I recently joined the Icons of European Taste Campaign, a promotional campaign funded by the European Union to celebrate the legendary quality, tradition, and taste of specific Italian products. I have kept an Italian kitchen for most of my married life, which is quickly closing in on fifty years. I have also had the opportunity to live in Italy, both full and part-time, for many years. My years living in Italy introduced me to its outstanding cuisine, which I quickly adopted in my own home. The essence of Italian cooking today is simplicity. One uses quality ingredients and basic cooking techniques to simply enhance the natural flavor of the food. Over the years, exploring Italy’s many unique regions eventually led to my food blog’s creation almost twenty years ago.
Most of our trips exploring Italy revolve around food, and some of our most enjoyable experiences involve visiting farms and small factories where famous Italian ingredients originate. Nothing gives you a better appreciation for an artisanal ingredient than to watch it being made step by step and to understand the strict policies governing its production. The two artisanal ingredients I was given to feature are Grana Padano cheese and Prosciutto di San Daniele. Both of these ingredients are world-renowned and are prevalent in many Italian kitchens. I use both ingredients regularly in my own kitchen in many of the dishes I prepare for family and friends. It is important to note that Grana Padano and Prosciutto di San Daniele are Protected Designation of Origin Products, a designation given by the EU to products with distinctive characteristics and heritage and only produced within specific regions and under strict quality and production guidelines.
Grana Padano Cheese – Grana Padano is a hard, Italian cheese made in Northern Italy, with a heritage dating back almost a thousand years old, when monks found an ingenious way to preserve the surplus milk they produced by making a cheese that could withstand the test of time. Grana Padano is the world’s best-selling PDO cheese and is always known by its full name; “Grana” due to its texture, “grana” means “grainy” in Italian, and “Padano” from the production area in the “Pianura Padana,” which is the Po River Valley in northern Italy. The PDO designation signifies that it is exclusively produced in this particular region in Northern Italy under strict guidelines.
It takes 15 liters of naturally semi-skimmed milk from the Po River Valley production area to produce a kilo of Grana Padano. Lactose-free due to its long aging and production method, this unique cheese has excellent nutritional qualities and a high concentration of vitamins, proteins, and minerals, especially calcium. Once matured for nine months, all Grana Padano wheels are examined, and if they pass the quality tests, they are fire-branded with a mark that guarantees the quality. It can then be sold immediately or aged for even over twenty months. When buying Grana Padano in the store, always look for the specific branding on the rind to ensure you are buying Italy’s real product. Grana Padano is an excellent cheese for snacking on, as a part of a cheese selection, and is also used grated on pasta or soups. Grana Padano is best stored in a fridge kept at temperatures around 4° C (39° F), wrapped in good quality cling-free plastic wrap or freezer bags to prevent drying. It is best not to store alongside other strong-flavored cheeses as this may compromise its flavor integrity.
Prosciutto di San Daniele – In Italy, many different prosciutto types vary from region to region, but one of the most prestigious types is Prosciutto di San Daniele. Prosciutto di San Daniele is made from two ingredients: high-quality pork legs and sea salt. This particular artisanal prosciutto crudo is produced from start to finish in San Daniele, a small village in Italy’s northern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, near Venice. The combination of air from the mountains and the Adriatic Sea makes the San Daniele area the perfect place to age prosciutto. Following the strict legal guidelines, a pork thigh can only be deemed Prosciutto di San Daniele DOP if three conditions are met. First, the pigs must be raised in only one of ten specific regions of central-north Italy. The pigs must also be raised in a specific traditional manner. Second, the producers must follow strict product specifications. And lastly, the aging of the prosciutto must take place in San Daniele.
One unique aspect in the production of Prosciutto di San Daniele is the pressing stage. The legs are first salted and then pressed for two to three days. This enables the salt to penetrate the meat more deeply, giving it more flavor. It also gives Prosciutto di San Daniele its signature guitar shape. Once the leg has met all of the strict conditions and has been aged thirteen months, it is branded on the rind with the specific producer’s mark.
Prosciutto di San Daniele has a very balanced, particular sweet flavor. In the United States, San Daniele is most often thinly sliced by a machine, but it is delicious sliced by hand if you can find it cut this way. We usually buy a whole prosciutto leg and keep it wrapped to enjoy sliced daily. Whole prosciutto must be held in a cool, dry place. Once cut, the exposed area should be covered with plastic wrap, and the leg should be refrigerated. If buying slices cut at the deli counter, the prosciutto is best enjoyed within twelve hours. If you purchase vacuum packed slices, refer to the sell-by date, and wrap carefully in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. San Daniele is best eaten as is, immediately after slicing. It can also be paired with mozzarella di bufala or some melon slices for a snack or as an appetizer. Another delicious way to eat prosciutto is in a panino.
Flatbread with Grana Padano and Prosciutto di San Daniele – While living in Milano, we often frequented a local pizzeria. Their specialty pizza was a pizza Bianca (plain pizza without tomato sauce), topped with arugula, tomatoes, thin slices of prosciutto, and Grana Padano shavings on top. I have made a flatbread version of this pizza for many years that we enjoy for lunch or an appetizer when entertaining. You can drizzle some spicy olive oil or simply a good quality extra virgin olive oil on top with a coarse sea salt sprinkling. You can buy prepared pizza dough at your local grocery store to make things easy or use one of my pizza dough recipes. The difference between a pizza and flatbread is the thickness. I use a rolling pin when making my flatbread to get a thin crust. Because you are using top quality Grana Padano cheese and San Daniele prosciutto, do choose peppery, baby arugula, and ripe, flavorful tomatoes. The spicy arugula enhances the buttery sweet prosciutto and slightly nutty flavor of the Grana Padano.
I have thoroughly enjoyed working on this Icons of European Taste Campaign, learning more about Grana Padano cheese and Prosciutto di San Daniele, two of my favorite Italian ingredients used in my kitchen for years. I hope you search out both of these ingredients to try them yourself, as I know that you will love them as much as I do!
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Deborah Mele 2021
- 1 (1 Pound) Ball Pizza Dough (See Notes Above) At Room Temperature
- 6 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
- 3 Cups Sliced Ripe Tomato
- 4 Cups Baby Arugula
- 8 Thin Slices Prosciutto di San Daniele
- 1 1/2 Cups Thinly Sliced Grana Padano Cheese
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Coarse Sea Salt
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
- Divide the dough in half and using a rolling pin on a lightly floured counter, roll each half of the dough into an oval shape about 1/3 of an inch thick.
- Gently place each rolled piece of dough on the prepared baking sheets and brush with olive oil.
- Sprinkle with oregano and then use the tines of a fork to prick the dough evenly over the top.
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown and puffy in spots.
- Immediately arrange the tomatoes, then the arugula on top.
- Drape the prosciutto over the arugula and then arrange the cheese shavings on top.
- Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and salt, cut into eight pieces, serve and enjoy!
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 542Total Fat: 42gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 27gCholesterol: 75mgSodium: 2046mgCarbohydrates: 16gFiber: 3gSugar: 5gProtein: 27g