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No Matter How You Slice It

August 22, 2016

The title of today’s post is misleading. Let’s talk about prosciutto for a moment. Here is a craft that has been honed for generations. World class prosciutto exists thanks to the combination of great pork, plenty of salt, and even more time, But it needs a skilled hand and watchful eye over those many months of aging.

When it’s done, you’ve got a thing of beauty. Or rather, you have a great leg of potential. Because how the prosciutto is sliced can make a world of difference.

Little Miss Fussy loves prosciutto. It’s one of her favorite things. What can I say, she’s daddy’s little girl. And I’ve been bringing her up on La Quercia. But we dabble in the imports when we can’t get the good stuff from Iowa.

Did I ever tell you about the one time I bought some prosciutto as a special treat for her school picnic from Via Fresca in Guilderland? It was sliced so thickly that even my powerful chompers had a difficult time biting through the fat. My daughter’s disappointment was palpable.

Even a child knows that Prosciutto is not the same if you slice it too thickly. It’s not. Let’s discuss.

People may have different opinions about what they love in a good prosciutto. But if you don’t enjoy that gorgeous white layer of tender, melting fat, then you should probably consider getting some other kind of cured meat. Because the fat is what makes prosciutto special.

Once I saw a young inexperienced butcher at a Wegmans in New Jersey trim off a giant piece of that glorious fat from the leg. I wanted to jump over the counter and throttle that young man.

But it’s not just prosciutto. I’m a big believer that many of the deli meats are better sliced thin.

Sure, there’s some joy to gnawing on a thick hunk of salami on occasion. But if I’m getting it sliced for a sandwich, I’m going to ask for it as thin as possible too. In part because you want the meat inside a sandwich to be easier to chew. However, there’s another benefit to thin slices of meat as well.

Surface area. Are you familiar with Tête de Moine? It’s a cheese that uses a special tool to cut impossibly thin ribbons from the wheel. The idea is that the increased surface area releases more aroma from the cheese itself.

And it’s absolutely true. I’ve tried it both ways and can attest to the superiority of ultra-thin shavings. Of course thin slices have a drawback too. They can feel entirely unsubstantial. Which is actually quite easy to fix. Just add more slices.

I’ll also be the first to admit that some meats demand thicker slices. Warm braised brisket. Hot pastrami. These will dry out if sliced too thin. And the bursts of hot rendered fat from a thickly, hand sliced piece of fatty corned beef with mustard is one of life’s great pleasures.

My point here is that knowing how to slice meat properly is important.

Far too often, this craft is overlooked, and the deli slicer itself is seen more as a sharp hunk of metal than a fine craftsman’s tool. You know who gets it? This guy gets it.

After visiting Capri Imports in Schenectady, I think that they get it too. While they may not use such a fancy machine, the women behind the counter don’t take shortcuts in crafting their outrageous deli sandwiches. All of those thin thin slices of ham are patiently sliced and layered into the roll. It’s a herculean effort, but well worth it in the end.

I just wish that there was some kind of basic training that everyone who handles charcuterie had to go through before they were allowed to use a slicer. Because the way good prosciutto and salami is sliced can be really unfortunate.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. buffsoulja permalink
    August 22, 2016 11:55 am

    Glad you mentioned Capri. I think they may have been the best sliced regular deil ham I have ever had.

  2. EPT permalink
    August 23, 2016 8:13 am

    Unfortunately, most of the folks slicing prosciutto can’t afford to buy it, so they really don’t know how to slice it. It’s really a training issue. I remember years ago at Eats in Stuyvesant Plaza I ordered a half pound of prosciutto and the guy started slicing it at about an 8th inch. The owner almost went ballistic and took over the task himself. Those few ‘bad’ slices probably found their way to a nice greens and beans dish.

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