The Prosciutto War

Letter From Finland

The mid-December 2001 E.U. summit in Laeken, Belgium, will probably be remembered most for its “prosciutto war,”  which began when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi refused to approve the new food agency to be located in Helsinki, Finland, since he was convinced that the Italian city of Parma was best suited to house the E.U. office.  According to the major Finnish daily, Helsingin Sanomat, Berlusconi raised his voice, shouting his dissent, arguing that the Finns did not even know what prosciutto (ham) was.

Sharp statements such as this could backfire; in fact, the Finns do know what prosciutto is, so much so that they even have a particular word to indicate a special seasonal ham: Joulukinkku (literally “ham,” Kinkku, “for Christmas,” Joulu).  Berlusconi insisted that such an agency should not be located “in a country which is probably very proud of its marinated reindeer or Baltic fish with polenta, but certainly can’t compete with Parma, the symbol of good cuisine.”

While nobody can dispute the richness and variety of the cooking traditions of Parma, the fact remains that a reindeer-based dish is common in Finland, though you would hardly find reindeer with polenta (corn pudding), since corn is not grown at such high latitudes and, therefore, is alien (though not unknown) to Finnish culture. ...

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