Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Ham & Cheese Co.

The Ham & Cheese Co.
For many years now I've been buying chunks of creamy parmesan, wafer-thin slices of Prosciutto and soft, glistening globes of mozzarella from Alison and Elliott at The Ham & Cheese Co. stall on Borough Market.  Though these days, thanks to Borough Market Management's bizarre decision to evict some of the best of their traders, I shop at the railway arch maturing rooms at in Bermondsey(currently Saturdays only).  It's taken me a while to get around to posting on them because I've got to know Alison and Elliott over the years and, well, it's  very easy to lose your objectivity.  A good time then to step back and take a long cool look at the range of products they now sell, which has grown over the years.

Starting out as The Parmesan Cheese Company, it was with a single-herd parmesan that they established a reputation for carefully sourcing a top quality product.  The Swiss Brown cows producing the milk are pastured in the foothills of the Apennines by the Avanzini family.  Fed on GM-free cereals and alfalfa grown organically on the farm, the cows produce enough milk for only 3-4 wheels of parmesan a day.  The aged finished product is rich and creamy but with a satisfying slightly-salty crunch to the texture.  It's still, I think, the best you will find in the UK.

After three years of searching, a Prosciutto di Parma finally met Alison and Elliott's high standards and the business turned into 'The Ham & Cheese Co'.  The Parma hams are produced by the Montali family using traditional methods which have largely been abandoned by mass producers.  Demand far outstrips production of this lean, tender and sweet meat.

The Mozzarella di Bufala is sourced from Campania but from the river plain of Piana del Sele.  South of Naples, this is still a largely agricultural area, rather than the more industrial plain north of the city.  Using unpasteurised milk, the production process is mostly by hand, creating creamy, velvety 100g and 250g globes.

Recently a Culatello de Zibello has been added to the table.  The Culatello ("little backside") is the most prized part of the pig and, therefore, the most expensive.  The Po river valley of Bassa Parmensa is renowned for its Culatello production.  The ham is matured in Polesine by l’Antica Corte Pallavicina.  This 14th century estate where the hams are cured is perfectly placed to take advantage of the fogs which roll across the river plain.  The specially constructed medieval cellar ensures perfect levels of humidity and allows for the longest ageing process of any Culatello produced today. With a drier texture and fuller flavour than Prosciutto, the 30-month aged ham selected by The Ham and Cheese Co is very special.

There is also a range of Basque country salamis made by Pierre Oteiza in the Aldudes Valley.  Having worked with local farmers to save the once endangered Cochon Basque, Oteiza raises his pigs outside all year round.  Foraging on the wooded hillsides for nuts and roots, their diet is supplemented by grains and beans to encourage them to remain close to the farm where they are brought down to straw-covered huts to farrow.  The J├ęsus du Pays Basque is a particular favourite.  Its moist texture and deep flavour is enhanced by the addition of peppercorns.

From buying a weekly hunk of parmesan I'm now spoilt for choice when shopping here.  The range has grown over the years but what you can be sure of is that each addition has been sourced with the greatest of care.  See the informative website below for the full range and to locate a market stall where you can taste and buy.  Look out for The Ham & Cheese Co at some of the best food fairs too.  If you can't go to them, they do mail order.

The Ham and Cheese Co