8 June 2012

Ham And Cheese

One day, I will own a shed that looks like this. Oh yes. I will own a shed that looks like this...
I realised the other day that I hadn't done a "Simple Pleasures" photographic post for a while. I'll get back on to that asap although, having looked back at the ones I've published, a couple of distinct themes emerge. While there are many things that fit the "Simple Pleasures" category, the series has focused rather heavily on meat-that-was-once-a-pig, and cheese in all its myriad forms.  


It's no surprise really. Meat-that-was-once-a-pig and cheese are two of the finest things known to man, whether appearing together or solo, in a starring role on the plate or merely as extras.


Accordingly, when Prosciutto di San Daniele and Grana Padano cheese asked if I'd be interested in being a temporary "brand ambassador" via the blog, it wasn't the toughest decision of my life. I know many bloggers wring their hands over this question of "integrity" but I've never really taken any of it that seriously. I've been a freelance journalist for best part of two decades, on and off, and trust me, that's often a salary that means you'll be happy to top it up with ham and cheese. Critics might accuse me of "selling my soul" which I: a) don't think I am; and b) would just laugh off with a gag or two - "My soul has been sold so often, you can probably pick up a time share on it (my advice? the last two weeks of September: I'm a lovely temperature then and not humid at all)" or "my place on the moral high ground was sold 15 years ago and developed into a block of flats with a lovely view of the moral low ground..." 


Saying that, while I've never claimed integrity (see above) or the perfect palate some writers would have you believe they possess, I'm still not going to write about or recommend something I don't like. Over the years, I've had to do bits of professional writing that have featured a compromise - the creative departments and advertising sales are famous foes - and probably will again. That's why I like the blog stuff so much. I'm not beholden to anyone. I can write because I want to write, not because I have to. And yes, it's frequently about ham and cheese because THEY'RE BLOOMING DELICIOUS. So, would I be a "brand ambassador" for two products I: a) already love; and b) buy on a regular basis? Er. Yes. Happily. 



Taking way too small a sample of Grana Padano
To give them their due, the folk looking after Grana Padano cheese and Prosciutto di San Daniele insisted on full disclosure, hence all of the above, this post and four more to follow in the coming months. Three of the posts will be recipes which is good because I cook a lot and I've long wanted to cover more of that here (plus it means they'll give me more ham and cheese and that's a very good thing). And let's be honest, as and when I did feature recipes, they were always likely to feature meat-that-was-once-a-pig, and cheese. (The other post, incidentally, is going to be a short history of the products which is, I believe, the first time that Benedictine monks will have made an appearance on my blog. So that's nice.) 


This post though is a general intro / bit of background. Both products have been awarded a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin)  and, given that those are something I've already written about professionally, that seemed a good place to start. 


Basically, the PDO label, as the definition suggests, means the product is linked to a particular area. In the case of Cumberland Sausages, say, or champagne, the area in question is obvious. (If it's not, the answers are "Cumberland" and "Champagne"...) It's the same for Prosciutto di San Daniele which can only be produced in Italian municipality of San Daniele del Friuli (where the Alps meet the breezes of the Adriatic Sea, I'm informed). For Grana Padano cheese, the region where this can be made stretches along the Po Valley. No, I didn't know either, but apparently it takes in Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, part of Emilia Romagna and a bit of Trentino-Alto Adige. Relax, I had to Google Earth it all too. (Hey, if you zoom in, maybe you can see some of the cows responsible? And if you do, please let me have the locations because that would be pretty cool...) 


Anyway, the PDO is a tough label to get, so the remarkably few products that have it can be excused for being proud of the tag. As well as linking the product to a specific area, by extension the PDO confirms authenticity, reliability and quality. In fact, both products get marked in ways that allow each product to be traced back to specific farms. In the case of the ham, apparently it's possible to find out where the pig in question was born, reared and slaughtered. There is a distinct logic to applying the "terroir" theory to things other than wine as weather, surroundings, quality of grass, random things to eat etc., will clearly affect the taste and quality of the resulting milk or meat. I could wax lyrical and get all poetic or tell you tales from my days as a cheesemonger  - I can do that for hours as many of you know - but there's a slight problem in this instance. 


This is the point I'd aimed to write about the pleasing bite, the satisfying crunch and that big umami hit of the Grana Padano cheese, and the sweetness of Prosciutto di San Daniele and maybe how it compares - very favourably, in my humble opinion - to other hams on the market. It was also the point I'd have done my normal careful (ahem) photography involving bits of ham, cheese and the dining room table. However while I was hitting the BBQ Trail around Texas for a few days (posts to follow) in my absence my wife demolished the packets I'd been sent. While that doesn't help with this post (and explains the stock shots), it does at least confirm my comments about how tasty it all is. 

2 comments:

Harrogate Deli said...

Amazing photography!

Gene said...

You lucky devil! I'd jump at the chance to write articles in exchange for Italian ham and cheese, too! Looking forward to your future posts, sponsored or not, because these are two of my favorite things in the world.

PS Can't fault your wife a bit, that's just too much temptation to handle!