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