I was invited to L’Avventura today to learn some more about real Prosciutto di Parma. Karl Ljung was talking about the way it’s produced. Read and learn! And then have a nice thin slice of some Prosciutto di Parma!
The secret of Prosciutto di Parma is not only the long storage time but also the selection of pigs. The pigs must be born and bred on selected farms in one of 10 regions in northern and central Italy.
Only 3 breeds can be used for parma ham – Large White, Landrace and Duroc. They are fed with regulated food of whey from parmesan cheese and specified cereal products. The food is important for the good and unique taste of the ham. The pigs’ food also contributes to their excellent health status. When slaughtered, they must be at least 9 months and weigh 140 kg.
The Parmaregion has its own microclimate which makes it ideal to air dry and store ham. A microclimate is a less specific area’s climate, which differs from the areas around it. Fresh air enters the landscape from the nearby coast. The air moves through the mountains of the Apennines where it loses salt and dries up. Furthermore, it absorbs the scents of the vegetation as it passes, before it reaches the undulating landscapes where the ham is made. These winds are what give Prosciutto di Parma its unmatched sweetness.
Sea salt is the only thing allowed in the preservation and it distinguishes parma ham from other air-dried hams.
An expert – Maestro Salatore or Salt Master – calculates and controls the exact amount of salt needed. Only a minimum of salt is needed to start the process and the ham should only absorb the exact amount to be preserved. The ham is covered with salt and cooled for about a week, then covered with another round of salt which may remain for about two weeks. After that, the ham spends a period hanging. There it rests – riposo – for 60 to 90 days in a refrigerator with controlled humidity. After the rest, the ham is washed in warm water and brushed free of salt and impurities and hung in a drying room for a few days.
In the first maturation phase, the ham is moved to well-ventilated rooms with large windows, which open when the weather permits. It is in these rooms that many connoisseurs believe that the unique taste of parma ham develops. The ham is hung up, dries gradually and the process takes about three months. The meat becomes gradually darker and harder (the dark color of the meat turns into its original pink color at the end). The ham is lubricated with a mixture of salt and pig fat – sucked – to prevent the outside from drying too quickly.
After seven months, the ham is moved to a basement room where it is hung to begin the last part of the storage process. These rooms are darker with less air. By law, the Parma ham must ripen for at least one year before it gets the brand name – duch crown – but some hams are stored up to three years. One year is counted from the first day the ham is salted.
Crown and warranty
Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma guarantees the highest quality and that the ham is genuine. Their task is also to preserve, market and protect Prosciutto di Parma’s origin – D.O.P. (it. Denominazione Origine Protetta) or P.D.O. (Protected Designation of Origin). Today, there are 150 manufacturers of parma ham within the consortium.
The famous brand – the five-pointed duke crown – makes Prosciutto di Parma quickly recognized, the crown is the guarantee. Only the best buttocks that have been stored for at least twelve months are approved and may be sold as genuine parma ham.