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The building of the Langhirano Cattle Market, which today hosts the Prosciutto of Parma Museum, was constructed in 1928 next to the Communal Butchery. The eight sections of the exhibit’s itinerary are located in the eastern wing. In the northern wing, there is a product sampling room, a sales point for typical local products, and the information point for Parma’s “Road of Prosciutto and Wines of the Hills”.
The province of Parma has always been an area particularly suitable for the production of cold cut meats, thanks to the geographical location and climate conditions. The presence of salt water springs has favored the development of meat processing since very remote times. Moreover, the areas at the foot of the mountains, located at the end of the valleys of the Parma and Baganza torrents and of the Taro river, are characterized by a more limited thermal variation than that of the mountain area or of the low planes.
Most importantly, the moderate humidity of the air, favored by sea breezes which come into the planes through the river valleys, is most favorable. Lastly, the rivers, with their pebble beds, insure excellent humidity drainage, contributing to the creation of a micro climate which is most suitable for the enzyme transformations which take place during meat seasoning.
The climatic situation is very different in the plain near the Po river, where fog and extremely high humidity contribute to the excellent seasoning of “culatello” and “shoulder” ham.

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The visit begins with a description of the evolution of agriculture in the province of Parma from antiquity to the 1800s. Animal husbandry was strictly connected to the development of farming. The territory was inhabited by a succession by populations which were traditionally swine herds: the Etruscan, the Celtic Gaels, and at last, the Romans. The making of prosciutto has been known since those times, and the plains of Emilia, which were extremely rich in water and oak woods, was the ideal territory for swine. With the arrival of the Romans, salted pork meats were produced to feed the armies and to be sent to the capital. The Lombards, in about 586 A.D., and the Francs, in about 733 A.D., favored the Parma area tradition of making salted meats. Starting in the 12thcentury, the reduction of wooded areas favored the extension of pasture lands where bovines were raised for milk. With the milk serum, produced in the processing of Parmigiano Reggiano, the swine raised in large sties were fed. In this situation, production developed according to industrial patterns at the end of the 19thCentury.

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During Roman times in Italy, animals were normally raised in the wild and pastured in woods, but there existed a type of domestic farming in stables as well.  Various historical documents about the widespread presence of pork from antiquity to medieval times are displayed In the lectern located in the center of section 2 of the museum. In the eastern part of the Mediterranean, varieties of animals were found which belonged to the Hispanic branch. The black pork variety became popular in the Parma area. These animals still showed some wilderness features , and were smaller in size. In the second half of the 19th Century, the varieties ‘perfected’ by the English were introduced in Italy, and they had great success thanks to their productive characteristics. The Duchy of Parma was one of the first Italian states to import pigs of the Yorkshire variety. Later on the Large White Yorkshire swine replaced the local black one. After 1950, thanks to the development of genetic science, a cross between the Large White and the Landrance varieties became possible, obtaining animals with optimal characteristics for the making of prosciutto. Only in recent times, the production of cold cuts using the meat of the black swine of Parma variety has been reintroduced.  This type of swine, which fortunately survived in mountain areas, is particularly appreciated for the tastiness of its meat.

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The use of salt is one of the most ancient methods of food preservation. In order to obtain good quality cold cuts it is necessary to have salt available. Even as early as Roman times salt was so important that the word “salary” derives from “salt”, owing to the fact that this was utilized as payment for soldiers. The “Salaria” road was built to transport it and to distribute it through the peninsula, but soon became insufficient for the need. Therefore a great number of salt quarries were created, generally along costal areas, but also in some particular inner areas were there were natural salt springs. In the Parma territory, the Salsomaggiore springs have been known since very ancient times. In Medieval times, the commerce of salt reached a further development.  The map shows the salt routes in use up until the 16th Century.  Part of the political power of Venice derived from the commerce of salt. In the province of Parma, the utilization of the Salsomaggiore springs  was intensified during the 13thCentury. The salt obtained was white and free of debris, and its excellent quality made it suitable for the production of two kinds of foods: cheese and cold cuts, the products which gave Parma and its territory international renown.

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Fresh meat is made of protein, fat and water. When it is left in open air at room temperature, it undergoes chemical processes of decomposition in which water plays a fundamental role. If water is eliminated, these processes become impossible, and meat remains intact for years. The most ancient method used to cure meat is to cover it in cooking salt, sodium chloride, which is water absorbent. The molecules of water in the meat close to the salt crystals, are involved in a hydration reaction, and the most external layer of meat dries up in a short time.

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The images in the panel hanging on the wall show the handling of various tools which were in use without much change up until the 19th century: knives, hooks, and a “stadera” scale. In the center, a large glass cabinet displays samples of ancient butchery tools, divided according to the sequence of the different phases of the work. Together with the objects, a copy of a miniature is displayed: it is  taken from the treatise Theatrum Sanitatis (the Theater of Health) written in the 1400s, which illustrates the cutlery used in the various operations in preparing pork meats, together with a large cutting board which was used as a counter, and a rack also called “fork”. In the display case, a tool set for itinerant butchers can be seen, consisting of a basket made of braided corn leaves, a dagger knife, a chopper, knives and the various tools used during the phases of pork butchery: from the capturing with a harpoon and a muzzle hook, which was used only in the area along the Po riverbanks, to the killing of the animal with stiletto knives, to the weighing using stadera scales, the skinning with an enameled pitcher and scrapers, and finally to the blanching and sectioning using choppers and knives.

