Prosciutto is the Italian word for ham. Unlike American ham Italian prosciutto is not smoked, it is salt cured and air-dried. There are two categories of prosciutto in Italy, prosciutto crudo, which is raw, and prosciutto cotto which is cooked. Prosciutto crudo is the type most commonly exported to America.
The most famous prosciutto crudo is from Parma in the Emilia-Romana region of Italy. Prosciutto di Parma owes its greatness to 3 factors, Parma’s particular microclimate, the raising of the pigs and the strictly regulated curing process.
Only hams produced and cured in the hills around Parma may be designated Prosciutto di Parma. The Ancient Romans were the first to discover that the geography of Parma created the perfect conditions for curing pork. The dry salt air from the Ligurian and Tuscan coasts and the moist aromatic breezes that come in from the Appenine Mountains intersect in Parma and help give the Prosciutto it’s unmistakable flavor.
The pigs are carefully selected and must be specially bred Large White, Landrance and Duroc breeds, born and raised in pig farms near Parma. They are fed a special diet, which includes the excess whey from the production of another of Parma’s famous foods, Parmagiano-Reggianno cheese. This diet insures a very healthy pig with an excellent balance of lean and fatty meats.
The final piece of the puzzle required to make a gastronomic masterpiece such as Prosciutto di Parma, is the skilled hand of an artisan. The curing process strikes the perfect balance between art and science. Perfected over centuries and handed down from generation to generation is a method which results in a much sweeter and less salty ham than any other region of Italy.
The entire process, from the choosing and feeding of the pigs, through the curing, to the final mouth-watering product is closely monitored and regulated by the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma. Inspectors from the consorzio test the prosciutto at key points in the process to make sure that it is aging properly. It is only once a ham passes all of the tests that it receives the consorzio’s guarantee of quality, the brand of the Ducal Crown, and officially may be called Prosciutto di Parma.