St Daniele di Friuli is situated in the North Eastern corner of Italy, bordered by Austria and Slovenia. The town is built on the side of the hills which rise up from the flat plains, at the point just before they become the mountains. It feels a world apart from the plains of central Northern Italy.
St Daniele’s position is unique, at an altitude of 252m it is the place where the cold winds from the mountains meet the warm salty breeze off the Adriatic, making a microclimate ideal for maturing and drying the prosciutto for which the town is famous.
Proscuitto di San Daniele is a dry cured ham, granted its PDO in 1996, and previously similarly protected by the Italian government in 1970. Like all other similarly protected products in order to ensure quality it has to be produced within the designated area to specified rules.
These days the ham is matured in modern factories, to the centuries old techniques, but of course, still with an expert hands on decision process at every stage of the process.
To be marked and sold as Proscuitto di San Daniele PDO, the hams must be produced within the town of San Daniele; currently there are 31 companies permitted to make the ham, and between them they produce about 2 and a half million hams a year.
To start with the thighs of pork arrive at the factory, these must be from Italian pigs, from the ten regions of Northern Central Italy – 4,200 farms are authorised. The pigs are fed on high quality cereals, weigh about 160Kg and have to be at least 9 months old at the time of slaughter. The thighs are delivered to the factory within an average 48 hours after slaughter and must weigh at least 12kg.
The thighs are checked, weighted, marked and trimmed before being chilled, to cause some moisture loss and to start the maturation process.
The thighs are carefully salted by hand and are left to rest on trays in chilled rooms, for 12 or so days depending on weight, then, in a process unique to San Daniele they are pressed to help the salt penetrate and improve the texture of the ham.
The hams are hung on metal racks and left to mature in cold rooms for a number of months. The marks you can see here – the black dotted tattoo is the mark from the farm, the mark with DOT and the date shows when the ham arrived in the factory. Other marks at this stage will identify the abattoir.
Slowly the hams change in colour, the outer fat becomes yellower, and they lose moisture. They are moved to the huge maturing rooms on the top floor of the factory when, on the days that the conditions are favourable the windows are opened so the unique air of St Daniele can work its magic on the hams. The hams are continuously monitored and tested during the maturing process. A typical mature ham will weigh at least 8.5kg, a loss of about 40% of weight.
During the drying process the a layer of pork fat and rice flour is applied to the exposed part of the thigh to keep it moist and soft – a process known as sugnatura. After a minimum of 13 months of maturing the hams have one last test, where they are pierced at 5 points around the bone, using a horse bone needle. The horse bone is highly porous, and an experienced tester can tell by the aroma if the ham is good. We smelt the hams, and were surprised to learn that the aroma from each of the 5 points was appreciably different.
Finally the approved hams are branded with the mark of San Daniele, and guarantee of quality.
The final product is served thinly sliced, and is a soft pale pink, with pristine white fat. The flavour is soft, sweet and delicate, and the texture meltingly soft. We enjoyed a plate in a typical prosciutteria, with local fresh cheeses and marinaded foraged mushrooms.
To learn more about Prosciutto di San Daniele, or follow and like on social media.
I was commissioned by Sapòrem to travel to Italy and to write about and share my experience visiting their four Consortia of premium traditional Italian products, of which Proscuitto di San Daniele is one. All opinions my own.
Gosh that’s a lot of meat! Really interesting to read about the process of making prosciutto and how it is cured into those delicious thin slices.
There was a vast amount of pork there!
Lovely post and photos. Reminds me of my visit to a Parma ham producer, sounds like a very similar production method and fabulous end product. Wonderful to see these traditional techniques being respected but modernised by today’s producers!
You are spot on Kavey. Traditional techniques being respected but modernised is just right.
Wow, what a lot of prosciutto there, it is very interesting to learn about how they are matured too. wonderful to hear that it is all so local. That town makes a lot of prosciutto!
It certainly does, and in a very very small area.
What a fascinating insight into how one of my favourite antipasto treats is made. Great photos too. You can tell when producers take care in making their products, will know what to look for in a top quality prosciutto now and will seek out San Daniele.
It is absolutely looking for the PDO product, the difference in taste is remarkable.
Oh my goodness that final photo is my idea of heaven. What a fascinating experience to learn the story behind such an iconic product.
It was pretty good. We all kept having one last piece!
What a fascinating insight into the world of this tasty delight… I will never look at a slice of prosciutto quite the same again!
I love learning more about how all these amazing foods are made. I feel a really connection to them now.
I find it more and more important to know where our food comes from, your post is very informative and interesting! I wouldn’t have thought so much time goes into prosciutto, but I suppose that’s why it’s such a savory treat! Patience is definitely a virtue here!
Patience certainly is a virtue and the prosciutto is well worth waiting for.
Emma @ Supper in the Suburbs
Wow I am jealous! I bet (hope) the smell was amazing. I love prosciutto but am staggered by the amount produced in that area – 2 and a half million hams a year!!! That’s a lot of ham…
it smelt heavenly. It is a lot of hams, but it is exported all over the world.
Ciara (My Fussy Eater)
I love prosciutto so much. Served with a little cheese, bread and oil for dipping, nothing much beats it! Its really interesting to hear the story behind how it is made.
Prosciutto really does not need much doing to it as it is so delicious. Maybe add a cheeky glass of wine?
Totally fascinating to hear the story behind the product. What craft and care goes into it. I will remember that amazing photo of those hundreds of hams whenever I buy some prosciutto now!
