Prosciutto di San Daniele is only as special as it is because behind every ham is the hard work of men and women who are equally special. Dedicated professionals who have handed down the art of San Daniele from generation to generation through the centuries, ensuring that the strict method has remained unchanged for hundreds of years.
The quality of Prosciutto di San Daniele was officially recognised by the Italian government in 1970 when it introduced a law concerning the traditional rules governing production. This imposed a legal obligation to comply with these traditional methods and anyone failing to comply was penalised thereby protecting the brand, quality, and unique characteristics of San Daniele ham. These rules are set forth in the Product Specification and cover every step of the production process performed by the ham producers and everyone involved in the entire production chain e.g. breeders, slaughterhouses, slicers etc. The application of these rules is compulsory under Italian law and European Union regulations.
The first step is to select the meat. Only pigs born, reared, and slaughtered in Italy may be used to make Prosciutto di San Daniele. The pigs are fed a controlled diet based on whey and high-quality grain that is detailed in the Product Specification. Only legs that pass the preliminary conformity checks may begin the actual processing procedure. The selected legs are stored at a temperature between -1°C and +3°C for twenty-four hours to “tone up” the meat. They next are trimmed with specially chosen cuts to encourage moisture loss.
Twenty-four hours later the legs are covered with sea salt and hung at a temperature between 0°C and 4°C. According to tradition, each ham is rests in this state for a period based on its weight with one day for each kilogram of weight. This method enables the leg to be preserved naturally while maintaining the integrity of the meat and improving its flavour.
Once the hams have been salted, they are pressed by applying pressure along the muscle mass. This enables the salt to penetrate deep into the meat and ensures it has the optimum degree of firmness for the maturing process. Exclusive to San Daniele, this procedure gives the leg its characteristic guitar shape.
The salted legs are placed in special rooms to rest under constant humidity conditions varying between 70 and 80% and at a temperature between 4°C and 6°C. This resting phase continues until the fourth month from when processing started and enables the salt to gradually and uniformly penetrate and become evenly distributed inside the meat.
According to the Product Specification, maturation is strictly restricted to within the municipality of San Daniele del Friuli and must continue until at least the thirteenth month after the processing began. It is absolutely essential to maintain optimum temperature, humidity, and ventilation conditions during the entire maturing process.
As the ham matures it needs to be repeatedly checked to see how the process is progressing. This is done by regularly testing each and every leg of ham. Two types of tests are carried out: striking the leg to check the firmness of the ham and pricking it with a horse-bone needle in specific points on the leg and smelling the ham’s aroma to assess the meat’s quality and how it is maturing.
The quality control body IFCQ only carries out the final checks on the ham after the end of the thirteenth month. Only hams that pass these tests can be certified and branded with the San Daniele mark, which features the producer’s identification code and guarantees the quality of the product.