Prosciutto di Parma is included among the enxcellence of the culinary scenary of our country, with its sweet and at the same time intense and refined taste. The extreme quality of this product can be reached only connecting the traditional processing methods with modern ones, ensuring a ham with surprising and appreciated characteristics.
History and curiosities
The tradition of Prosciutto di Parma dates back to the age of Latins, when Parma was famous in particular for pigs breeding and for the production of cold cuts. We find some evidences of this great ability in many Latin poems, for example in De Agricoltura by Catone and De Re Rustica by Varrone, in which there are some descriptions of the methods used to produce cold cuts.
Prosciutto di Parma appears also in many recent documents and books. For example, it is mentioned in the menu of the wedding party of the Colonnas in 1589, in poems by Tassoni and also in Trattato de’ cibi et del bere by the doctor Baldassar Pisanelli, expert of healthy foods of seventeenth century.
The importance of cold cuts from Parma strengthened year after year, reaching a clear geographical and cultural identity, officially recognized in 1963 with the creation of Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma and with the obtaining of the Protected Designation of Origin in 1996.
Some of us do not known it, but the name “prosciutto” could probably come from two Latin terms, “perexsuctum”, which means dry, or “perex suctum”, dried up. Another proof of the meaning of the word “prosciutto” comes from the dialectal word “pàr-sut”, which means “it seems dry”. There are no doubt about the origin of its name, which could probably indicate the evaporation of humidity during the seasoning process.
Production and Regulation
Prosciutto di Parma is a PDO product. This mark is gained from all the culinary excellences, whose goodness and genuineness are linked with the production area and with all the methods that bring to the finished product. Consortium checks that manufacturers, ensuring an excellent quality and avoiding the diffusion of counterfeit products, constantly follow these two aspects.
According to the Regulation, Prosciutto di Parma DOP must be produced only in the province of Parma, exactly in the areas in the south of Via Emilia, the ancient Latin road that links Rimini to Piacenza. Anyway, the most part of its production takes place particularly in Langhirano, which made of this ham one of its point of reference.
The pigs used to produce this cold cut come from farms in Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Lazio, Abruzzi and Molise. In order to obtain the approval from Consortium, pigs must follow a specific alimentation and they must have the essential physical features about weight, age and breed.
Once obtained the thigh, manufacturers let it stand for 24 hours in specific refrigeration rooms, with a temperature of at least 0°C. In this way, meat becomes compact and can be easily trimmed: they cut fat and rind, so that thigh reaches the typical rounded shape.
At this point, they proceed with salting, which takes place in two different moments, which go on for at least 18 days. Salt is the only preservative granted by the Regulation. Once removed salt, they let thigh stand for 60-80 days, ensuring the evaporation of humidity and the absorption of salt.
So they go on with the washing and the natural drying, which occurs during the beautiful sunny days or, alternatively, using specific machineries. Hams can be now hang on the typical “scalere”, which consent them to dry more easily. After this process, there is the “sugnatura”: thigh is covered with “sugna”, a mixture of fat, salt and pepper, which makes meat soft and salty.
After 7 months, there is the seasoning, for 12 months. During this period, meat will lose extra humidity and it will take the final characteristics.
Taste and characteristics
Prosciutto di Parma is one of the most refined cold cuts of Italian gastronomy. This ham is able to release an explosion of tastes and scents, which transform the moment of tasting in a unique experience. The absolute absence of chemical preservatives and additives is immediately noticeable, in addition to the typical sweetness of meal and the scent, obtained during seasoning. Prosciutto di Parma, in fact, differs from other cold cuts for its sweet taste, but at the same time never taken for granted, which give always more shades of taste, from the spicy of black pepper to the intense note of “sugna”.
The features that let us recognize the original Prosciutto di Parma are in particular the aspect and the label. The shape of the thigh must be round, smooth and well trimmed. When you cut it, meat appears with a uniform color, between intense pink and red, spaced out by the white streaks of fat. Only hams with the features indicated by the Regulation, after the seasoning, can be marked with the typical crown, the symbol of Prosciutto di Parma DOP.
For what concerns the labelling, in order to recognize the original ham, we always have to check that each thigh has its package, on which is written the product name and the Protected Designation of Origin. The company can also write some details about date and place of production, and eventually the mark of the manufacturer.
Prosciutto di Parma is a particular cold cut, both for its taste and its nutritional facts. It is a product without preservatives, poor in fats and rich in vitamins, minerals and digestible proteins, so it is particularly suggested even for kids.
We can appreciate its quality, eating it alone or with some bakery products. Try it laid on some rustic bread, as Pane di Altamura DOP, on a thin layer of “carasau bread” from Sardinia, on a “piadina” from Romagna, or rolled up around a crumbly breadstick. Anyway you choose to try it, you will always feel its intense smell and its typical sweetness.
A great idea is to realize some salty croissant filled with Prosciutto di Parma and cream cheese, as Robiola di Roccaverano DOP or Squaquerone di Romagna DOP, even with some Gorgonzola DOP.
Emilians use Prosciutto di Parma also to create an alternative filling for “tortellini”, with potatoes and hard cheese, as Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano, seasoned with butter or tomato sauce.
Particularly interesting is the combination of Prosciutto di Parma with fruit and vegetables, which gives many curious ideas. The sweetness of ham, in fact, is perfect with sweeter fruit, such as the typical combination with yellow melon, but also with Fichi di Cosenza DOP or exotic fruit.
For what concerns wines, we can serve Prosciutto di Parma with a glass of aromatic white wine, such as Malvasia dei Colli di Parma DOC or Sauvignon DOC. We can also choose a red wine that must not loom the sweetness and the refinement of ham, such as Gioia del Colle DOC or Colli Orientali del Friuli Refosco dal peduncolo rosso DOC, both not too intense and particularly aromatic.