The cure: prosciutto D’Osvaldo

Categories: Product stories

A delicate Italian ham lovingly produced in the village of Cormòns to a family recipe handed down through generations

In 1940, a local butcher in the small Italian village of Cormòns named Luigi D’Osvaldo decided it was time to start curing his own hams. We do not know what prompted the decision, but it turned out to be a very good one for the D’Osvaldo family and lovers of prosciutto near and far—including Borough Market shoppers.

“We have visited the family and Cormòns is a lovely village right by the border of Italy and Slovenia, in the extreme north-east of the country. They are a small, genuinely artisanal producer who produce a beautiful ham,” says Philip Crouch, owner of The Parma Ham and Mozzarella Stand. “When we arrived, we found ourselves in this amazing palazzo-style villa with a courtyard and several buildings. It is nothing grand, but it is big enough for them to have some living quarters and to have converted parts of it into their production facility.” Built in 1800, the present villa was bought in the 1980s by Luigi’s son Lorenzo, who runs the company with wife Lucia and their children Monica and Andrea.

It has been more than 70 years since the first D’Osvaldo ham made its appearance, and that time has been spent constantly striving to improve. But this has not been at the expense of old expertise: the recipe and methods they use are firmly rooted in those developed by Luigi, whose processes in turn mirrored those of his own father, Giacomo, who employed them from eastern Europe, where they were used to preserve meat.

Selected pigs
There is no doubt that Luigi would still recognise the hams his great grandchildren are now learning to make—but whatever the origins of its production method, prosciutto D’Osvaldo is undoubtedly an Italian ham. “The hams are produced with fresh thigh meat of selected pigs raised in Friuli-Venezia Giulia,” Philip explains.

The thighs are salted and massaged by hand, then pressed and partially covered with ‘sunia’ (a mixture of salt and fat), which is rubbed over the open end of the thigh to seal it and help control the rate of drying. The hams are then hung for 16 to 24 months. “Lorenzo still manages the hams as they go through the curing process. Some of them are very delicately smoked using a mixture of cherry and laurel logs, which adds a sweet touch to the prosciutto,” says Philip. “It is a lovely product. We take some of those, as well as the unsmoked prosciutto.”

Lorenzo carefully checks each ham, inspecting, pressing, smelling and occasionally taking a sample to ensure its quality. He also controls the speed of the drying process by managing the sunia. “If he thinks the ham is not losing water quickly enough he will take some off or add more if they want to slow it down. It is a very complex process that takes years of experience to master.

Intimate, hands-on approach
“This all takes place in buildings where the windows have adjustable wooden slats which allow Lorenzo to manage the air flowing into and out of the rooms, thereby controlling the environment,” Philip explains with real admiration. “It is a very intimate, hands-on approach which gives Lorenzo a deep knowledge of the process and the quality of the hams he is producing.”

With the fifth generation of ham-makers now learning the art, the prosciutto D’Osvaldo looks set to have a healthy future—something for which we can all be grateful.