BRIEFLYPigs, salt, much artisan skill and the age-old need for long-lasting food preservation culminate in what are probably the richest of all Italian contributions to the arts of the edible: salami, ham - to be precise, salamis and hams, for there are many varieties - and a score of cheeses. All are ever-present on our tables, and indeed make up the principal elements of our light lunches and between-meal sins, the fruits, as it were, of centuries of trials, errors and successes at keeping perishable foods wholesome and tasty for very long periods by simple, inexpensive and efficient means. Salted pork cuts, salamis and aromatic lards are the best-known meat examples, while most of us are in nearly daily touch with sheepeuros and coweuros milk transformed respectively into Tuscanyeuros pecorino and what many think of as the king of cheeses: Parmaeuros and Reggio Emiliaeuros parmigiano.HISTORYThat salting meats and caseating milks could preserve them for months and even years was known at the time of the Great Pyramids, in the mid-third century Before Our Era. So important has salt always been throughout history for this specific function that in most societies its production and distribution was kept under strict monopolistic state control as one more instrument of power. Surviving documents of the second century Before Our Era show that salting pork was even then widely practised in the Padana region around Parma, apparently because of the favourable climate and the abundance of pastures and pig-friendly scrub lands. Roman authors praised the colonyeuros hams. A thousand years later, by the Middle Ages, Parma had become famous far and wide for its food-salting industries, then as now the main source of local prosperity, although more from hams than from ground-up meat in gut sacks, i.e. salamis. The Prosciutto di Parma Dop today is with Pizza and Parmesan one of Italy's three most famous food products.