2020 is a very important year for Parma because it’s the Italian Capital of Culture, a prestigious and challenging role that encourages the city to give the best to its tourists and visitors from all over the world.
In Parma, like many people know, food is a fundamental part of culture and territory, thanks to the products of great excellence which many are familiar with: Parma Ham, Parmesan Cheese, Wines and many more.
Products that are so important that have given the city the recognition of Food Valley, bringing Food Museums into creation, each one dedicated to a particular product and its making process.
And it’s among these museums, dear friends, that we want to accompany you gradually, making you discover unique products, knowledge and traditions.
The Parma Ham Museum
It’s settled in Langhirano, a small hilly town, 23 km far away from Parma, recognized as the capital of ham, in the restored complex of the ex Foro Boario, a magnificent architecture from the early 20th century, historically destined to the negotiation of cattle.
Organized into eight sections, the itinerary of visit at the museum begins with the territory, with the description of the Parma agriculture, then shifting to the section dedicated to the pork races to their diffusion in the various continents and the types utilized for the production Parma Ham.
The rich section dedicated to salt tells the story of this very important tool of food conservation which, thanks to the dwells of the territory, encourages the development of the salami making process over time.
A sample of salts coming from every part of the world and a rare video on the salt extraction from the dwells of Salsomaggiore are exposed here.
The fourth room is dedicated to the norcineria (making ham) and it gathers, besides multiple historical documents about the activities of the pork slaughter over time, a vaste selection of ancient objects used by generations of norcinis for the making of meat.
The rest of the sections present other salami typical of the Parma territory, they deepen the theme of the gastronomy and the utilization of ham in the kitchen, they narrate, also through video witnesses, the techniques of ham making and the structure of a prosciuttificio, they also present activities of the Consorzio of Parma Ham, which guarantees the quality of this extraordinary product known and appreciated worldwide.
The visit ends with a taste session at the Prosciutteria of the Museum and at the shop of the excellent products of the territory.
How Parma Ham is made
With knowledgeable but careful gestures the master salters sprinkle a moderate quantity of salt into the rind and the unprotected muscle surface of the haunch and then place them in refrigerated rooms where they rest for between 20-25 days. At the end of this period, the residual salt is removed and the hams are transferred to another resting’room for a further 70-80 days.
After the salt has uniformly distributed itself within the muscular mass, the prosciutti are washed down with luke-warm water to remove eventual residual salt and impurities and are then dried in a temperature controlled environment. In this way the phase of pre-maturing begins with the hams hung on the traditional ‘scalera’ or racks in large rooms with high windows on either side to favour optimum ventilation.
After the long months of rest, the hams are beaten with wooden bats to accentuate the typical rounded shape. Then the operation of sealing or ‘sugnatura’ takes place: the muscle areas of the ham which are not protected by rind are covered with ‘sugna’ which is a paste of pork fat minced up with salt and ground pepper. This treatment aims to soften the outside layers and avoid an over rapid drying process with respect to the inside of the ham.
The prepared hams are now ready to conclude the maturing process in cool, moderately ventilated rooms: the ‘cellars’. At the end of the maturing period which is never less than 10 months for hams which weigh between 7-9 kg and 12 months for those which weigh more, the prosciutto has lost most of its initial weight.
The Consortium, having already carried out rigorous checks in all the phases from breeding to butchering and then from tagging to maturing, now proceeds to particular controls using a body of its own inspectors who test the prosciutti with the method known as ‘puntatura’ which allows them to be given a definitive quality appraisal and judgement.
At the end of the correct maturing period, the hams are tested by the Inspectors who, using a needle made from the bone of a horse which has particular characteristics, make minute holes between the muscle and the rind of the prosciutto in 5 different places and examine the aroma of the product which is a guarantee of uniform and perfect maturity. Only those prosciutti which pass this test proving that they have matured in an optimal way can become Parma Prosciutti and receive the Consortium mark.
At this point the prosciutti are ready to be officially recognised: fire branding with the mark of the 5 pointed Ducal Crown of the Consortium of Parma Prosciutti. Since 1991, furthermore, the mark also includes the initials of the production plant, making certain and unequivocable the provenance of each single prosciutto.
The prosciutto is now ready for distribution and marketing and so it arrives on our tables where slice after slice it will liberate its unmistakeable aroma, its delicate but unique flavour, the true taste of Parma ham.
If you like this article, you can also read Parmigiano Reggiano, the star of the Food Valley