When people decide to eat more local foods (or even go for all local when it comes to produce and/or meats), the world of "fine foods" can seem but a dream. What about French cheeses, Swiss chocolate, and Italian salami? Lucky for those of us who like to seek out local food experiences, more and more producers are creating refined, high-quality gourmet foods right in our own backyards.
One excellent example is La Queceria, a producer of delicious cured meats, including prosciutto, in Iowa. Yes, Iowa.
Ancient Localism, Iowa-Style
Herb and Kathy Eckhouse started La Quercia based on a simple observation: In Italy, prosciutto and other cured pork products are made right there on the farms or at least in the towns near the farms where the pigs are raised.
Why, they thought, couldn't the same be done in Iowa?
They knew that the Midwest may lack the historic culinary depth of Italy, but it was also clear that Iowa was home to plenty of well-raised pork. Plus, anecdotal observation told them that some small farmers were even experimenting with raising heirloom breed pigs, including some that have been bred specifically to have the fat-to-meat ratio for various charcuterie or cured meat delights.
Working with local pig farmers, La Quercia sources pork that is raised without the use of antibiotics (better for the farms, better for the pigs, better for all of us). Like all pork in the United States, theirs is also raised without any added hormones. Some of their products are from organic pork, and many are from 100% Berkshire or Berkshire-Cross breeds, known for fabulous flavor.
The farms they work with, and those farms' animal husbandry practices, are all laid out on the company website.
Super Simple Ingredients
La Quercia uses only pork, sea salt, and in some cases spices to make their products. No artificial cultures, no lactic acid, and no nitrates are ever used.
By keeping the ingredients super simple, La Quercia keeps the focus on the flavor inherent in the pork and how that can be gently, deliciously coaxed in different directions through the careful application of air and time.
Domestic Prosciutto Worth Seeking Out
The resulting prosciutto is rich, luscious, and full-flavored. Prosciutto comes from what Americans call the "ham" or leg of the pig. Unlike cooked or smoked ham, prosciutto is salted and air-dried to cure it and keep it edible for months and months when stored properly.
Pancetta, guanciale, spiced prosciutto, speck (a smoked prosciutto-like ham), and spicy coppa fill out their product line.