Tuesday, 24 January 2012

2012 Is A Ham-tastic Year For Cured Meats & Bad Puns

Is there much better in this world than ham? I reckon not. Bring it on! Here, I indulge on behalf of Scout London.

The Italian riverside retreat which throughout December kept our cockles warm in a custom-built chalet by the Thames has found a new way to our hearts for 2012. And whilst doctors might advise it really isn’t what our heart needs, we reckon we’d all be happier with a bit more ham in our lives.

Paying homage to the regional variations so abundant in Italian food and cooking,Cantina is refraining from putting all their charcuterie (excuse our French) in one proverbial basket. Instead, they’ve taken the ingenious decision of placing us on a meaty, porcine drip-feed; taking us month-by-month on a tour of the different products made in the northern, central and southern regions.

We recently popped in to try January’s offering of northern Italian meats and though it was predictable that we’d be impressed with the stuff itself, the staff’s immense knowledge on the different styles and how they are made took us by surprise. Never ones to sit quietly in the corner, we put them to the test and asked question after question, but never failed to receive an answer. If our waiter was on Wikipedia under the table, he did it very discretely.

The platter included Bresola and Prosciutto Veneto, both fairly familiar to and unashamedly wolfed down by our collective. Whilst the former is our only non-pork option, made by curing beef leg for around twenty days and then air-drying it for three months, the latter is effectively Parma Ham. We wouldn’t want to say that too loudly in the company of a northern Italian, though. Parma is in a completely different part of the country and our comparison is akin to thinking Wembley and Wimbledon are the same because they both host sports.

The third meat, Lardo, is more controversial, consisting of the cured, flavoured and seasoned layer of fat that lies just beneath the skin around the neck area. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but those who like it tend to love it, and we could think of no better candidate on which to make use of the much bandied about “melt-in-the-mouth” cliché. Place it on your tongue, don’t chew and wait for it dissolve for maximum satisfaction.

After this, our final meat of speck is pretty much a Weight Watchers shake, made from the lean meat of wild boars that’s been lightly cured, just slightly smoked and left to hang for at least twenty-two weeks. Enjoy this bacon-y, earthy indulgence with a glass of antioxidant rich red wine and feel insanely virtuous. We recommend insist taking a windy table outside by Tower Bridge if you head down this month, not because of the ever-so-slightly stunning view, but because it will help get you in the northern mindset. You’re allowed to sit inside for the central Italian offerings coming in February and March’s southern Italian offerings, though…

Find out more about the special menus and the meats available on Cantina’s website.

Cantina Del Ponte, 36c Shad Thames, SE1 2YE www.cantinadelponte.co.uk 

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