Fine article in the Times magazine yesterday about an Iowa couple making a prosciutto that, according to chefs, is every bit as good as the stuff coming out of Parma.  But what caught my attention was the intelligence of the guy who started La Quercia, Herb Eckhouse, a former Des Moines seed-company executive who started the company in order planned to do something good with his early retirement.

“It was clear that we had this incredible bounty around us, but we weren’t known for creating great stuff to eat.”
–Bounty, the sheer bounty of our land, our climate, all that we might do, and look what we have done.

“At the beginning of the 20th century, Iowa fed people. And here we are in the 21st century, and we’re feeding machines. It’s just a priori wrong.”
–Corn, one of our main food crops, you can't eat it–it's got to be machine processed first. Can it be said enough?  No.  The word is Wrong. 

 “One of the things in the U.S. is we don’t have the thousands of years of tradition of making prosciutto — or of making anything,”
–Of making anything.  Which is why we've so trashed our food.

 “You see that the quality of the meat comes from the quality of life of the animal and the quality of the feed”
–Also can't be said enough: the quality of the life of the animal determines the quality of the meat.  Why isn't this obvious to the people who raise our livestock?

I really like this guy.

There's a good video of Jill Santopietro making eggs in purgatory, the recipe accompanying the story, in her purgatory-sized kitchen.  Note her affinity for salt and fat!


22 Wonderful responses to “Quotes of the day: from an American prosciutto maker”

  • Salty

    The heartland, often being overlooked as “fly over country” is a Disneyland of artisan food products and chef to farmer relationships. After all we are surrounded by them. We don’t get the press but good chef’s around hear have been ahead of the curve for decades.

  • Pavlov

    If you’re looking for an Amen from someone Michael…. you got it! AAAAAAAMEN brother! Testify…. I wished more folks would sit up and take notice… thanks for spreading the good word.

  • E L

    good to see la quercia getting some hype. here in chicago, their products are almost ubiquitous in high-end restaurants, especially those that are concerned about organic, local, humane, etc, etc….

    not to mention the fact that it’s just flat-out great prosciutto and cheaper than the italian products.

  • Tags

    Calvin Trillin might want to consider relocating Santo Prosciutto from the Italian West Indies to Iowa.

  • Laura

    That’s a good point about us not having a food tradition. It’s easier to bastardize food if there are no guiding principles that we’ve been raised with.

  • Dave

    I agree with Salty – chefs like George Formaro and Kurt Michael Friese are leading the charge of using high-quality, locally-sourced products. They’ve been far ahead of the curve for a long time.

  • boonie

    thanks for giving props to “The 515″…only during the presidential races do we get any exposure…there’s also some great cheeses coming out of the area to go with that prosciutto…

  • big guy

    It’s so great and heartening to read about US food producers getting it right – really, really right – and taking advantage of a system that allows for unfettered experimentation and innovation instead of being locked into well-intentioned but narrow & legislated tradition. The German Reinheitsgebot/brewing purity law is why a German brewer will never make & sell anything as creative and tasty as a Belgian brewer.

    The success of La Quercia also might show the traditionalist food makers of the EU (who have been squawking about having to follow EU food prep laws) that it is quite possible to make a very high-quality product in a facility with modern sanitary conditions.

    (That the cost of obtaining and maintaining such a facility in the EU is squeezing out small family producers is another story.)

  • Marlies

    The German Reinheitsgebot is not just for brewing purposes but for slaughtering lifestock as well. That’s why they do not have salmonella outbreaks, mad cow disease, and you can safely eat raw pork. And another thing! the best prosciutto can’t touch a good German Blackforest Schinken. Try to learn to make that over here successfully and you’ll really have something. I watched Jill’s video.
    That concoction looked bloody awful. All that salt and fat (and I’m a fat lover)! Suicide on a plate!

  • Erin

    This is so awesome. I am really big into promoting/using American made artisan products, it is always great to discover something new. Now to find it.

  • milo

    I think I’ve had this from my local cheese shop just outside Chicago. Very good stuff although I haven’t got it that much since it’s nearly twice as much as the good italian stuff.

    Definitely worth trying though if you find it.

  • Vivian

    In my quest to find great milk for cheese I have been able to get to know some really great cattlemen who are committed to producing a great beef product. I am thrilled that a great prosciutto is being produced in this country and would love to get a taste of their lardo as well.

  • Cameron S.

    What a great NYT article – I have had their prosciutto and found it excellent as well. This article makes so much sense on every level.

  • Sam

    As an Iowan, I’m proud to see these guys finally getting the recognition they deserve. In fields of corn and soy, it’s nice to see somebody doing something worthwhile.

  • Louisa Edwards

    I love this guy! And now I really want some of his prosciutto.

    I’m thinking about developing a full-on corn phobia. It’s that scary.

  • Judith in Umbria

    Not only do Americans (I am one) throw out food traditions, but they don’t like it when others try to preserve “the real thing” vis a vis anything calling itself Alfredo Sauce.
    Parma ham has an unmistakable tang from the Parmigiano whey the pigs eat, as San Daniele from Friuli-Venezia Giulia taste of the acorns they eat. I see nothing wrong with making fine cured hams from corn-fed pigs, but I suspect there will be some complaints about calling it prosciutto crudo, which is after all an Italian tradition.

  • Nick Bergus

    I’ve met Herb and Kathy and written about them a couple times, too. They are sharp people.

    It’s interesting that, while their meats are available at high-end places in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, they’re not terribly easy to find here in Iowa. That’s a real shame.

    Unless we Iowans start to take pride in what our land can produce to feed people, we’ll continue to produce the inedible.

  • Kathy

    I had La Quercia proscuitto just the other night at The Publican in Chicago and it was absolutely delicious! I highly recommend seeking it out and supporting these folks. They make some great great stuff.

  • Vivian

    I had to re-watch Jill’s video. I swear I will never again take for granted my small kitchen. That girl barely has space to move her elbows!

  • Troy Silvey

    It is not hard to find La Quercia Prosciutto, or pancetta, coppa, or anything else these fine folks make, just go to their website:

    I love their stuff, great meats, great people!

  • The Locavore

    I know Herb and Kathy personally. They are some of the most kind, thoughtful and humble people I know. They are wonderful contributors to our community. I appreciate what they do on many levels.