Sunday, July 24, 2011
Serve No Swine Before Its Time
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The drive to San Daniele takes a little over an hour from la Subida, the inn which has been our home for the past several days. To get there we pass Udine, the capital of Friuli and one of the largest cities in the north of Italy. This part of Friuli has a definite germanic feel due to its proximity to Austria. Here the hills begin to rise into mountains and villages dot the landscape with architecture more common to Heidi than to il Postino. Large industrial zones flank the highway and there are big box stores and shopping malls that sadly attest to the Americanization of Italy and signal its inevitable decay. But despite all of these cultural invasions, there is something quintessentially Italian about this area, a reason it is stuffed into the corner of this hodgepodge of a country and not a few miles away in a land that flies a different flag.
One such Italian oddity is the giant chair.
The giant chair takes you by surprise as you speed along the highway. As you approach it, the empty stretches begin to give way to signs of a settlement and manufacturing businesses begin to pop up along the roadside. There are many lumberyards and a good number of showrooms displaying furniture in their windows. As you near the center of this town, the shops and factories become denser and you get the sense that this is a furniture building town. And then you see it. The giant chair.
As you approach the main intersection in the town of Manzano, set back from the highway on the right is a giant chair. That's all. A giant chair. No signs, no giant ottoman or oversized remote control. Just a single chair, possibly 50 feet high sitting all by its lonesome with no one to use it, waiting against hope for a 150 foot person to give it true meaning.
It must have some meaning for the locals but it simply sits in a field now. This part of Italy faces a constant onslaught from Austria, from Germany, from America. But as long the Italians continue to celebrate their identity with a giant chair, there remains hope that they can keep the barbarian hordes at bay a little while longer. Let's hope so.
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We circle the historic center of town, sticking to the perimeter where many of the two dozen or so of the town's prosciutterie seem to have set up shop. And soon we are pulling into the parking lot of Prosciutteria dall'Ava, a second generation business that is without doubt the hippest, most stylish house of pork leg in this city of pork. What Salvatore Ferragamo was to women's shoes, Carlo dall'Ava is to pig legs.
But it is the light pink, thinly sliced meat that is and always will be the star of the show. Prosciutto di San Daniele is just plain great.
The entire enormous curing rooms are computerized sterile enviroments designed to mimick nature. Whereas in the past prosciutti were hung in wooden open air rooms that allowed the area's fresh breezes and natural temperature changes to do their work slowly, over time, the temperature, humidity and air circulation in the modern curing rooms are controlled to ensure the optimal curing process. Essentially that process is a long, slow process of allowing the meat to expand, as the weather warms, and contract, as winter arrives, drying the meat as it naturally squeezes the liquids from within. In the summer, legs would be moved outdoors so they would be washed by summer rains. Inside the modern curing room rain storms are simulated in washing rooms. The curing rooms essentially recreate naturally occuring weather conditions over a year, ensuring that each leg will dry as nature intended, but sometimes is too fickle to allow. In its curing rooms Dall'Ava uses computerized technology to reproduce the ideal natural conditions, which may seem a touch ironic. But what they don't mess with is the process itself. Nothing is added to speed up the curing process, which takes the same amount of time from start to finish as in olden days. They simply guarantee the proper weather conditions.
Bill and Suzy