Italian flavors: Parma Prosciutto
- WTI Magazine #91 May 14, 2017
The air in the hills of Parma is fragrant: once the sea breeze from the Versilia coast has acquired the aroma of the pine trees, it is scoured by the karst Cisa mountains, losing all its saltiness, and finally wafts over scented chestnut groves. It is therefore a dry air, ideal for the curing process. An essential condition for obtaining Prosciutto di Parma PDO is that the entire production process takes place in a “typical zone”: an extremely limited area that includes the territory of the province of Parma at least 5km to the south of the Via Emilia, to the east of the river Enza and to the west of the river Stirone, all of which is within a maximum altitude of 900 metres above sea level.
Only this area is able to provide all the ideal climate conditions for drying, i.e. the natural curing that gives Prosciutto di Parma its flavour and sweetness.
The pigs destined to become “Prosciutto di Parma PDO” must comply with origin and breeding stock requirements, be over 9 months in age, have an average weight of 160 kg and be healthy, rested and unfed for 15 hours. The fresh legs are then removed from the carcases.These are left to rest for 24 hours in special refrigerated units so that the meat becomes firm with the cold and can be trimmed more easily to the characteristic rounded “chicken leg” shape.
Trimming is carried out by removing part of the fat and rind to facilitate the subsequent salting. The legs lose 24% of their weight in fat and muscle through this process; those with even the slightest imperfection are discarded. This is followed by salting: salt has always been the only ingredient permitted by the disciplinary of production.
The legs are then placed in cold storage. After a week they are removed, cleaned of residual salt, and then subjected to further light salting and returned to another refrigerator for 15 to 18 days, after which they will have lost a further 4% in weight. Once the residual salt has been removed, the Prosciutto di ParmaPDO is left for periods from 60 to 80 days in a special “rest” chamber.
During this phase, it must be able to “breathe” without becoming excessively moist or dry. The absorbed salt penetrates deeply, becoming evenly distributed throughout the entire muscle mass, and there is a loss in weight of about 8-10%.After this, the prosciutto is washed with warm water. Drying is performed using natural environmental conditions on windy and dry sunny days, or in special “drying rooms” that rely on air convection movements.
The prosciuttos, hung on the traditional “scalere” (racks), dry naturally in large rooms with windows at either end. These are opened depending on the internal humidity conditions, with regard to both the external atmospheric moisture and that of the product. The weight loss at this stage is between 8 and 10%.The prosciuttos are then rubbed with lard.
After seventh months, the PDO Parma Prosciutto is transferred to the “cellars”, where the environment is cooler and less ventilated than in the pre-curing rooms. At the end of the process, verification tests are performed in the form of a critical olfactory inspection. During this phase, a horse bone needle is inserted in various parts of the muscle mass and then “sniffed” by experts.
After a minimum of twelve months, following the necessary inspections, the hams are branded with the “5-pointed crown”. The brand is a 5-pointed crown with an oval base containing the word PARMA and the producer’s identification code.
Its low fat content and abundant mineral salts, vitamins and easily digestible proteins, make Prosciutto di Parma PDO a food suitable for all. It is a product of absolute excellence that contains and elevates all the best qualities of raw prosciutto.
By Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma