Say Arrivederci to Burgers and Get Your Italian-Style Panino with Prosciutto di Parma!

Sponsored by Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma

It’s lunch time and you just realized that you have a deadline. You don’t have enough time for a proper lunch. What do you do? Better, what would Italians do? Most American lunchers (lunch-eaters) have only a few options and they all revolve around fast food. Bad indigestion and huge fat/calories intake follow. This is where we come in during those “crunch” times. In Italy, we would go to a PANINOTECA to eat a PANINO ALLA PIASTRA, aka a grilled panino.

In English-speaking countries, panini or panino (from the Italian panini [paˈniːni], meaning sandwiches) is usually a grilled sandwich made with bread such as baguette, ciabatta, michetta… If the bread is sliced, we’d call it a toast, but that is another story.

When I asked my daughter if she knew what a paninoteca was, she smiled and simply said, “Yeah, a sandwich library.” And although a paninoteca is not a library (that would be a biblioteca), she is not that far from the truth.

If you’ve been to Italy, you’ll know that most eateries have clearly defined roles. So, while all bars will serve espresso-cappuccino-croissant, all osterie will provide you with a filling meal in an unpretentious environment, and all pizzerie will sell you a pizza. Each establishment doesn’t try to be all things to all people, but rather concentrates on doing their (often simple) thing well. That is what a PANINOTECA is. A temple for the PANINI.

prosciutto di parma and figs

A match made in heaven: prosciutto and figs (Photo: Raffaele Asquer / Foodiamo)

The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread: Panino

Now that you know what a paninoteca is, let me tell you what we put inside panini. In a word, everything! From grilled veggies to frittatas, to mozzarella and tomatoes, from carni e arrosti, aka roasted meats, to a Tonkatsu-style panino called ‘la milanese’, to cold cuts and cheese (panino al formaggio).

While the choices are never-ending, the simplest, most elegant—my absolute favorite—way to eat a panino is to fill it (or stuff it, if you want) with PROSCIUTTO.

I fell in love with prosciutto at the age of 6 (50 years ago) when I would eat as much as I wanted only during summertime while vacationing in the beautiful Cinque Terre, Liguria. Why only there? Because my father, who didn’t want to spend extra $$ on prosciutto crudo and preferred the less expensive prosciutto cotto (ham), told me that prosciutto came only from there. I still laugh at the thought of it.

Where to Get Your Prosciutto Panino in Los Angeles

Here in Los Angeles, you can enjoy the authentic flavor of Italian prosciutto at Caffè Bella and Locanda del Lago on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. Caffè Bella is exactly like the paninoteca that you would find in Italy—one of the best places in town to eat a panino al prosciutto, or a prosciutto piadina. Locanda del Lago is more of a proper restaurant, featuring various prosciutto dishes on its menu.

Both restaurants proudly use Prosciutto di Parma, as I learned from the owners themselves, West Hooker-Poletti and Karin Fumagalli. Watch the video to learn more!

And Not Just Any Prosciutto…

Why does it have to be “di Parma”? Because the meats from the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma PDO (they received the Protected Designation of Origin from the European Union) are the real deal. Tradition dictates that the only ingredients in Prosciutto di Parma are specifically-raised Italian pigs, sea salt, air, and time.

Prosciutto di Parma comes from the finest pigs, born and raised according to strict guidelines on approved farms in 11 regions of Italy. Their diet, a special blend of cereals, grains, and whey from Parmigiano Reggiano production, contributes to the full-bodied, complex flavor of prosciutto, as well as its particular nutty taste. Each piglet receives a breeder tattoo within the first 30 days of its life, indicating the farm on which it was raised, and can still be found on the end product that receives the Parma Crown—the mark of true Prosciutto di Parma.

Click here to learn all about Prosciutto di Parma!


Now some numbers: over 150 Prosciutto di Parma producers supply more than 9 million hams annually to markets all over the world. Imagine how many panini you could fill with that much prosciutto! Hams are held for 100 days in climate-controlled rooms to ensure that the meat absorbs exactly the right amount of sea salt. Once branded with the Parma Crown, the hams are considered ready for market. Some are aged even longer, for up to 36 months.

Slicing prosciutto di parma at Locanda del Lago

Chef George Pincay of Locanda del Lago slicing some Prosciutto di Parma (Photo: Raffaele Asquer / Foodiamo)

Beyond Panini: Many Ways to Eat Prosciutto

Wanna know more? Besides panini, Prosciutto di Parma is so versatile and sophisticated that you can eat it as an appetizer (wrapped around breadsticks, for instance), as a main course (sliced and served with cheeses), or even for dessert (ever had prosciutto brittle?).

You can really use prosciutto on everything. You can cook it, grill it, wrap it around veggies, fish and seafood (prosciutto-wrapped scallops, anyone?), put it on pizza (mamma mia…), toss it with pasta, like in tortellini “prosciutto e piselli” (dice prosciutto, add peas and heavy cream) or with risotto… Or simply eat it with some gorgonzola, brie, asiago cheese… Prosciutto prosciutto prosciutto…

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