Pinot Grigio and Parma ham: a match made in heaven

Pinot Grigio and Parma ham: a match made in heaven

by Great British Chefs 6 November 2019

Restaurants place a huge emphasis on food and wine matching, but it’s just as easy to do at home. Experience how food and wine can improve the taste of one another by trying this classic combination and join us as we take a deeper look at how (and why) the two work together.

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With so many different wines and an even greater number of ingredients and dishes to pair with them, food and wine matching can seem like a daunting task. There are some classic matches, however, that showcase how the right combination can create something tastier than the sum of its parts.

Pinot Grigio and Parma ham is just such a duo. Two classic Italian products famed for their complexity and time-honoured traditions which go together incredibly well. But why do they work so well in conjunction with one another? To find out, we have to take a closer look at the flavour notes found in both the ham and the wine, and what happens when our taste buds experience both at the same time.

Whether you’re completely new to the idea of food and wine matching or simply want to know more about why particular wines and particular foods go together so well, read on for a deep-dive into why Pinot Grigio and Parma ham is one of the most iconic wine pairings around.

Pinot Grigio

While this beloved grape variety is grown all over the world, most of us associate it with Italy. The fruity, citrussy and sometimes floral aromas of the wine become more or less pronounced depending on where they’re grown. In the north of Italy, the grapes are picked earlier than normal, which results in a crisper, lighter flavour with green apple, melon and pear flavours at the fore. It’s a popular wine because it’s easy-drinking, relatively subtle and mild in flavour and refreshing. This light subtlety also makes it versatile when enjoying a glass alongside food.

Parma ham

Parma ham (or Prosciutto di Parma PDO, to give it its full title) is arguably Italy’s most famous salumi (cured meat). Cured on the bone and almost always sliced into wafer-thin strips, it is intensely salty, meaty and bursting with umami flavours. However, it’s the complexity of Parma ham that makes it so popular. Like a good cheese, there’s lots going on, with just as many sweet notes as saltiness. The melt-in-the-mouth texture coats the mouth with a creamy, satisfying flavour, resulting in a long-lasting and seriously moreish aftertaste.

Why the two work together

Pinot Grigio and Parma ham work together because the flavours of each contrast with one another. The wine is refreshing, dry, light, slightly acidic and fruity, whereas the ham is creamy, salty and sweet. Put them together, and the flavours intermingle and riff off one another, emphasising every flavour by providing something for it to clash with.

Another characteristic that makes Pinot Grigio and Parma ham work so well together is what’s known as the ‘weight’ of the wine. Because Pinot Grigio is quite light, refreshing and subtle in flavour, it doesn’t overwhelm the complexity of the ham, allowing its own mild sweetness to shine through. If the wine was ‘heavier’ (a tannin-rich red or an oaked white, for example), it would be difficult to taste the ham at all.

Just like ham and melon – a classic (although somewhat retro) pairing – Pinot Grigio’s fruity, melon and peach flavours are the perfect foil to Parma ham’s salty richness. Next time you open a pack of Parma ham (or cook one of our many Parma ham recipes), try it with a glass of Pinot Grigio and really think about how the flavours of both combine and complement one another. These days, there's no need to open a bottle and finish it in the same evening, either – with a Coravin system, you can enjoy a glass without the rest of the bottle oxidising.

There are lots of other wines that people suggest pairing with this delicious cured meat, but for us, nothing can compare with the fruity, light and crisp flavours of Pinot Grigio.