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I Ham what I Ham: Parte 4 – Prosciutto di Parma

By March 16, 2022No Comments
I ham what I ham

The pig. Where would we be without this generous animal? The diverse flavors created by the, in my opinion, under-appreciated swine, are precious to life. I do not want to think about living in a world without prosciutto, mortadella, or guanciale, to name a few. So I won’t. Instead in this series of blogs, I will take the time to revere this creature who has added much to cuisine around the world. “Moi?” (alla Miss Piggy’s voice). Si, tu!  Come, let’s get piggy with it.

Prosciutto di Parma – the King

Not all prosciuttos are created equal. There, I said it. Prosciutto, “ham” in Italian, comes in many different forms. When raw, it is known as “prosciutto crudo” while when it is cooked, it is referred to as “prosciutto cotto”. It is produced throughout Italy but the two most popular hail from Parma and San Daniele. Aside from their obvious difference in location, these two giants of the salumi world also differ in production, taste, and appearance. No offense to San Daniele, but I am a Prosciutto di Parma girl, myself. This is not to say I would turn down Prosciutto di San Daniele if it were offered to me, as that would simply be rude. However given the choice, Parma it is.

prosciutto di parma

A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit a Parma Ham factory. Humbling does not even begin to describe how I felt walking past walls and walls of Prosciutto di Parma simply hanging away. They were confidently inviting the aging process. Who invites the aging process with such dignity and grace? Prosciutto di Parma, that is who. We should all be so lucky. It was a magical moment in my life both the tour and of course, the tasting. I highly recommend this experience. Casa Mia just so happens to have a tour that can provide this to you. But I digress…

History

There are many resources that indicate this particular salumi has been around for a long, long, time. Back to the time of the Etruscans or the Romans, it is not one hundred percent certain. Utilizing salt as a preservative has been around probably since the beginning of time. However, I think we should just be grateful that Prosciutto di Parma is here. What is more important than its history, is it presence. Live in its presence people! Prosciutto di Parma is a testament to those who created it, to those who create it, and to those who consume it. Good things do take time and what a wonderful reminder to us to trust in the process of life…and in the power of salt of course!

I ham what I ham prosciutto di parma
A familiar sight in restaurants across Italy

The Process

Italian Pig. Salt. Air. Time. Four ingredients are needed to produce the King. Prosciutto di Parma is a protected specialty in Italy. In 1996 the European Union issued the Protected Designation of Origin (P.D.O./D.O.P.) to Prosciutto di Parma. According to these regulations, the pig itself must be raised in one of the 11 approved regions in Italy. It must be fed a natural diet, including the whey from Parmigiano-Reggiano production. Only the hind legs can be utilized to make Parma Ham. Once butchered, they are salted by the maestro salatore. This is a two step process which precedes the curing process.

After the salting process, and the initial curing, the legs are washed and air dried. A layer of lard is then placed on the open area of the leg (where the leg attached to the body) to ensure the leg does not dry out. These beauties then hang to dry in rooms with open air circulation from outside which draws in the breeze hailing from the Apennine Mountains. This portion of the process must be done in the area of Langhirano, according to the DOP. At this point, air and time take over.

Ago d'oslo di Cavallo
Ago di Osso di Cavallo

Prosciutto di Parma must be aged according to DOP regulations. It is checked along the way by trained inspectors to ensure its accurate development. To monitor the curing process, the inspector uses a little tool made out of a horse bone known as the Ago di Osso di Cavallo. How peculiar, right? The horse bone has a strong ability to pick up and release scents quickly which allows the inspector to decipher if spoilage is happening. This leg of pork certainly goes through an intense process. However, once it passes the inspectors assessments, it is then branded with the 5 pointed crown mark, the Ducal Crown, and the word Parma. A King is born.

prosciutto di parma
The Ducal Crown

How to use

Prosciutto di Parma is a versatile ingredient. One of my most favorite ways is right out of the paper immediately after buying it at the salumeria! It is a perfect accompaniment to cheese, most especially Parmigiano-Reggiano as “what grows together, goes together.” Ok so cheese might not necessarily “grow” but you get my point! This delight is used in Saltimbocca and in my personal favorite, stuffed pork chop with fontina. Casa Mia has a beautiful recipe for Roasted Radicchio wrapped in Prosciutto. Be creative, but know that its most humble and delicious form, is by itself. You can’t go wrong.

prosciutto-wrapped roasted radicchio

If you are planning a trip to Italy, you must visit Parma, in the Emilia-Romagna Region. You must. Casa Mia offers numerous experiences in this region with amazing guides who understand and love their region. To say they are passionate about their work would be a severe understatement. Please let us know when you plan to visit and we would be happy to assist in developing the most memorable, and tasty, travel.

All Hail the King: prosciutto di parma

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