Parma Hams Overview:
When you think of Italian ham, no doubt it’s the thin, crumpled slices of velvety smooth, salty-sweet Prosciutto that come to mind. Yet calling all Italian ham ‘Prosciutto’ is akin to calling all white wine ‘Chardonnay’. To the initiated, Prosciutto is a vast world of taste and texture, with each Italian region putting its own spin on this classic. Prosciutto di Parma is Italy’s best-known variety of cured ham, but many others compete with it: Prosciutto di Carpegna, Tuscan Prosciutto Crudo and Prosciutto di San Daniele are just a few of the many kinds available.
Prosciutto, whose name comes from the Latin word for “deprived of all liquid”, has been made in Italy since the second century BC having arrived principly with the Celts who migrated south crossing the Alps bringing with them their traditional staples of cured ham.
Although each kind of Prosciutto claims its own flavor and texture nuances, the curing process is similar in all. Pork thighs are first hung in a breezy and well-ventilated room for a day or longer. Next, the fat and hide are trimmed, then salt is massaged onto the meat once a week for a month. At the end of the month, the hams are washed off and dried (traditionally, in the sunlight, although now they are more often dried indoors in a ange of transitional ‘resting’ rooms).
The hams are further trimmed, greased with a mixture of salt, lard, pepper and flour and are aged for months or years, depending on the kind of ham. During this long aging period, hams will lose up to a third of their weight and draw flavours from the rich atmosphere of the ageing house and breezes from the valleys.
What can vary greatly between Prosciutto-making regions is the diet pigs are fed. In order to be officially recognized as a Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) Prosciutto, the ham must follow strict guidelines about what kind of pig the ham is made from and what those pigs are fed. To make Prosciutto di Parma, for example, local pigs are fed whey from locally made cheese and in particular from Parmigiano Reggiano.
The delicate flavor of Prosciutto is best enjoyed with a dry light white wine (like dry frizzante Malvasia from Parma and the surrounds), so that none of the ham’s flavor is masked and the pallet is freshened.
Ideal recipes for Prosciutto are those that allow the ham’s unaltered flavor to shine through; serve it on thick Italian bread with Olive Oil, accompanied by a soft cheese like mozzarella, or alongside fruit like sweet melon or figs.
Some of the best-known Prosciutto varieties include:
Prosciutto di Parma: With its sweet yet nutty flavor and creamy melt in the mouth texture, Prosciutto di Parma is Italy’s most popular ham, especially beyond Italy where it’s widely exported. With its roots going back to 100BC, when a salt-cured ham was mentioned in the writings of Cato, Prosciutto has a long and hallowed history here in the Parma province. Our tours take you into the connoisseur vaults of one of the finest producers in the mouth of the magical Langhirano valley. And for lunch you will taste their famous products!
Culatello: Although considered a Salami, not a ham, the delicious Culatello also has a revered place in Italian cuisine. Made with a boneless section of the muscular rear (offtimes solely the left) legs of the pig, this cured meat is made in the moist fog laiden Zibello area of the Parma Bassa province near the river Po. Marinated in red wine, placed inside a pig bladder and tied with string, then cured and aged for at least 12 months, Culatello has a rich, intense flavor and a deep red color and vibrant after tastes. This is Italy’s creme de la creme ham!
Culaccia di Parma is similar to Culatello, made again from the highly-prized, prime rump part of the leg without bone, shank or “fiocco” (the small, shell-shaped piece of bone commonly known as the “anchetta” is left, however, as identification of this cold cut). It is processed and aged using all-natural methods. There is little waste and its characteristic shape provides uniform slices from the beginning to the end of each cured ham. It has the tenderness of prosciutto and the sweet mellowness of culatello.