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Following the visit itinerary, in the corridor there are various panels illustrating salted meat production in the province of Parma from the 18th to the 20th Century. Because of the constant development of pork butchery in the Middle Ages, a corporate guild of artisans who prepared and sold salted meats and fats was created. This trade was called the Art of Lard Makers, and they separated and became distinguished from the Art of Butchers. These corporations existed in Parma dating from the 12thCentury, and the first known statute of the Lard Makers, dates back to 1450. A map shows the very widespread presence of Lard Maker shops in the City in the 18th Century.  By the year 1800 there were 179 shops.

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The wall panels in this section display the different kinds of Parma area cold cuts with photographic documentation. In the center display cabinet, there are tools related to the production of specific types of cold cuts. Those illustrated are: cicciolata, greaves, cup, Zibello loin of pork, bow, throat, lard, pork loin (or small loin), mariola, bacon, ham, “priest and bishop” cut, salami (the Felino kind, called crespone –big crisp – cresponetto – crisp – and strolghino – sausage) cooked shoulder and raw shoulder. Every image is accompanied by a technical description illustrating the parts of pork used to make the specific cold cut and the types of preparation and seasoning.
Among the most important cold cuts we remember:
The Zibello loin of pork (culatello), which is obtained from the leg muscle and is stored for at least 10 months. It has remote origins, but it has been clearly listed in the accounting chronicles only since the 18th century. It has been a protected denomination product since 1996.
Prosciutto of Parma, the most important Italian cold cut, is mentioned for the first time in the Statute of Butchers of Parma in 1309 with the name of baffa, perhaps from the German word backen which meant “to dry”. Its commercial success arrived relatively late in the 19th Century. In 1963 the Cosortium of Prosciutto of Parma was born and the product was registered as a Protected Denomination of Origin product in 1996.
The Salami of Felino in ancient times was the most important salami of Parma. It is traditionally made in the town of Felino with noble pork cuts ground with salt, pepper, garlic and white wine, and encased in the swine’s gut.  In 1997 a request for recognition of Protected Geographical Denomination was presented to authorities.
The cooked and raw Shoulder is the most ancient cold cut of the province, and it is mentioned in two parchment scrolls of February 8th and 11th of 1170 written in San Secondo and Palasone of Sissa. The San Secondo Shoulder enjoyed large popularity in the 1800s and Giuseppe Verdi held it in high regard. In 2004, a request for recognition of Protected Geographical Indication was presented to authorities.
In the display case, tools used for making the different types of Parma area cold cuts can be seen, from those made into sausages from one cut piece, to those made of ground meat and then incased in gut.  Among other things, a meat grinder shaped like a crescent moon with three blades, some meat grinding and sausage stuffing machines and typical aprons used by operators processing pork meats can be seen.

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Nel pannello a destra è presentata una selezione di ricette di cucina con i salumi dall’antichità al XX secolo. Le prime indicazioni esaurienti relative all’impiego gastronomico dei salumi ci vengono dai romani; nei loro testi è il prosciutto il prodotto più citato. Il prosciutto ha, infatti, una caratteristica rara: è presente nei ricettari di cucina dal I al XX secolo. Anche le ricette presentate prendono le mosse da Apicio (I secolo d.C.) per giungere fino a Giuseppe Verdi (1872). Un secondo pannello presenta alcune riproduzioni di nature morte del Seicento, veri capolavori di rigore formale, che costituiscono una fonte di prim’ordine per lo studio della storia dei prodotti alimentari del nostro paese. Il terzo pannello presenta una selezione di menu storici con i salumi di Parma. Al centro della sezione una affettatrice Berkel modello 7 del 1929: si tratta di una raro esemplare assemblato in Italia di un modello manuale della famosa fabbrica olandese. In una teca, infine, sono presenti due volumetti di fine Ottocento sull’allevamento del maiale e sulla produzione dei salumi che testimoniano l’accresciuto interesse per i suini ed i loro prodotti nell’Italia del nord in quel periodo.

Sezione 7 – La lavorazione del Prosciutto: evoluzione delle tecniche e dei luoghi

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At the end of the corridor it is possible to see a large wooden greaves press.  Turning to the right, there is the first video illustrating the making of prosciutto in the first half of the 1900s.

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Refrigerating machines appeared in the province of Parma only at the beginning of the 1900s, and in 1927 they were installed for the first time in the seasoning factories of Langhirano and Collecchio. These made it possible to artificially keep the temperature between 1 and 4 degrees Celsius inside of the insulated rooms, where legs were stored during the salting and resting period. This was an epochal event, since it freed production from seasonal cycle, making it possible to keep the factories working on a continuous cycle. Since the introduction of refrigerating machines, the sequence of operations has remained substantially the same as before, while  technology evolved considerably, supporting the manual work with specific machines and with a strong attention to hygiene. At the beginning of this section can be seen one of the first ammonia based compressors, dating from 1939, used to refrigerate cold cut factories.

