Chef and television personality Fabio Viviano owns restaurants in Chicago, Miami, San Diego and Moorpark (CA). Raised in Tuscany, Fabio rose to stardom as the “Fan Favorite” on Bravo’s “Top Chef.” He has firm ideas about the best ways to use Italy’s famous cured hams and aged cheeses, and he shares some of those opinions here.
In your own kitchen, when do you use Prosciutto di Parma versus Prosciutto di San Daniele?
Here’s the beauty of Italy: regionality. If you ask people from Parma, Prosciutto di Parma is the best for many reasons. If you ask people from San Daniele, Prosciutto San Daniele is the best for many reasons. Honestly, from a chef’s perspective, they are very similar. Both are great for cold preparations, for wrapping. I prefer not to cook with either of them.
Any fresh ideas for using prosciutto on an antipasto platter? How do you take it beyond prosciutto and melon?
I like Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto di San Daniele with caponata (eggplant salad), or cornichons and pickled vegetables; with stuffed olives or with arancine. If you wrap thin slices of prosciutto around hot arancine, the heat is going to melt the fat on the prosciutto. You never want to trim the fat on prosciutto. In a store, if I see they’re trimming the fat, I say, ‘Are you going to throw that away? I’ll take it home for the dog.’ But I never give it to the dog.
Do you ever use these hams in sandwiches or panini?
I’m a purist. I’m against cooking prosciutto. If I use prosciutto on a sandwich, it’s on a crisp baguette with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, maybe a few slices of Montasio, maybe some basil leaves, crisped in the oven. You can make an awesome grilled cheese sandwich in a panini press with Italian bread, Montasio cheese, sliced onion and sliced prosciutto. You press it just enough to crisp the bread and melt the cheese but not enough to cook the prosciutto.
How do Italians use Montasio and Grana Padano? Are they considered mostly cooking cheeses or are they table cheeses,too?
Montasio is not well known in America, but it’s the ultimate cheese for anything melted: cheese sauce, lasagna, cheese crisps, mac and cheese. Any time you want cheese to melt and be creamy and smooth, that’s a use for Montasio. That’s why it bothers me that not everybody knows about it. It’s the best Italian option for melting. You can put it in béchamel or in risotto. I put it on top of my scrambled eggs with black pepper. And it’s great in pesto.
But it’s just as good as a table cheese. Because it’s mild, it works well with jams, nuts, cold cuts, and pickles. Normally Italians eat cheese as an appetizer; we don’t usually eat it for dessert. You might find Montasio on an antipasto platter with grilled or pickled vegetables, or with a sweet-and-sour jam like citrus jam. Montasio is incredible with citrus.
Most people think of Grana Padano as a grating cheese. Do you enjoy it as a table cheese?
Grana is the grating cheese I grew up with. It comes from the Padano region right next to Tuscany, where I’m from. So I’m all about Grana. It’s nutty and subtle, not pungent, and more appropriate for a variety of food preparations. I’m notorious for walking around with little bags of Grana Padano for snacking. I take it on planes with me.
Not a Knockoff: To be sure you have genuine Montasio, look for the name etched on the wheel and repeated all the way around the circumference on the diagonal. After 100 days of aging, wheels are inspected and fire-branded with a quality seal if they show no defects.