Eight amazing things you never knew about... Parma Ham
The production process of traditional Prosciutto di Parma is steeped in history
Whether you’re really into your Italian cooking, or you simply love a charcuterie board every now and again, chances are you’ll be familiar with Parma Ham. Silky, paper-thin and full of flavour, it’s an Italian export that’s perfect in sandwiches, salads, pasta dishes and more. But did you know the production process of traditional Parma Ham is steeped in history?
Read on to discover eight fascinating facts you never knew about Parma Ham...
It's only produced in a small area in Northern Italy
Since Roman times, Parma Ham has been produced in the hills surrounding the town of Parma in Northern Italy’s Emilia Romagna region – an area whose unique conditions yield the finest quality hams. In fact, it's a Protected Designation of Origin product, which means every stage of its production process must take place in this region.
There are only 161 Parma Ham producers
As the area where it's made is so small and its production process is so specific, there are only 161 official Parma Ham producers in the world. Each one must follow a painstaking procedure to end up with a premium quality product; legally, the ham must be cured for a minimum of 12 months to qualify as real Parma Ham.
Its history dates back thousands of years
The first written evidence of Parma Ham (or "Prosciutto di Parma" in Italian) dates back over 2,000 years to 100BC – when Roman historian Cato the Censor noted its extraordinary flavour. According to his account, the ham legs were left to dry, greased with a little oil, and could age without spoiling. The word “prosciutto” actually comes from the Latin word “perexsuctum”, which means “thoroughly dried”.
Its traditional methods are protected by the Parma Ham Consortium
These days, Parma Ham is made in a very similar way to how the Romans used to do it, with the Parma Ham Consortium upholding its traditional production methods to ensure the best possible quality. How can you tell it’s the real deal? Just look out for the Ducal Crown; any product bearing the crown symbol is guaranteed to be 100% authentic.
There's an official Parma Ham Festival...
An annual Parma Ham Festival has been taking place in the Parma and Langhirano area since 1997. As part of the celebrations, the regions' ham producers participate in a "Finestre Aperte" ("Open Windows") event – welcoming in Parma Ham enthusiasts to see the traditional curing methods for themselves.
...and a Parma Ham Museum, too
The Parma Ham Museum is part of the Parma area's Food Museums circuit (which includes the Parmigiano Reggiano Museum, the Tomato Museum and the Salame Museum) – and as you'd expect, it helps to bring the Parma Ham-making process to life. The building itself is historic, too; built in 1928, and once used as a cattle market, it's an amazing example of traditional Italian rural architecture.
The great military commander Hannibal was a fan
After the Battle of the Trebbia (the first major battle of the Second Punic War) way back in 217BC, Hannibal was welcomed into Parma with a lavish feast. Despite the fact that it was winter and food supplies weren't abundant, it's handed down that the countryfolk fetched barrels of salted pork legs from secret hideaways to help fuel the celebrations.
Salt was used from nearby saline springs to preserve the meat
The Lombards, a Germanic people who ruled the majority of the Italian Peninsula from 568 to 774, were big on their wild hog meat, which they liked to preserve using salt. However, at the time, salt was the most popular preservative around – and it cost a lot of money to import it from the coast to rural areas. Fortunately for the Lombards living in the Parma area, they could easily obtain the salt they needed from the nearby Salsomaggiore saline springs.
You can find out more about the Parma Ham Consortium here.