There’s a lot a person could do with a prosciutto. In an Almodovar film, an exasperated housewife uses one to kill her husband. The Italians have turned to making it a culinary work of art, dedicating 9 to 18 months to the process, depending on weight. The proof of their efforts lies in the taste and texture of the best cured prosciuttos in the world, universally known as prosciutto. Particularly good are those from Parma and San Daniele, enjoyed in paper-thin slices. In addition to these prominent products, there are myriad Tuscan and Umbrian prosciutti, prosciutto di montagna (mountain prosciutto) and the greatest delicacy of them all – culatello, a legendary super-prosciutto from the Emilia region.
Prosciutto di Parma: what is prosciutto?
In Italian there is a distinction between prosciutto crudo, literally “raw ham”, which is cured ham, what English speakers refer to as “prosciutto” and prosciutto cotto, “cooked ham”, which is similar to what English speakers call “ham”.
Parma is a cultivated city, wealthy and well-disposed, located in the Emilia-Romagna region. This is one place where people know how to live well: Sunday mornings are whiled away breakfasting (for at least 2 hours!) on cold-cuts and champagne at a bistro with friends. People who know so well that there’s a time to work and a time to enjoy, couldn’t do anything but produce a truly perfect prosciutto. More than 200 curers are located in the Parma region, where prosciuttos are sent from all over to be cured without added chemicals in the area’s exceptional air. At the end of the curing process, the prosciuttos graduate with honors: certified prosciutto di Parma with a characteristic cornelian red color and melt-in-your-mouth taste. The “Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma” is the farmers’ union safeguarding the quality and goodness of prosciutto di Parma. In order to be entitled to the “prosciutto di Parma” distinction, a prosciutto ham must bear the mark representing a five pointed ducal crown, symbol of the Consorzio.
A bit of History of Prosciutto di Parma
The production of genuine prosciutto di Parma is the story of a special relationship between man and nature. Since Roman times, the unique conditions of the Parma region have made it possible to produce the highest quality prosciuttos that have been appreciated by gourmets for centuries.
“Prosciutto” is from the Latin “perexsuctum” meaning “dried” – an indication of the purity of Parma prosciutto production and its ancient roots. The processing of prosciutto di Parma has an ancient tradition. It was in 100 BC that Cato the “Censor” first mentioned the extraordinary flavor of the air cured prosciutto produced around the town of Parma in Italy; the legs were left to dry, greased with a little oil and could age without spoiling. A tasty meat was obtained which could be eaten over a period of time while maintaining its pleasant flavor. Even earlier, in 5BC, in the Etruscan Po river valley, salted preserved pork legs were traded with the rest of Italy and with Greece. The similarity between present-day prosciutto di Parma and its “ancestor” is evident. Fortunately the taste has not been lost with the passing of time: nowadays the tradition of prosciutto di Parma is as strong as ever.
Recipes with Prosciutto di Parma
Parma: Piadina Romagnola
Piadinas are flat-breads some 14 cm in diameter and as thick as three stacked flour tortillas. To make them yourself, you’d need a “testo” (a kind of wrought iron or terra cotta griddle akin to a pizza stone). It would be much easier to buy them ready-made at the supermarket, heat them and fold them in half over a filling of thinly-sliced Parma. If you are not near a specialty shop which stocks piadinas, you can substitute Indian prathas or flour tortillas. This tasty snack is best enjoyed in the company of a glass of Sauvignon from the Parma hills, or a spirited young red.