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Parmesan Cheese & Prosciutto: Flavors of Northern Italy

by Sally Bernstein

Parmesan cheese, prosciutto, wines, mushrooms, olive oils, honey—these are all food that are indigenous to Northern Italy and should be enjoyed when you visit. Italians love to eat!

On a recent visit I experienced these and many other foods. The small towns of Northern Italy are without the hustle and bustle of their larger neighbors. Many hours are spent at the table, enjoying multiple courses of food with wines. Some Italians think nothing of a two to three hour lunch, which might begin at 12:30 p.m. or 1:00 p.m. and last well into the afternoon. On those days, dinner is at 8:00 p.m. or 8:30 p.m., again lasting late into the night. It is not unusual to see Italians order an appetizer, first course of pasta, second course of meat or fish, dessert, coffee and an aperitif.

The following is what I learned about Parmesan Cheese and Prosciutto:

Parmesan Cheese

There are two primary varieties of hard Italian cheeses: Grana Padano and Parmigiano-Reggiano. The later is most recognized in the United States market and brings top dollar. Grana Padano cheese dates back to the 12 th century, when the monks of the monasteries of Northern Italy began to process the milk of growing herds of cattle kept on the meadows of fertile lands of the Po River Valley. This was close to 1000 years ago.

‘Grana’ means ‘grainy’ and ‘Padano’ refers to the Po River Valley. The cheese is made into large wheels weighing about 65 pounds each.

Today Grana Padano has over 200 producers in Northern Italy, each recognized by a consortium, and is the largest-selling hard cheese in Italy. The consortium, which was founded in 1954 and is celebrating its 50 th anniversary this year, brings together producers, ripeners and dealers. Italy safeguards and promotes Grana Padano in Italy and abroad.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is made in 5 regions of the Emilia-Romagna region and Grana Padano is made in 5 regions of Italy: Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Trentino and Emilia-Romagna.


Grana Padano

200 producers
made with partially skim milk
high in protein/low in fat
costs less
ripens in 9-24 months
milder flavor

524 producers
made with partially skim & whole milk
fall Parmigianos have high butterfat content
prestige, value
ripens for over 24 months or longer
best for long ripening
strong flavor



Recipe approved by The Venerable Fraternity of Bacala’ Vicentino

Ingredients for 12 people

2 lbs codfish
1 lbs onions (diced)
4 cups extra virgin olive oil
3-4 anchovies, unsalted, boneless and diced
2 cups fresh whole milk
½ cup white flour
2 oz. Grated Grana Padano cheese
1 sprig of minced parsley
salt and pepper

Place soften cod in pan of cold water. Change water every 4 hours for 2-3 days. Remove skin if necessary.

After 2-3 days butterfly fish and remove spine and all bones. Cut into square equal pieces.

In medium size sauce pan brown thinly sliced onions with 1-cup olive oil. Add unsalted anchovies and mix through. Turn off heat and add minced parsley.

Dredge the cod in ½ cup of flour and add to the onion mixture (a few pieces at a time) until lightly fried. Place all lightly fried cod into an ovenproof dish.

Add milk, grated Grana Padano cheese, salt and pepper to cod. Add 4 cups of olive oil until the fish is almost covered in liquid. Cook at a low oven temperature of 275ْ for 4 hours, occasionally rotating pan every hour.

Suggestions for serving:

Serve hot with sliced polenta
Can be enjoyed for 1-2 days
Refrigerate unused portions

For further information visit:

For Grana Padano history, product information and recipes:



The town of San Daniele, in the heart of Friuli, produces what is widely acknowledged as the best prosciutto in all of Italy. A small town, with a population of 8,000 people, San Daniele prosciutto must be made with the fresh thighs of Italian-bred heavy pigs in excellent health. Located in the foothills of the Italian Alps, San Daniele has the ideal microclimate for air-curing meat. Cool winds off of the mountains mingle with warm breezes from the Adriatic to create constant ventilation and low humidity, a kind of “natural air conditioning,” that enhances the flavor of the meat.

The San Daniele consortium oversees the production of over 3,000,000 prosciutto hams per year, about 14% of the total production of Italy. There are 28 producers who carry the San Daniele name. The only ingredients in a San Daniele prosciutto are pork, sea salt and the cool breezes of the Friulian hills.

Prosciutto air-cured hams should be sweet tasting, smooth on the palate and fragrant. These hams should not be strong smelling, dry or dark in color.

The pigs used for prosciutto must be at least nine months old, weigh no less than 160 kilograms (352.7 pounds) at slaughter and two thighs are used per animal. This process takes 13 months to complete.

Each year in late summer or early fall San Daniele holds the Aria di Festa, a feast of San Danielle prosciutto. Nearly 500,000 visitors from many countries arrive for the 4-day feast to visit the ham-making establishments. Over 6,000 hams are consumed during the event.

One of the favorite ways the Italians serve prosciutto is twirled around a fresh breadstick or according to the real Italian tradition, served with a slice of ripe melon. A dry, but not too aromatic white wine is suggested as an accompaniment.

Grilled Veal Stuffed with Grana Padano, Prosciutto, and Sage

12 veal scaloppine from the butt (about 2 oz. each), pounded thin with a mallet
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
12 sage leaves
1 cup freshly grated Grana Padano
12 thin slices Prosciutto di San Daniele
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Place the scaloppine on a tray in a single layer. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Top each with the Grana, 1 slice of prosciutto, and 1 sage leaf; roll into neat bundles and spear each diagonally with a toothpick to prevent unrolling.

Heat a grill pan to medium-high (or use outdoor grill).

Brush the bundles with the olive oil. Grill until golden brown on the outside and cooked all the way through, turning to coon evenly, about 5 minutes. Discard the toothpicks and serve hot.

Serves 4

For history, product information and other recipes:

Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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