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Terroir in Iowa

When I graduated from college in 1983 and moved to Sioux City, my friends kidded me about moving from the state with the fewest pigs-per-capita (Connecticut) to the state with the most (Iowa).  At long last I have a measure of revenge:  Today’s NYT reports on La Quercia, an Iowa prosciutto producer that is earning raves.

“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,” Eckhouse [LQ’s proprietor] said. “But we have a much broader perspective. I feel like for the guys in Parma, they’re somewhat limited in what they can do to make the product better.”

Without those restrictions, the cured meats sold by La Quercia can represent the Eckhouses’ sense of Midwestern terroir. “We have more pigs than people in Iowa,” said Kathy [Eckhouse], who handles the company’s bookkeeping and some sales, helps salt the 730 hams that arrive weekly and draws upon her food-savvy upbringing in Berkeley, Calif., and Europe in her role as chief culinary officer. Herb pointed out that corn and soybeans, the state’s biggest crops, are the best feed for pigs, according to Parma scientists.

La Quercia’s pork comes from around the region.  Some comes from Dyersville, also known as the home of the Field of Dreams, and some comes from Missouri, not Iowa.  The company itself is located in Norwalk, just a stone’s throw from the Des Moines Airport.  Terroir is a strong and probably wrong word for “craft food from the Middle West,” and no one needs to be watching for a “Norwalk” Geographical Indicator.  But the pork/Iowa connection is undeniable, and after the human rights and public relations disaster known as Postville, it’s nice to see the Iowa meat processing industry get some positive national press.