of water and allow the sauce to shrink.
  4. Cook the macaroni in plenty of salted water, drain and dress with the meat sauce.
  5. Sprinkle with grated cheese to taste.

Lasagna with Mornay sauce, asparagus and culatello

Ingredients:

  • 300 grams of fresh lasagna pasta.
  • 150 grams of sliced Culatello
  • 300 grams of asparagus
  • 300 ml whole milk
  • 100 ml cooking cream
  • 70 grams of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 80 grams of butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 40 grams of flour
  • Half a carrot
  • Half onion
  • half a celery stalk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a sprig of fresh thyme

Preparation

  1. Steam the asparagus for ten minutes and coarsely chop it.
  2. Chop the carrot, celery and onion and sauté in a pan with 20 grams of butter for about ten minutes.
  3. Add the Culatello cut into strips, the thyme and the asparagus, season with salt and pepper and cook over a high heat for five minutes.
  4. Prepare the Mornay sauce by mixing the egg yolks with the cream in a small saucepan and reducing the mixture.
  5. In a separate saucepan, melt the remaining butter with the flour.
  6. When the flour turns a golden color, add the milk, a pinch of salt, a grind of pepper and 20 grams of grated cheese.
  7. Add the cream and egg mixture to the milk mixture and stir.
  8. Place two spoonfuls of sauce in the bottom of an oven dish, alternately spread a layer of lasagne, one of asparagus sauce and one of Mornay sauce until all the ingredients are used up, finishing with the Culatello mixture.
  9. Sprinkle with plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano and bake in a preheated oven at 180° C for half an hour.
  10. Serve the lasagna hot or warm.

Culatello, a summary

Culatello di Zibello is a cured meat with a delicate taste that you must try at least once in your lifetime.

It is such a prized, premium product that it has become part of the Slow Food Presidium, a non-profit association which not only aims at promoting the value of quality foods, but also at respecting the professionals involved in their production and the environment.

If you don’t have time to prepare the suggested recipes, don’t worry, Culatello is excellent simply eaten with a slice of bread and a good glass of white wine.

However, as it is a raw product, it cannot be consumed by pregnant women, as it may expose them to the risk of contracting toxoplasmosis.