I think that one of the rooms had 20 thousand hams in it! With the aging process it is such an investment for the producer.
Really enjoying this series of Italian posts Helen – everything you have shared sounds truly delicious. I love learning about how these wonderful products are made.
I am so glad you are enjoying the Tracy. I am loving writing them and reliving the trip.
Munchies and munchkins
Really interesting to learn the back story. I bet it was a fabulous trip too. Cheese & meats..perfect combo.
Fascinating trip. We learnt so much.
Kerry at Kerry Cooks
This is so interesting! It’s wonderful that so many foods have a designated origin now so we can ensure we’re getting the best version of something
I think that the PGI, PDO schemes are so important for both producer and consumer. I am always happy to pay more the real thing.
Must be awesome to see these delicious product process! Did they tell how cold they were chilled?
Thanks Simon. I do not know about the temperature. It was fairly chilly in the first room with the salted hams. I will find out.
It looks cold there haha! Nice pictures Btw :)
The cold room was chilly. But nothing as bad as the massive walk in freezer at the Mortadella factory.
This was really interesting to read and learn about the work that goes into producing these Italian hams. It’s always worth paying that little bit extra for such high quality. Yum…can imagine how good it must’ve smelt! :)
A lot of hard work, expertise and passion. And certainly worth paying for the PDO prosciutto.
What a great post, I love foods where you can really see the care and pride the supplier or chef has in making them, this is almost always reflected in the quality and taste. Looks like you had a fab trip!
The pride that they have in making their hams is incredible Isabella. It was such an experience and privilege.
Grace @ Eats Amazing
It’s amazing to see the whole process, I had no idea it took so long to mature, well worth the wait though I am sure, it looks absolutely delicious in your last photo!
Absolutely worth the wait!
I love that you shared this because I think it’s so important to know where your food comes from, not to mention the process that has to take place in order to make prosciutto is so interesting. That must have been such a cool experience to go and see for yourself!
I think it is really important to know where the food comes from too. I am steeling myself up to go to an abattoir at some stage.
Dannii @ Hungry Healthy Happy
Wow, that’s a lot of meat! When I ate meat, I would have loved something like that.
They do say that it is pork products that tempt people back to eating meat!
Sally - My Custard Pie
Serious ham envy. Good to know the story though – wasn’t aware before.
It is a really magical place Sally.
Ali @ Home & Plate
What an interesting read. And how lucky are you that you got an inside view as to how they arrive at their final presentation. A lot goes into the process. Very interesting.
It was fascinating. So so interesting.
I’m a big proponent of people educating themselves about how their food is produced, from farm to plate. Thanks for including some information about the pigs at the time of slaughter, usually people don’t want to mention anything about slaughtering.
I agree. I think people get uncomfortable about the word. It is part if eating meat. If you do not like the thought then don’t eat it.
Wow, I didn’t know how much effort and heritage was involved in prosciutto. I love learning about the food we eat, I think it’s really important and adds a level of respect to the food. Will look out for Prosciutto di San Daniele! Fab informative post xx
It is a very detailed, and skilled process. Well worth paying for the DOP.
I love prosciutto and have not had it in so long! I cannot believe it takes 13 months to cure.
The time taken is what makes it so magically good.
Claudia ! Gourmet Project
have you ever tried it on oven baked scamorza? I could die for it!
I have not, but I now will!
Marisa Franca @ All Our Way
San Daniele is often forgotten because of Parma. I did a comparison a while back — Tale of Two Cities. The San Daniele prosciutto is sweeter and we really enjoyed eating it. I hope that someday I can so see it first hand. Great post.
That sounds fascinating Marisa, and I need to pop over and read the post. I’ll be writing about the town of San Daniele soon, so many non porcine treasures there.
Thank you Helen! This is the first time I ‘ve really learned about prosciutto. I had no idea what it was until now. Interesting history of this unique pork product. It looks absolutely tasty!
Look out for some and try it yourself Diane!
Sarah, Maison Cupcake
Really interesting to learn about the DOP process itself, how restricted it is which farms can supply hams etc.
Although these cured hams are more expensive, the flavour is so intense that less goes a long way. Probably a lot of people say “Parma ham” as a generic term for cured hams in thin slices so it’s good to have a reminder there are other places producing their own version of the product. I will look out for San Daniele in the shops!
I agree, the generic term is so often incorrectly used – San Daniele is well worth looking out for.
Sarah, Maison Cupcake
I keep coming back to this tab in my browser. I’m going to dream about pink slices of San Daniele tonight!!!
I did a fair amount of dreaming after this trip!
Rachel @ Simple Seasonal
How interesting! My husband and I have had a recent obsession with prosciutto. Now that I’ve seen how it made I’m even more obsessed!
You an me both. I am a full supporter of all cured pork products – especially prosciutto.
Oh Helen, I would love to wake up tomorrow morning in St Daniele di Friuli and stuff myself with this amazing prosciutto!! I am drooling over my screen :)
Me too. I want to go back and eat far more!
Alida @My Little Italian Kitchen
Just seen this post now! My hometown is just half an hour away from San Daniele, a speciality of my region. I grew up with it.. a fantastic ham that melts in your mouth. I find it hard to find the proper stuff in the UK. It is always inferior in quality.
I love your photos. Last year I visited a prosciutto factory in San Daniele but I haven’t managed (yet!) to see more than just the legs hanging up to dry.
I love San Daniele because it is only preserved with salt without preservaties added. Yum!
What a lovely place to grow up Alida. I am delighted you like the photos, it was such a fun trip.