Is it its historical importance?
Is it the breed of pig used?
Is it how the ham is cured?
- The pig skin is covered in humid sea salt while the meat is rubbed with dry salt and refrigerated at 1 to 4C and at 80% humidity for a week. Getting the right amount of salt into the meat so that it is properly cured (and bacterial growth inhibited) but maintains its sweetness is the work of an expert (the Maestro Salatore).
- Another layer of salt is added and the 15 kilo rear leg rests for 15 to 18 days.
- The leg is hung for 70 days in a refrigerator at 70% humidity while the meat darkens.
- The leg is washed with warm water and brushed to remove the salt. It is then hung to dry for a few days.
- The legs are hung on frames in rooms with large windows. The windows are opened when the temperature and humidity are the perfect condition to allow the hams to gradually dry. This step is crucial in determining the particular quality that sets prosciutto di Parma apart.
- The leg is dried and rubbed with sugna (a mixture of lard, salt and rice flour) to prevent the meat from drying out.
- After it is moved to the cellar (where there is less air and light) where the legs will cure until they are ready. The meat should have a nice depth of flavour and be sweet. It will have lost a quarter of its weight after one year.
Is it how long it is aged?
Is it the provenance?
Is it the quality control?
- The breeding farms for prosciutto di Parma put a tattoo with the breeder’s identification code and month of birth on the legs of the pigs within 30 days of birth.
- At the slaughterhouse, the leg is checked and branded with “PP” and the slaughterhouse identification.
- When the curing begins, the consortium places a metal seal with a “CPP” (Consorzio Prosciutto di Parma) and the date the curing started.
- After a minimum of one year of maturing, the consortium for prosciutto di Parma determine if a prosciutto meets the high standards to qualify for the official certification mark (the five-point ducal Parma Crown). A master tester arrives with a hollowed out horse’s bone to puncture the prosciutto in several places to extract a small piece and smell it quickly before the scent dissipates. He checks all the previous markings are present and if the prosciutto passes the test, it will be branded with the five-point crown marking. 1% of the hams will fail.
- Even sliced prosciutto may only be sliced and packaged in the Parma region under the supervision of IPQ inspectors to guarantee its authenticity.
What is the best part of the prosciutto?
While prosciutto di Parma has about 16o producers, the most prized production similar to the prosciutto di Parma is culatello di Zibello DOP which has a much smaller production. In the humid foggy flatlands near the Po River in Emilia, culatello is produced, primarily by families, from the fatter side of the ham (the thinner side is made into fiocco di prosciutto). Culatello is extremely delicate and the conditions need to be perfect to make it. It is always made from a very fat pig that is 20 to 24 months old and requires moist air to cure it so it remains soft. To eat culatello, it needs to be soaked in wine for at least 24 hours. The external part of the culatello is removed, it is cleaned and thinly sliced. The part that is removed is chopped up and turned into strolghina della bassa and is eaten fresh within 1 month. Culatello that has not been placed in a casing and instead has sugna and the skin still attached is called culaccia.
- Prosciutto melone (prosciutto with melon)
- Piadine (flatbreads with prosciutto)
- Gnocco fritto (fried bread with prosciutto)
- Zuppa di melone con prosciutto (cold melon soup with prosciutto crisps)
- Saltimbocca alla romana (veal escalopes with prosciutto and sage)
- Insalata di prosciutto, rucola e fichi (prosciutto, rocket and fig salad)