Getting the right balance for a Prosciutto pairing

Sommeliers from Parma offer regional wines to match with delicate slice of prosciutto

The saltiness of dry-cured prosciutto ham sourced from around the northern Italian city of Parma matches best with a confident wine, not red or too bold, but one that is comfortable in its own skin. The landscape around the city and centre of prosciutto production is thick with the twists and turns of vineyards growing the Malvasia grape, the perfect ingredient for a deliciously sparkling drink that matches perfectly with thinly sliced pieces of prosciutto.

This ham is a versatile ingredient, matching well with fruits such as figs and melon; with chicken stuffed with mozzarella and with flavours such as the deeper, often earthy flavours of stilton cheese, dates, porcini mushrooms or asparagus. When choosing a wine to drink with a prosciutto dish, the subtle, sweet taste and delicate texture of the ham needs a wine of equal sensitivity that won’t overwhelm the meat.

Cheese and crackers, peanut butter and jelly and wine and Prosciutto di Parma – some things are just better together. Pork pairs well with everything, but some wines complete a dish in ways you didn’t think possible, say the experts at parmacrown.com who market Prosciutto worldwide. “As a rule of thumb when pairing wine and Prosciutto di Parma, avoid wine with really heavy tannins, as the salt will make the tannins taste sour. Similarly, avoid overly sweet wines, which will cancel out the natural sweetness in Prosciutto di Parma”.

Sliced paper thin and with melt in your mouth appeal, its high saltiness factor and dryness, prosciutto is a popularly paired with sparkling wines. Bubbly rosés or perhaps a light, sparkling red work well with the ham. Other pairing options include still Rosé, with a crisp minerality or a light, fruity white wine. A dry Sherry (perhaps a Fino or Manzanilla) or a dry Madeira (such as a five -year Verdelho or Sercial Madeira) have also worked well in the pairing game.

Wine buffs ordering a pizza topped with the classic ingredients Prosciutto and the rocket salad-like Arugula would typically choose a classic Italian red wine, for example winefolly.com suggests a Sardinian wine, “particularly a red called Cannonau (which is actually Grenache) and Carignano (aka Carignan). They are medium-bodied, leathery, and fruity,” and reasonably priced at around $14 in the US.

A key thing to bear in mind is that prosecco is generally sweeter than other sparkling wines especially (confusingly) the ‘extra dry’ style which is best matched with pastries, biscuits, cakes and other sweet things – in other words it’s the perfect wine for a tea party or too match with a dish of prosciutto tumbled with ripe peaches and figs.

Prosciutto also pairs well with “particularly well with anything that includes fresh sage, mushrooms of any variety, and ingredients that have a syrupy sweetness, like figs, raisins, Port, and aged balsamic vinegar, says wineskinny.com. “Prosciutto matches up nicely with sparkling wines and zesty white wines (like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Gewurztraminer), as well as young fruity reds like Chianti, Dolcetto and light Pinot Noir”.

Wine from the hills around the city, dozens of family-owned vineyards create delicious red wines characterised by intense ruby colours and full-bodied robust flavours with a taste often described as being ‘dry, harmonious and savoury’. On the slopes that sweep up to the extraordinary Torrechiara Castle, sweet still or sparkling white wines grown from the Malavasi di Candia grapes are a great match for Prosciutto and other locally sourced foods and ingredients including Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Beer is also a great complimentary drink to enjoy with a dish of prosciutto, balancing out the saltiness and providing a crisp, smooth finish. Here are five great beer suggestions from parmacrown.com.

Belgian Witbier
This light ale gives off a citrus taste that coincides well with feta and goat cheeses but also stands up to heavier foods.

Hefeweizen
This German-style wheat ale produces flavours of banana and cloves with some spice and tartness. Contrasting with mustard flavours, pickled foods, and cured meats, Hefeweizen is a go-to beer to balance with Prosciutto di Parma.

Blond Ale/Cream Ale
With the cream ale’s malty sweetness and smooth finish, this beer is ideal for balancing sweet or spicy foods. Blond and Cream Ales complement dishes like the Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken Saltimbocca Alla Romana or the Pizza with Prosciutto, Spicy Peach Jam and Burrata.

Porter
Porter beer is a dark, malted beer with slight nutty and toffee characteristics, which couples nicely with smoked meats, creamy cheeses, and less-sweet desserts. The key to pairing porters with desserts is to make sure the dessert is less sweet than the beer.

Pilsner
The hoppy aroma and bitterness of a Pilsner is bold but won’t overwhelm a dish, making it a versatile beer to complement even delicate foods.  This beer pairs well with light fishes, marbled meats, and sweet reductions, but, in particular, is excellent with ham and cheese duos, as the saltiness balances the smoothness of the pilsner.

The deliciously sparkling Malvaisa Frizzante
A tasting cup and mark of the sommelier
Sommeliers from Parma region of northern Italy
A double take on delicious Italian sparkling wine
Carving ham at Parma’s prosciutto festival is skilled work
Bruce McMichael

I am freelance journalist and published author focusing on food and drink; business startups and enterprise; culture and travel. I have also written about the global upstream oil and gas industry, shipping and current affairs. Based in London, I travel widely, particularly across western Europe. I have chaired many conferences and meetings, spoken at conferences and events and often appear on radio and TV talking most about food, the business of food and being an entrepreneur.

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