The fresh legs arrive at various seasoning factories and undergo the following operations: cutting away of waste, salting, resting, trimming and washing, drying, seasoning and covering in lard, sampling and marking. Each phase is represented by illustrated panels and their related tools.

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Cutting away of waste: Legs were shaped with knives in the classical form, taking away both meat and fat and rind in excess, to favor the following absorption of salt

Salting and resting: The legs, after spending a day in the cooling chamber, were ready to receive the first salting. Workers spread this manually, then the legs were placed in the salting room, where they remained for about one week. Then they were cleaned from the salt which had not been absorbed, massaged, salted again and placed in the refrigerated room for twenty days, to be later cleaned from excess salt again. They were brushed, massaged, and then placed in the resting refrigerated room for about one month. A manual salting table with a wooden prosciutto mold has been reconstructed here. Next to it, a 1960s machine used to massage the prosciutto and to compress the “safena” vein can be seen.

Trimming and washing: At the end of the resting period, in the trimming phase, part of the bone was cut away with a saw blade and the part around the head of the femur was cleaned up with a knife. Washing was done outdoors to remove impurities or residue of salt. Water was heated up in a wood fire boiler and then it was poured into large bowls where the prosciutto was left to soak.  It was then briskly cleaned using whisk brooms. In the 1960s machines for washing prosciutto were introduced, similar to the one showcased here.

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Drying: Prosciutto was hung on special racks made of wooden structures, and was left to dry in terraces or courtyards. When the weather was humid or rainy, the prosciutto was dried inside the cold cut factory using simple floor fans like the one on display. It was then transported to rooms located on the upper floors using hand operated pulleys.

Seasoning and covering in lard: Prosciutto was hung on the “scalere” – wooden structures located in the large seasoning rooms on the upper floors, called “stanzoni”. They generally had windows along the two longest walls in order to circulate air.  The rooms were oriented in such a way as to create a current with the dominating winds which usually blew along the direction of the valley. The images on the panel show the evolution of cold cut factories in Langhirano over a period of time, while a wooden model of a cold cut factory from the 1950s and 60s shows the cleverly organized structural scheme designed to achieve the best environment for seasoning.

In order to avoid excessive dryness, the part of the meat which was not protected by the rind was covered in sugna – a mixture of ground pork fat, salt, pepper and sometimes rice flower. Looking towards the ceiling, it is possible to see one of the first forced ventilation systems using wooden channels, which made it possible to guarantee a constant working condition regardless of the external climate conditions.

Sampling, marking and deboning: The sampling is a test made by smelling in order to detect any defects in some of the leg’s most critical points. It is done with a special needle made of horse bone, a material which has the capacity to absorb aromas and to disperse them quickly. If the prosciutto passes the test, it is then fire marked with the “crown” of the Consortium which certifies the quality and typicality of the Prosciutto of Parma.  Notice the wooden support in the shape of a prosciutto used for the marking operation. To ease cutting with slicing machines, prosciutto can be deboned and sewn up.  The molds exhibited on the table were used for this purpose. At the end of this section, a video illustrates the various phases of modern prosciutto making.

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In the final section of the museum, two large panels display the most important news about Prosciutto of Parma and about the food and agriculture productions of the province of Parma. The first shows the production area of the Prosciutto of Parma, which includes a territory located 5 kilometers south of the Via Emilia up to an altitude of 900 meters above sea level. This is delimited on the eastern side by the Enza river, and on the western side by the Stirone torrent. The Prosciutto of Parma Consortium, is an entity of fundamental importance created in 1963 for the protection of product quality.  With the issue of production rules, the Consortium regulated production guidelines and animal requirements very strictly. As far as the animals are concerned, they must be of races included in the Italian Genealogic Register, and must be born and raised within the 10 regions of the Central Northern area of Italy. They must be fed quality food – maize, barley, and serum derived from Parmigiano Reggiano cheese production. The Consortium deals with the management and safeguard of the production guidelines deposited with the European Community, the management of the economic policies of the sector, protection of the Prosciutto of Parma denomination, and vigilance over the correct application of laws and regulations. This activity is carried on by appointed inspectors who verify the activities of farmers, slaughterers, manufacturers, and traders at all levels. The Consortium also takes care of promoting and highlighting the product, and supports the associated companies with consultancies.

At any time, it is possible to trace all levels of the production chain, because every Prosciutto of Parma has a “marking” which makes it possible to trace each step of the process starting from the animals. This inspection is made by the Parma Quality Institute, which is a separate entity from the Consortium, and is appointed by the Italian Government to make sure that the laws contained in the rules and regulations guidelines already mentioned are observed by the production chain of Parma.

The visit ends in the Museum’s Prosciutteria – the sampling room, where it is possible to taste samples of various seasonings of Prosciutto of Parma and other typical products of the Parma area.

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