26 September, 2009

Italy II and Spain I: Cured meats

We established early on that this was going to be a meatlovers' tour of Europe. In some of the towns we travelled to it was just as well: in Sanabria in Spain, for example, most menus offered a choice of how your beef was cooked, and not much more.

More than fillets and steak, however, what really stood out were the cured meats. Our trip itinerary read: Budapest, northern Italy (including Emilia-Romagna), north-western Spain. Looking at those three destinations, three things that immediately come to mind are: salami, prosciutto and jamon.

On the proscuitto front, we were in for a real treat. Other than a dogleg as you near the coast, Ravenna lies in a straight line on the far side of Emilia-Romagna from Parma - home to one of the finest cuts of Italian ham. We stayed at Hotel Centrale Byron, where their 5 euro breakfast featured some of the best crudo we ate on the trip.

That's what is so gorgeous about travelling and eating in Europe. Locavorism isn't an 'ism' over there, it's just the obvious way to do things.

We tried two meat platters around the restaurants of Ravenna, one so divine we went back for it again. Here's Nonna Ayeska's: Proscuitto crudo in the foreground, then (going clockwise) coppa di testa (head cheese), mortadella, piadina, squacquerone, salumi, ciccioli a fette. On the second night, the dish became - implausibly - even better with the addition of some onion jam.

Nonna Ayeska also served up this extraordinary plate of bresaola (for a starter!)The decadent meat slices are topped by equally thin strips of parmagiano and green apple, then dribbled with sultanas and nuts. Just astonishing.

At La Gardela their plate of tagliare buongustao (local cut meats) was differentiated from Ayeska's with the more traditional style ciccioli frolli. Ciccioli is made from leftover pieces of pork, and the frolli style is crunchy, like the ultimate version of pork crackling.

Piadina is the local bread in Ravenna, and perhaps the best value lunch I had while overseas was from the piadineria across the road from our hotel: a fold of the thick, flat, chewy bread clamped around proscuitto crudo and provolone, for 3 euros.

Once we got to Spain, I could have subsisted for the week on my all-time favourite food: fresh Spanish bread laden with jamon serrano.

Sure we pay $60-$100 a kilo for the good stuff here in Australia, but in Spain they don't skimp as they cut straight from a leg on the counter. This is a bocadillo served up in a random bar in Salamanca:
The best cured meat sandwich came from a still-warm breadstick bought in the northern fishing village of Cudillero, filled with serrano bought from a deli in Oviedo, and eaten by a stream gurgling towards the Picos de Europas, in the shadow of this medieval bridge.
In Sanabria, while I moaned over the greatest plate of morcilla ever served, SG was in similar raptures over an enormous serving of lacòn de cerdo con pimientos del piquillo - cured pork with red peppers.
In homage to our regular enjoyment of the cured stuff while we were overseas, we've been pursuing the best purveyors of cured meats around Melbourne. For jamon, you can't go past Casa Iberica in Johnston St. For proscuitto, our current fave is the $60/kg import from the deli in Northcote Plaza. Note that most good delis stock imported and locally cured meats. Often the former are preservative free.

No comments:

Post a Comment