Born in Lunigiana: The Happy Wife of Ham

Inventive Salumi Artisan Creates the Best in Italian Quality  

The Macelleria Elena & Mirco in Castelnuovo Magra
Macelleria Elena & Mirco in Castelnovo Magra near the Tuscan border. 
Only in Italy would a life-long devotion to producing pork products be considered an art.  We met an artist / salumiere who combines craftsmanship, art, experimentation, and imagination to reach the ultimate mastery of the meaty genre.  At a small salumeria in the Ligurian town of Castelnovo Magra, Mirco Bertini is at the top of his game.  He has devoted more than 20 years to developing prosciutto, pancetta, sausages, and the like, and they are ethereal bits of Mediterranean heaven.

Signor Bertini is so devoted, he needed a new word to distinguish his product from prosciutto - thus was born his amazing Prosciutta.  As Mirco puts it (loosely translated) "The Prosciutta is the happy wife of ham . It's the perfect fusion of the Ligurian tradition with that of Tuscany: it is a meat unmistakable for its delicate aroma and delicious taste.”

Sign for Prosciutta, the patented ham
Prosciutta C. , the patented ham.
This all started with a family business: Mirco Bertini’s grandfather raised remarkably good pigs, and in the 1960’s his mother and uncle made it in to excellent sausages, mortadella, and pancetta.  In 1967 his mother, Elena Bertucci, opened her own store to sell the products, and by 1973 she was working on making prosciutto from the very best cuts.  Her son got interested when he was 14, and started working on methodology.  His goal was to use all the traditional ways, but to develop new flavors and techniques as well.  For almost twenty years Mirco thought about hams, experimenting with flavors, processing methods, seasonings.  Finally in 1997 his Prosciutta Castelnovese was perfect.  It was so perfect, so unique, that he patented it. Patented ham!

Prosciutta Castelnuovese aging
Prosciutta hanging out, aging, listening to music, inhaling aromas: like us.

While the historic section of Castelnovo Magra is high in the foothills of the Apenines on the border of Liguria and Tuscany, the town extends down to the coastal plain in a sprawl of neighborhoods, vineyards, and commercial lots.  And in this tangle is Mirco and Elena’s salumeria.  See below for specifics.

When we visited the salumeria, we didn’t know much about it, but it was enticing, engaging, and we bought a whole armload of different specialty products from Elena.  In addition to the salumi, there are specialty pastas, cheeses, wines, and preserves. Many are locally produced and hard to find. As we were leaving, a young man with slightly spiky hair and a can-do attitude came in and said hello, and we idly asked him what made his prosciutta different.  “I’ll show you” he said, rather mysteriously. He took us down the driveway, through a locked gate, to a little building out back. The whole building is the most elegant meat locker you could ever imagine.

Climate controlled meat chamber
Herbs and aromatics in the climate controlled meat chamber.
As he opens the door to the dark room occupied only by hanging meat, we hear soft music playing. Music! For the ham! The room is decorated with stone statues, dried flowers, antique furniture, there is soft lighting, the paint is fresh and clean.  He keeps the two small rooms at a precise temperature and humidity, and hangs organic herbs and long swirls of lemon peels and orange peels from the low rafters next to the hams and sausages. The aroma is exquisite. As Mirco put it in an interview with the magazine, L’Espresso "My salumi should not be stressed, they must mature in an oasis of tranquility and perfume. I gather herbs (fennel, wild laurel, lemon verbena, tarragon, thyme) in July and August just after a summer storm. I think I have won my bet: even near the sea you can have good meats naturally seasoned."  That's crucial to his formula, and it actually works, the prosciutta is delicious. Mirco really knows how to treat his ham like a lady.

Mortadella aging at Macelleria Elena & Mirco
Mortadella aging at Macelleria Elena & Mirco
There are other amazing products, too. Mortadella in an accessible size, coppa, sausages, zampone, cotechino. The macelleria offers ten (!) flavors of pancetta, and a hard-to-find regional specialty - pate di lardo. Not all products are available all the time, so visit twice.

If you can visit, it’s worth the trip, or if you’re lucky enough to be in Italy for a while, you can even order on line.

You can also experience the prosciutta as an antipasto at Alla Piazza di Soprathe excellent restaurant in Filetto in Alta Lunigiana. For tempting details read our review: New Restaurant in Old Lunigiana.

Macelleria Elena & Mirco
Via Canale 52  Castelnovo Magra (SP)   Tel. 0187-673510  Website: Prosciutta Castelnovese

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Written by Martha