Parma is at the center of several world-famous Italian foods- Parmigiano is from here, as well as the best known prosciutto. In ancient times, Parma was a trading post for salt that would come in from the Romagna coast as well as from the trades of Venice. The windy location of Parma is perfect for curing meats and cheeses, and its closeness to the mountains (for the cows) and the flatland (for the pigs) made for an ideal place to develop these prized products. In addition, pigs could be fed the whey leftover from the production of Parmigiano, giving the ham a deliciously nutty flavor that ties all the local food production together!
Prosciutto di Parma is yet another products awarded of the DOP seal. The law states that Prosciutto di Parma can only be made from Italian pigs born and raised within one of the eleven specified breeding regions. The pigs are fed a diet of grains and whey. With the end product being only the unadulterated cured meat, the meat used is of capital importance and the pigs are fed only the perfect diet to make for a perfect prosciutto. In fact, the ingredients of prosciutto are only two: pig’s meat and salt.
The creation of a perfect Prosciutto di Parma follows ten important steps:
- Cutting, following slaughtering.
- Cooling: the leg is taken into a refrigerated room to lower the temperature for health reasons, as well as firming up the meat to make the subsequent phase easier.
- Trimming, when the excess fat is trimmed out to give its characteristic shape of oversized chicken drumstick.
- Salting: at this stage the pig leaves the slaughterhouse heading to the curing houses. The Mastro Salatore comes into the picture. Mastro Salatore is the person in charge of salting the prosciutto just right, so that the meat is preserved while keeping its characteristic sweetness.
- Rest: the prosciutto now hangs for a couple of months in a refrigerated room
- Washing: the prosciutto washed and brushed to remove excessive salt.
- Pre-Curing: pretty much another hanging. The prosciutti are hung from custom wood braces called scalere in rooms with large windows on both sides, to allow for perfect ventilation and the gradual drying of the moisture collected during rest.
- Greasing: Following pre-curing the prosciutto is greased with a mixture of minced lard and salt. All exposed muscle is covered to allow preserving.
- Curing: the prosciutto is finally hang to wrap up its production in dark cellars for at least 12 months. A horse bone needle is used to test the prosciutto throughout all the phases of its final curing, to ensure only the best products are brought to term.
- Branding: this is the final seal of approval. The branding is the ultimate seal of approval (the characteristic crown on each prosciutto), but in order to carry the seal the prosciutto needs to be perfect. Experts from the Istituto Parma Qualita’ come out to verify the prosciutto paperwork (for teh DOP) and the taste of each prosciutto (for the crown seal). Each prosciutto is examined with the horse bone needle to guarantee its quality and its worthiness of the seal!
Cured and branded, prosciutto is finally ready for you! If you’d like to learn about where I like to buy my prosciutto, please see here for my favorite places around the Bay Area. If you want to see even more pictures of prosciutto production, please take a peek at the pictures from some of the Global Epicurean trips.
I like to enjoy my prosciutto unadulterated: rolled on a bread stick, simple on pizza (after cooking!), in piadina, with cantaloupe, or in the most traditional way possible: panino al prosciutto. Ingredients? Simple: bread and prosciutto. Enjoy!
Filed under: Traditional Foods