Self-Quarantine Is the Perfect Time to Buy an Entire Leg of Prosciutto
There's never been a better time to up your luxury meat game
I’ve never been to San Daniele, a small hilltop town in northeast Italy, but I know it has a 550-year-old library that boasts a priceless copy of Dante’s Inferno from the 14th century. I know it has a frescoed chapel and a church named for Saint Anthony the Abbot, the patron saint of butchers. I’ve never been to San Daniele, but I’ve had its most prized salume: prosciutto that’s tender enough to dissolve in your mouth. And each year, thousands of people travel from around the world to San Daniele for Aria di Festa, a festival devoted to stuffing your face with it.
Prosciutto has always represented one embarrassing gap in my swine-centric scholarship. After not eating pork for a lot of my youth, I’d fallen in love with bacon and pepperoni; I’d become familiar with the meaning and functions of most every form of pig comestible from Taylor Ham to porchetta. And sure, I’d had prosciutto foisted upon me with some melon at one of those small-plates places, but I never really understood prosciutto.
However, in the throes of self-isolation, I found myself looking for prosciutto. Admittedly, it was a stand-in for luxury and curiosity, a task that might offer a semblance of control in a chaotic time. That’s how I ended up learning about the magic of San Daniele, where every pork leg is salted, one day for each kilogram of meat, and aged in a specialized microclimate of Adriatic breezes and mountain air. Next, I found a grocer that wasn’t 4,000 miles away, where I could order it online. The cost? Twenty-six American dollars a pound. I placed an order.
The delivery arrived in the morning and, instead of waiting for lunch, I started working on the first recipe for baked prosciutto egg cups I found. Between making some toast and stinking up my kitchen with the sweet smell of oven-baked prosciutto and hot coffee, I knew the rest of this one day would be fine.
I’m generally not one for frivolity. Were I ever brave enough to get a tattoo, the only credo that I’m confident will still resonate with me 40 years from now is “Never pay retail.” But with some much seemingly on the line, it seems like this moment is worthy of at least one extravagance. What I am saying is that you should find your prosciutto. And since I can’t say that obsessing over one style of pork and sleuthing out a source is the most efficient way to go about this quest, I’ve found some solid alternatives along the way to help you in yours:
EatWild: One relatively easy way to find out what’s on offer at nearby farms, ranches, or suppliers is to dive into this extensive, 1000-plus directory of local purveyors, which places an emphasis on quality meat, cheeses, and dairy. Almost as important is the geographic diversity; the listings span all across the United States and Canada, along with a few scattered points around the world.
ButcherBox: For those of you looking to get into a full-time quality meat habit, this startup offers premium subscriptions delivered by the box every one to three months. The options include custom or curated collections of grass-fed beef, heritage pork, and free-range organic chicken at generally cheaper prices than national retailers.
Fossil Farms: If conventional game fails to fulfill the demands of this YOLO moment, this Jersey purveyor might have your answer. Sourcing from independent ranchers and farms, Fossil Farms boasts a staggering meatly bounty featuring over 200 proteins. That’s everything from yak to alligator to boar and kangaroo.
Omaha Steaks: Look, we’ve all gotten this tantalizing steak porn in the mail. But the fact of the matter is that Omaha Steaks has been mailing meat around the country since Eisenhower took office for good reason. And though it’s understandable that a consumer might fall for the lowbrow-highbrow siren song of a bacon-wrapped filet mignon, their hot dogs are also bizarrely fantastic.
Portillo’s: Speaking of hot dogs, maybe this was the year you planned to make a pilgrimage to the Windy City to knock Chicago dogs and Italian beef off the bucket list. Well, in the absence of that, you can still get Portillo’s sent to your door. Sure, it’s not a fully authentic experience without hearing a retired IBEW worker complain about having to squeeze through a gangway after lunch, but their packages still come with gravy, pickle spears, and hot giardiniera included.
The bottom line is that we can treat social distancing as isolatory, as a time for old standbys and comfort food. But it should also be an opportunity to indulge with a little bit of panache. Some people may learn to knit, others are trying to learn French, your friends might finally be reading Moby Dick. Forget about that. When all of this is over, god willing, there will still be plenty of pressure to optimize your every waking moment. Until then, it’s prosciutto for me. That is, until later this week when the five-pound brisket smoked by a pitmaster who moonlights as an East Texas janitor finally arrives.