Herb and Kathy Eckhouse of La Quercia ("the oak" in Italian) are making a name for Iowa in the cured meat world. The products coming out of their prosciuttificio easily give big European names like Jamon Serrano a run for their money. Herb and Kathy both have long ties to food and agriculture: Kathy is a former ranch hand and Agriculture Economics researcher at U.C. Berkley, and Herb has over thirty years of experience in agriculture from raising crops to working cattle. After living in Parma, Italy for three and a half years (where they learned the art and the joy of making prosciutto) the couple spent five years researching and experimenting at home. The techniques and recipes they developed result in prosciuttos (and other cuts of meat) of the same quality you would find in Italy, but reflecting their American heritage.
La Quercia not only produces artisanal cured meats of incredible quality, but they do so in a responsible, sustainable, humane way- something we can really get behind! By focusing on specific varietals- specific breeds of pig- they highlight what sets these breeds apart from the pork you'll find at the grocery store. And since the Berkshire and Tamworth heritage breeds they use are considered "threatened" breeds, the sustainability and treatment of the hogs are key concerns for the Ecklands. All of the farmers who raise hogs for La Quercia subscribe to humane practices: the pigs have access to enough open space to move around, root in the mud, and otherwise act the way happy pigs act; no artificial hormones or non-therapeutic antibiotics are used; the pigs are never fed animal byproducts; and none of the pigs come from large confinement facilities. For all their trouble, La Quercia compensates the farmers based on the price the farmer decides is required to make a small profit- that is, the price is independent of commodity pricing, and helps to keep production at a sustainable level.
This American prosciutto rivals the products of Italy and Spain with its sweet and delicate flavor. It is the culmination of Herb and Kathy's dream, standing up to any Old World ham. The silken texture is creamy, perfect for putting on a pizza as soon as you pull it out of the oven.
Picture credits @ producer