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PARMA HAM: THE WORLD’S BEST PROSCIUTTO:)

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PARMA HAM: THE WORLD’S BEST PROSCIUTTO:)

By Filippo Bartolotta

I managed to go to bed pretty early in Parma and again I wake up and discover, during my early run that I am not too far away from the element water.

I love to discover cities and countryside wherever I travel through my morning runs. It somehow gives you a different feeling of belonging to the place.

Discovering for instance the Baptistery and the Duomo di Parma when nobody is around gives me a certain feeling of lust and intimacy at the same time.

I also like the idea to arrive hungry for my breakfast:)

Tomorrow morning I would have a run in the Giardini Reali in Turin. I was meant to go catch a train to Florence and instead I am going back to Langhe for more Barolo!

Today though I am hanging around in Parma with Fabrizio Raimondi, the head of press at the Consorzio Prosciutto di Parma. I am here on a quest to better understand this fantastic ham produced since Roman times. So off we go to see the first producer passing by the beautiful Castello di Torrechiara built by Count Pier Maria Rossi in mid 15th Century quite possibly to seduce and spend some nights in the so called Golden bedroom!

Parma Ham is 100% natural product.

The Ingredients for Parma Ham are basically three:

1) high quality well treated and well fed pigs

2) best salt in the market

3) dry clean air

…and

4) time

Every Parma Ham can be traceable all the way to breeder, the age of the animal, the origin of the slaughter house and the curing date. This way producers and consumers  can always check quality and origin. Of course all of the above is certified by law by an independent body which will ensure everything is carried out according to procedures. After many quality checks (organoleptic and veterinarian ones -one a day for the ham that go to the US!-) the ham will receive the famous Parma Crown seal of approval only after a minimum of 12 months of aging. Every year almost 10 million hams are produced

The production stages are the following ten:

1) Cutting

2) Cooling

3) Trimming

4) Salting

5) Rest

6) Washing/drying

7) Pre-curing

8) Greasing

9) Curing

10) Branding

1) Cutting. Before slaughter the pig must  be: healthy, rested and have fasted for min a min of 15 hours. Now the curing date seal is applied to the leg.

2) Cooling. The insulated leg is left for 24 hours to 0°C for hygienic reasons.

3) Trimming fat and meat is necessary to give the ham the typical “chicken leg” shape and to prepare it for salting.

4) Salting. The salt comes from the best Italian area which is Trapani in Sicily.

Very skillful people salt the leg on the most delicate parts with different amount here and there: too much and the ham wouldn’t be sweet anymore…too little and the ham would go bad! Humid salt is used for the pig skin and dry salt is used for the muscular parts.

The legs stay in the so called “first salt” room for a week -1°C to 4°C and 80% humidity.

Then it would go for another two week in the “second salt” room. Here it will louse 4% of its weight.

5) Rest. After removing the residual salt the ham goes to the rest store for 60/70 days at 70 degrees of humidity and between 1-5 °C. Here the ham would assimilate the salt evenly in each part loosing 10% more of its weight.

6) Washing/drying. Hot water is used to get rid of residual salt and impurity.

7) Pre-curing. The ham would spend three months hanging on wood frames called “scalere”. Here is when the airflow regulation is paramount to regulate humidity and fresh air, opening and closing windows when necessary to breath the marine/alpine air. The ham would loose another 10% of weight.

8) Greasing.The cavity around the bare parts are covered in order to protect the ham from further weight loss and to retain the right level of moisture.

The animal lard is mixed with a little pepper and sometimes ground rice to protect the ham also from excessive oxidization. .

9) Curing. We are now on the seventh month of aging and the ham is transferred into the cellars. Here there’s less air and a lot of important enzymatic and biochemical process take place contributing to the typical Parma ham character.  5% more of the weight is lost.

In order to check quality is carried out the “sounding”.

A horse bone needle is inserted and extracted super quickly to check the aromas of the ham.

10) Branding After a compulsory minimum aging of 12 months the ham can get the fire-branding with the famous Ducal Crown.

At this stage the ham has roughly lost 30% of it’s original weight and gained a lot in delicate and complex flavors and texture.

Now I am ready to try some…

So we head back to the centre of Parma for an aperitif at the Antica Osteria Fontana: a traditional laid-back wooden type table osteria bar where one can get from as little as a focaccia with Parma ham all the way to a pasta dish.

We go for a Parma Ham snack. The nutritional values of this product, loved already by Cato in 2BC, are extraordinary.

For every 100gr of lean Parma Ham -without visible fat-: 61.8% water, 26,87% proteins; 5,97% salt and 3,46% fat for a total of 138 kcal

For every 100gr of Parma ham with fat: 50,84% is water; 22,27% proteins; 21, 01% fat; 4,84% salt or a total of 280 kcal.

Parna ham is also packed with a lot of important minerals like phosphorus, potassium, irons and zinc; important free amino acids and over 60% of the fat composition is based on oleic, linoleic and steraic acids useful in preventing atherosclerosis.

