We The Italians | Italian flavors: Zibello Culatello

Italian flavors: Zibello Culatello

Italian flavors: Zibello Culatello

  • WTI Magazine #122 Dec 14, 2019
  • 812

Mentions of culatello date from 1332, when it was given, as a precious gift, to noble spouses and wealthy lords. Loved by the poet Gabriele D'Annunzio and the great composer Giuseppe Verdi, culatello, which was once used as a precious medium of exchange, has its roots in the historical memory of the peasant culture, which still exists in the farmhouses of the Bassa Parmense area, where tradition keeps alive the quality of an inimitable food. 

Always considered the king of deli meats, until the early decades of the last century only a few families could afford the fine taste of culatello and its fame did not extend beyond the Po Valley. 

But the fact that it remained unknown to the public ensured the traditional characteristics of the product in the same way in which it fed its legend, surrounding it with a little of the fog that has never abandoned the people of these places and that participates in the creation of this unique deli meat.

The product

Culatello di Zibello DOP is a deli meat stuffed in a natural casing which is usually a pig's bladder. Characterized by its classic pear shape, it is obtained from the band of muscles on the rear of the thigh of heavy Italian pigs coming exclusively from farms in Lombardy and Emilia Romagna. 

Culatello di Zibello DOP is still processed today with great skill following the same craft techniques of the past. Stuffed and “tied” with string that forms a large netting, it has a thin layer of grease on the convex part, which keeps it soft for the duration of its curing.

A control body authorized by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, checks each step of the supply chain in accordance with a strict control plan on the feeding of the pigs, the quality of their breeding and slaughtering and the selection of the cuts through to the production of Culatello di Zibello. 

When cut, Culatello di Zibello DOP has a uniform red colour veined by white fat. Its aroma is intense and characteristic and the taste is sweet and delicate, with hints of aromatic overtones.


After it is cut from the heart of the rear thigh of the pig, the bone and skin are removed and it is trimmed to its classic “pear” shape, Culatello di Zibello DOP is first seasoned and rubbed with a blend of salt and spices and then stuffed into the pig bladder.

It is then subjected to traditional “netting”, which consists in hand-tying a network of cord that holds the deli meat, preserving the shape given it by the expert butchers and supporting it during curing. Then it is left to cure in natural cellars with a special micro-climate, where the noble moulds make its aroma even more intense. After 10 months, it is checked to determine if it meets the requirements of the Production Regulations that attest to its excellence. 

The Consortium has established that, to defend against imitations, all DOP Culatello di Zibello produced by consortium members must bear the consortium brand, which is a dark-coloured pig, a symbol of the ancient roots of this prized PDO product. 

Finally, its curing is extended to 20 months and even beyond in some special cases, but some Culatello can be stored up to a maximum of 36-40 months: it will be a product with exceptional characteristics and flavours.


The process of ensuring an absolutely flawless product on the palate does not end here. The final preparation of Culatello di Zibello DOP, performed immediately before consumption, is a real ritual. 

First, the Culatello must be washed with water or wine, the cord removed and the skin brushed and, just before it is sliced, the excess fat must be trimmed while maintaining a crown of white fat around the slice. Now it's ready to be savoured. Once cut, it is should be consumed in a short time to fully appreciate its distinctive sensory properties. 

Ideally, it is served with the characteristic bread of its area of origin and a curl of butter and combined with a local sparkling wine.

The area

Culatello di Zibello DOP comes from a strip of land in the Parma area that lies along the great Po River and is shrouded in fog for most of the year. 

Culatello di Zibello DOP can only be produced in the municipalities of Polesine, Busseto, Zibello, Soragna, Roccabianca, San Secondo, Sissa and Colorno, in the Province of Parma. The geographical element is crucial for obtaining a product with distinctive sensory characteristics and high quality. In fact, these areas have a special micro-climate - characterized by long, cold and foggy winters and hot, sunny and sultry summers - which is the decisive and irreplaceable climatic factor for the maturation and curing of Culatello. 

The right alternation of warm and cold and wet and dry periods allows the Culatello to cure slowly while it develops the distinctive aromas and flavours that have made Culatello di Zibello DOP famous throughout the world.

By Consorzio di Tutela del Culatello di Zibello with MiPAAF