Thursday, September 4, 2008

Assignment Slow Food Nation: The Apple In The Pig's Mouth Taste Workshop

By mid-day on Saturday, the sun was beginning to poke through the bay fog, Slow Food Rocks was in full swing, and I was back on assignment for Foodbuzz, reporting back on another fantastic taste workshop. This time around, instead of sipping amazing coffees from around the world, I would be sampling several selections of prosciutto paired with hard apple ciders from around the country. Yep, it's a rough life.

The ciders, arranged in four wine glasses at each seat in front of our first selection of cured meat, varied in origins from Oregon to Massachusetts, and were a perfect and startling pairing with the prosciutto. The idea behind this workshop was to bring together these two unique items and demonstrate how well the flavors played off of each other. Apparently, this is not a typical matchup, and certainly not one I would have ever discovered on my own. But the flavors went together very naturally, with the acidity and sweetness of the ciders contrasting and highlighting the rich saltiness of the prosciutto.

The four varieties of prosciutto each came out in succession as the owner of La Quercia and the producer of these fine artisan meats, Herb Eckhouse, described what pig the meat came from, how it was raised, what it was fed, and ultimately how it spent it's life. La Quercia, based in Iowa, sources pigs from around the midwest that are humanely raised in either pasture or large covered areas where they are given the freedom to move around. Like all of the participants at Slow Food Nation, La Quercia uses only natural ingredients in their curing process; and very few of them at that. Salt, maybe a little spice, and of course pork. All of the pigs they source are fed on organic grain, corn and soybeans.

Each prosciutto had it's own distinct flavor, and each was light years beyond anything you will buy in a supermarket. Instead of being over-salted and dry, these freshly cut meats were rich and, well, meaty. Strangely enough, they actually tasted like animal they came from, something that should not be such a big shock but never the less was. Everyone in the room seemed to agree that the third selection of La Quercia's offerings was the best: Sweet, not too chewy or dry, just the right amount of salt, and the perfect flavor of rich, cured meat. It was a 10 month old variety, sold under the La Quercia Green Label.

The ciders, while not a highlight for me over the amazing varieties of prosciutto, did pair nicely with the meats. Each had it's own distinct flavor; some more acidic and dry and others bright and sweet. I will admit something here and tell you all that I did not realize that these were going to be hard ciders, and so was expecting something along the lines of a real, regional artisanal apple cider. The alcohol diminished some of the taste in the ciders for me, especially when being paired with the rich flavors of the prosciutto. It was not enough though to take away completely from the pairing, and overall I really enjoyed tasting both the artisanal meats and the hand crafted ciders.