Monday, September 3, 2012
A Neat Weekend and Mike Learns Something
This was originally in the Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips newsletter, and then made an appearance on our The New Burgundians web page.
Last weekend marked Beth's and my 15th wedding anniversary. So, we decided to go off and have some fun. This time that meant we visited Austin, TX. I lived there for 20 years and like visiting the town again. I haven't lived there in 20 years, and I don't think I'd want to live there now. It's not the same city - its grown too big with all that means.. Still, there's a lot to love in Austin. One thing we love is Antonelli's Cheese Shop. If you love cheese, sausage, breads, chocolate, wines, beers, olive oils and other exquisite foods, you should visit Antonelli's if you're in the area. (Scardello Artisan Cheese in Dallas and Ten : One Artisan Cheese in Denton also get my praise, and money.)
As we were looking at Antonelli's meats I saw a prosciutto. It was stunningly beautiful. The meat was translucent, and somehow glowed with its own inner light. They wanted $40 per half pound. I laughed, shared the joke with Beth and looked at some of the salume. But my eyes kept going back to the prosciutto.
Then I noticed a sign in front of it that said the prosciutto was La Quercia's Acorn Edition. A prosciutto made from Berkshire hogs that had been fed on 60% acorns. Oh. Wow.
This really hit home because every time I've written about why sourdough cultures change flavors, I've mentioned that what an organism eats affects its flavor, or the flavor of its products. The flour a baker uses strongly impacts the flavor of the sourdough. Change your flour, change your culture.
Larger organisms are affected also. Many nursing mothers report their babies become fussy and refuse to eat after mom eats spicy food. And I unfailingly mention that hunters prize boars that have been fed on acorns. I've also commented, from time to time, that I've never had the opportunity to taste boar's meat that has been fed on acorns. Despite many pleas, no one has offered me any acorn fed boar's meat.
And there it was. In front of me. Not exactly the Holy Grail, but certainly quite close to something I'd been looking for, well, for years. I knew it was hideously overpriced. Not, perhaps, in contrast to what such products bring in other markets, or what they are worth. But more in contrast to what a person of moderate means might feel reasonable to pay for food. Still, I'd only heard of pork from pigs fed on acorns, I'd never before had a chance to eat such a thing.
We were celebrating our anniversary; we were indulging ourselves and each other in so many ways... so we indulged once more and walked out with a quarter pound of La Quercia Acorn Edition Prosciutto. (I even love typing that full name! La Quercia Acorn Edition Prosciutto. There. I did it again!)
We took the La Quercia Acorn Edition Prosciutto to our hotel room, where we ate it along with a great baguette, some wonderful cheese and a bottle of sparkling wine. So, how was it? What did it taste like? Muddying the water was that I'd never had Berkshire ham before. How much of the taste was from acorns? How much was from the Berkshire hog? OK, I'll cut to the chase.
Did it taste like acorns? No, but I wasn't expecting it would. Bread doesn't really taste like flour, beer doesn't taste like barley, and wine doesn't taste like grapes. Even though each food receives flavor notes from the ingredients.
It had a wonderful aroma. Rich, deep, earthy. The prosciutto was sliced very, very thin; so thin you could see light through it, though not quite thin enough to be able to read through it. Being as thin as it was, it melted in my mouth.
The flavor delivered all the aroma promised and added a hint of salt and a slight sweetness. It married very well with both the cheese and baguette. But we preferred it by itself. We finished it with something approaching reverence.
Sadly, we weren't able to make it back to Antonelli's before we left town for another quarter pound. Not for ourselves, of course, but to refine our sensory impressions, so we could better describe it for you more fully, more elegantly. Of course.
I did a bit of Googling after we ate the prosciutto. One food writer, Michael Nagrant of "Serious Eats" said, "Currently the greatest edible item known to man is La Quercia Acorn Edition Prosciutto." Other writers aren't so restrained in their praise.
It is amazing for any prosciutto, and it is all the more amazing that this is an American product. The owners of La Quercia are trying to make a prosciutto that can be mentioned in the same breath as the great hams of Europe such as Jamon Iberico de Bellota. I'm not an expert, but people who are say they are very, very close to being there if they aren't already there.
On the price front, at this writing La Quercia sells their prosciutto directly for $65 a pound. Considering loss from skin and bone, Antonelli's $40 a half pound is really pretty reasonable. The Jamon Iberico de Bellota is around $80 a pound.
If you can find either of these meats, and you are a meat eater, they are definitely worth purchasing. My toes curl in delight thinking about our simple dinner of sparkling wine, cheeses, a baguette and La Quercia Acorn Edition Prosciutto. Of course, the company DID have a lot to do with my enjoyment. (Happy Anniversary Darling Beth!)
In any case, I now have a better idea of what feeding hogs acorns can do to their meat, and the experience has filled me with delight, admiration and no small desire to do it again. Next time, with melons!