Ever seen an ingredient labeled as “D.O.C.”? It has nothing to do with doctors or medicine. If you’re in Italy, D.O.C. stands for denominazione di origine controllata; if you’re in Spain, it means denominación de origen calificada; if you’re in Portugal, it means denominação de origem controlada. Other languages express a similar concept, namely a signature foodstuff that’s traditionally produced in a specific area of the world. Plenty of famous foods fall into this category, at least conceptually: champagne, tequila, and chardonnay were all places before they were beverages. It’s hard to find an English style of cheese that isn’t also a place: Cheddar, Lancashire, Caerphilly, Glouchester are all places you can visit. (Wouldn’t it be great to eat cheddar inCheddar?)
The D.O.C. concept isn’t a new idea. It is, however, a fairly recent designation in the culinary world, one that was developed to protect the livelihoods of artisan foodmakers as well as the taste buds of diners who enjoy the real deal and don’t want cheap knockoffs to flood the market. Most of the foods carrying a D.O.C. label are foods that require careful aging and attention to detail, like cheeses and cured meats and fermented beverages and condiments. Thanks to their aged natures, these foods ship well and are a lot less perishable than fresh produce or just-butchered meats. That means you can find D.O.C. foods in well-stocked grocery stores. (When I say “well-stocked,” I am excluding big-box chain stores. They may be physically bigger, but they have a lot less variety in their aisles. Stick with independent/small/local stores if you want a great selection of goods.)
You might even see the D.O.C. version of a foodstuff next to the domestic version. Sometimes domestic versions are equally well produced, using quality ingredients and in-depth knowledge, but often the D.O.C. version is the far better-tasting of the two. Take prosciutto. Prosciutto di Parma (which carries the D.O.C. designation) is far richer-tasting and flavorful than its domestic cousin. In fact, the di Parma version tastes a lot like jamón ibérico, a D.O.C. cured ham from Spain. Both have a “wild” flavor reminiscent of venison or boar. Both are also less fatty than their domestic counterparts, and both are darker in color. That’s because they’re from animals who exercised and ate what they’ve evolved to eat, not to mention aged and attended to by people who’ve often been plying their trade for generations and really know what they’re doing. In short, prosciutto di Parma is well worth its increased price. Being so flavorful means that a little goes a long, long way!
Strawberry Salad with Sizzled Prosciutto
Figure on 1 or 2 ounces of prosciutto di Parma per person. Chop the prosciutto into small squares and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until each piece is browned on the bottom. (Try to spread out the pieces evenly in the pan.) Flip over the pieces and continue to cook for another minute or until to lightly brown the other side. If the prosciutto looks like it’s blackening rather than browning — or if it’s starting to smoke — turn down the heat! When cooked, the prosciutto will have the appearance, texture, and flavor of insanely good bacon. Remove from heat.
Rinse Boston or Bibb lettuce well and pat dry. Rip into bite-sized pieces and toss with the cooked prosciutto and sliced organic strawberries. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. (Feel free to use D.O.C. oil and vinegar from Italy, too!) I like a 2:1 ratio, but you may prefer equal parts of oil and vinegar. The salty-vs.-sweet contrast of the prosciutto and strawberries will be enhanced by the rich-vs.-tart nature of the oil and vinegar no matter which ratio you use. Serve salad immediately.