La Quercia, Herb Eckhouse, Kathy Eckhouse, Recommendations, Italy, Parma, Where to buy Prosciutto in Italy, Italian Prosciutto, American Prosciutto, Iowa, Pigs, Ham, Cured Meats, Dry Cured Meat, Acorn-fed Pigs, Jambon, Iberico Ham, Serrano, Acorn Edition, Organic Green Label, Rossa, Berkshire, Tamworth, Americano, Guanciale, Coppa, Pancetta, Iowa White, Prosciutto, Speck, Salumeria, Erik Desjarlais

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Photo Courtesy of La Quercia


“Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.”

- La Quercia.


A few weeks back, two guests approached my kitchen to introduce themselves. “We noticed you use La Quercia ham! We’re from Iowa!” At that moment I had a strange realization. I only know two things from Iowa. Singer songwriter Greg Brown, and La Quercia ham. 

Embarrassed, I actually told them this. Halfway through my statement of ignorance (I have never set foot in Iowa, nor have met an Iowan firsthand), I wished I had kept my mouth shut. Expecting two displeased and possibly alienated guests, to my delight, they were amazed that I knew their local songster and troubadour, Greg Brown. They weren’t surprised about La Quercia though. This ham deserves to be well known. In fact, the prosciuttifici in Italy had better watch out for the craftspeople behind the ham, Herb and Kathy Eckhouse.

La Quercia (pronounced La Kwair–cha) translates to “The Oak” in Italian. The oak not only is the state tree of Iowa, it is a provider of acorns. Acorns, being super saturated with protein, fat and carbohydrates, are the perfect food for happy pigs, and have been for centuries. Happy pigs, plus Herb and Kathy, plus salt, equals some of the best ham I have eaten in my 34 years on this earth.

Herb and Kathy began selling their specialty air cured hams in 2001, much to the excitement of local chefs, and the news quickly spread. Soon, top name chefs were tooting their horns about this magical miracle of terroir from Iowa.

Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to pick Herb’s brain about the “who, what, when, where, and why’s” behind his pork products. See below to watch a great video about the “how’s.”



Q & A WITH HERB ECKHOUSE



Q. How many different labels do you sell now?

A. We sell 3 types of prosciutto, each made with differently sourced meat. Plus speck, which is Prosciutto Americano that has been lightly smoked with apple wood and Prosciutto Piccante, which is Prosciutto Americano rubbed with fennel and red pepper. Then we make dry cured meats from the other parts of the pig: jowl, collar, belly, back fat.


Q. Explain some of the differences between the Iowa acorn fed pigs and the Iberico, both obvious and not so obvious.

A. Breeds differ, age and size at slaughter differ, and even the types of acorns eaten differ.


Q. If you had to pick a favorite finished product?  

A. Won't do it. Different sometimes is just different, not always better or not better.


Q. Why ham?

A. Because we needed to make something great to eat from the beauty and bounty of Iowa. Because we have more pigs than people here in Iowa. If we were in California, maybe it would have been wine or jam. Because we didn't know of a great American dry cured ham, and we should have ours to offer too. Because our suppliers needed someone like us to help make better use of the pigs they were raising. Because we love to eat prosciutto.


Q. La Quercia is a very special operation, in a very unique part of the country. I think the microeconomics between a farm, restaurant and specialty food artisans is an amazing thing when it works well. Tell me a little (or a lot, your choice) about the microeconomic system you have going on with your farmers and others involved. 

A. We have grown to become a regular and, at least in our minds, an important customer for our suppliers. Pork is our biggest purchase, and we are fairly fanatical about the quality of the meat we use. Just restricting to non-confinement and no subtherapeutic antibiotics eliminates 99% of the pork raised in the USA. I've figured this many times and it is not an exaggeration. As much as possible, we try to work on a collaborative, ‘fair trade’ type basis.

We want the farmers we work with to make a decent living, and we want the people who work for us to have a decent life, so we try to balance those needs with our customers desires for lower pricing.

Organic pork is very expensive and it can be hard convince people to make the commitment. We currently are working with 2 of our suppliers to help us get the breeds and husbandry practices we think are best for making dry cured ham, and that is going very well.

Beyond pork suppliers, our relationships are pretty normal. We have developed an important relationship with a local meat trim and storage facility that allows us to get some of that work done where there is better infrastructure for recovering trim value.


Q. Give me something that could encapsulate La Quercia, Herb and Kathy. Something you would want people to remember you by.    

A. We don't really think of our company and our brand as separate from ourselves. We refer to La Quercia as our fourth child. We've shaped it as much as possible to be a reflection of our own values.


Advice / Tips



Q. Any tips you can provide on what to do with prosciutto:

storing it... how long to keep, best way to keep it.

A. Generally best to keep it in the refrigerator tightly wrapped in plastic wrap or even better vacuum packed. Exposure to air degrades the flavor.


Q. What do you love to pair your prosciutto with?

A. Fresh figs are my favorite.


Recommendations



Q. You spent time in Parma, Italy, prosciutto's area of origin. Where should one go to eat great prosciutto in Parma?

A. My favorite producers are Devodier and Tanara.

[See details.]

 
 

Cured Meats

400 Hakes Drive

Norwalk, IA 50211

T: 515.981.1625

Available:

At the following distributors.


Website:

www.laquercia.us

 

Recommended By

- Chef Jose Garces (Garces Restaurant Group, Philadelphia & Chicago)

Recommendations

Herb Eckhouse’s recommendations for prosciutto producers in Italy.

Q & A
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Details of Herb Eckhouse’s recommendations for prosciutto producers in Italy.

RECOMMENDATIONS

RECIPES USING LA QUERCIA FROM CHEF ERIK DESJARLAIS

VIDEO

Sky Full of Bacon 10: Prosciutto di Iowa by Michael Gebert.



 
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