Take a stroll around town to see the Duomo, the Teatro Farnese and or the Camera di San Paolo to admire the authentic Correggio and Parmigianino before going for lunch.

We decide for La Greppia. An old institution in Parma where they keep the best Prosciutto di Parma and other sublime hams and salamis and a spectacular Parmigiano Reggiano selection. On top of this one should go for their very fresh seasonal vegetables -we went for the artichokes- and their delicious home made pasta.

Aside from the love and caring that you will receive in this restaurant there is another important reason to come and visit: the deep wine list with the greatest prices ever seen. From a Sassicaia ’83 for €550, Quintarelli Amarone 1990 for €420, a Monfortino 1990 for €300 or a Tignanello 1980 for €280! I look forward to be there again!

Ravioli all’erbette.

Fabrizio and I go for a little after lunch walk and a coffee at the Oriental Caffè in Piazza Garibaldi. This is a lovely elegant and a little Parisian like place where together with a fantastic Parma Hams selection and good pasta one can find an outstanding Champagne list of little high quality growers for an excellent price.

After five day on the run across north west Italy, I was actually ready to go home when the office calls me for a last minute in Langhe with Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre.

the two american Ice-Skating champions on a mission to discover Barolo. I discovered this couple thanks to Kate and John in Cinncinnati while watching some competition. The world Ice-skating championship was taking place in Torino these days and so here I go to one of the most beautiful and underrated towns of the Bel Paese where our dearest friend Barbara lives. So let’s run for the train!!!

During the trip from Parma I manage to work and rest a bit. As I get off the train station in Torino I go to the “Confetteria Avvignano” to get an easter egg for my little friend Zeno.

I take a lovely walk into centre of town to relax after the long day. As I get to Barbara’s, I found there a lovely dinner with some specials prepared by Zeno, the ten years old kid who defines himself as a Chef of Extreme Cuisine.

Among the other dishes one that stood out from the crowd was the Tacos de Fuego, followed by another two unnamed dishes.

Went to bed really late after sharing a nice 2004 Ferrari Perle. I managed to get off the bed by 0700 to go for my run. And…sure enough I have some water one block away from my bed from which I can see the Mole:

Giardini Reali, Piazza San Carlo and straight for the shower and quickly to pick up Kim and Brenton.

Our first stop is Elvio Cogno, today in wonderful shape maybe for the spectacular day and for the great tension of his Elvio Cogno Barolo Ravera 2005.

The more I taste wine and the more humbly I feel one should approach this great product. Usually is Vigna Elena the most opened, but not today when the Ravera was the warmest hug and caress one could have asked for in the morning. Above all after a not too easy getaway from the city! Our driver Gianluca couldn’t make it today and so a very unfit replacement who managed to get lost a few times!

The view of the Novello vineyards and the Alps in the background put everyone in the right mood for the day.

After tasting the whole production including the very floral and elegant Barbaresco 2006 -great surprise of the day- we set off for lunch at Bovio.

Before going back to Torino we stop at Mauro Molino where we discover that Matteo has hidden his beautiful sister from the wine scene!

Now the Molino family has acquired another enologist and ambassador for the winery!

My favorite of today have been without doubts the sweetly dense Barbera Vigna Gattere 2007 and the dark side of smooth La Morra “Barolo Vigna Conca 2005”.

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PROSCIUTTO DI PARMA DOP PRODUCTION METHOD

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PROSCIUTTO CRUDO, RAW HAM - PRODUCTION METHODS

The raw pig thighs or hams are salted by hand and stored in cold cells for three or four weeks, after which the excess salt is wiped off and the hams laid aside for ten to twelve weeks more. The salt having by then penetrated uniformly into the muscle masses, the hams are washed in tepid water and hung up to dry in well-ventilated rooms. This marks the beginning of the preageing phase. After several months they are taken down and beaten into the traditional round and flattened shape with wooden bats. Areas of muscle tissue not covered by skin are now covered by a mixture of ground-up fat, salt and pepper to form in time a species of artificial skin that will keep the meat moist and fresh. Then begins the final ageing in cool, nor overly ventilated rooms: hams are hung up for not less than ten months, and for some type for two years.

The raw pig thighs or hams are salted by hand and stored in cold cells for three or four weeks, after which the excess salt is wiped off and the hams laid aside for ten to twelve weeks more. The salt having by then penetrated uniformly into the muscle masses, the hams are washed in tepid water and hung up to dry in well-ventilated rooms. This marks the beginning of the preageing phase. After several months they are taken down and beaten into the traditional round and flattened shape with wooden bats. Areas of muscle tissue not covered by skin are now covered by a mixture of ground-up fat, salt and pepper to form in time a species of artificial skin that will keep the meat moist and fresh. Then begins the final ageing in cool, nor overly ventilated rooms: hams are hung up for not less than ten months, and for some type for two years.

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