June 25, 2013 by Dan
Our plan was to get in the car and go to Antica Corte for lunch. We had heard about the place from friends. It’s a farm-cum-restaurant that specializes in aged Culatello, which may be the best pig product in the world. Culatello is a form of prosciutto, only made from a certain part of a certain type of pig (the pig only sits on its left leg. The hame is only made from that left leg, which makes for a better flavor, some say). Now, this is a bold claim, as I’m something of a pork purist. I own a copy of Pig Perfect by Michael Kaminsky. I wrote a note to Trader Joe’s when they changed their bacon provider, making it worse. I make my own pulled pork barbecue, and it’s quite good. So you might say that I was eager to check this place out.
Anyway, Antica Corte was about a half-hour from where we were staying, and we had reserved a 10:30 tour. We drove in past an unremarkable-for-Italy church that pre-dates anything in this country.
And then to the main house.
We were greeted by a slender young guy in a suit and tie. He blinked at us from behind his glasses.
“Hi,” said Ellen. “We’re booked for a 10:30 tour?”
“Yes,” he said. “Right this way.”
He opened a door and started in about the room we were in – it took us a few minutes to realize that this was actually the tour, and we had started it. We were all a little fuzzy from the gustatory celebrations of the previous night, so perhaps the confusion was entirely ours. Anyway, we walked through several rooms in the old manor house, marveling at the fire pits, chandeliers, and things so old they defied our conception of the term.
Down a flight of stairs was the main event: the ham cellar.
Culatello from this region is highly prized, so much so that Michelin-God-chefs reserve theirs right when it is hung up, then wait for it for years. The entirety of the cellar was given over to culatello hanging, which gave the place a sweet, rank smell that has no analogues that I can think of. If you wanted a snack, they had the means to give you one right htere.
Kidding, I am. The smell was strong enough to kill any desire we had to eat. Next to the ham room was the cheese room.
All Parmigiano Reggiano, all the time. It was all I could do to not crack one open and try it. For fun, the place also had a wheel that had been aging for twenty years. It was black and intimidating; I asked our guide what it would taste like.
“Not much to eat,” he said, laughing. “Mostly…salt.”
The tour ended at around eleven, and our reservations were at noon. We took a little walk around the grounds, which were populated by manly peacocks…
And gardeners gathering herbs for the days’ meal.
Eventually we made it to the little adjoining town, where there was a little square, a church, and a memorial to the locals who died in the world wars.
We sat in the sun and watched the people for a bit, until it was time for lunch. Of course, we got a couple of culatello plates:
And…it was really good. Really, really good. We had differing opinions on which was the best – some of us liked the 24 month, others the 36. But any of the three were better than any ham I’ve had in the States, which really shouldn’t be all that surprising. We also ate a bunch of other things that were super-delicious – partridge ravioli, some local fish, things like that. But the real star was cured pig leg, with striations of fat and lean that combined to meltingly delicious.
Delightful. Much like the entire weekend. Best pig in the world? I’m not entirely sure of that, as I haven’t had all of the pigs. But it’s certainly in the conversation.
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