How does this rosy prosciutto get made? We'll show you.
Where it's made
There are currently around 150 certified prosciutto di Parma producers, all in the region surrounding the small city of Parma in the Emilia-Romagna region. Ghirardi Onesto sits along the Parma River in the town of Langhirano.
Starts with the pig
After slaughter, the hind legs are cooled for 24 hours to firm up the meat, then trimmed into that distinctive, round-ended shape. They're sent through a machine that compresses and massages the flesh a bit, helping force out the residual blood and opening up the muscle fibers.
Then comes the salt: the skin is sprayed with a salt solution, while the exposed meat is rubbed thoroughly with coarse Mediterranean sea salt.
Let it sink in
After this prima sale (first salt), the legs sit in cold storage for 6-7 days, in a high-humidity room cooled to just above freezing, allowing the salt to penetrate.
After "first salt," each leg is brushed clean of salt, re-salted, and put in cold storage for another 15-18 days. At this point, each one has lost enough water to knock down its weight by around 4%.
The hams are hung and spend around three months in the "riposto" phase: resting. From here on out, they're always kept hung, allowing air to circulate around them at all times; the hams slowly lose moisture as the meat "breathes." Once they leave this room, their weight is reduced by another 8-10%.
Hams are always labeled with their date of origin and place in the whole ham lineup; this guy is already 19 months old.
After the ham begins to cure, the exposed meat dries out noticeably. That's when...
... they spread on a thin layer of sugna: pork lard with salt, pepper, and rice flour. It shields the meat underneath from impurities, keeps away insects and such, and prevents the exposed meat from drying out too quickly. (No, hardened-up pig fat doesn't sound too appealing; don't worry, it's removed before the ham is sold.)
The hams are all lined up in the cellar; various enzymatic processes are taking place under the skin. Here they'll hang until...well, they're done.
NB: It smells yeasty and funky and awesome in here.
Quality control is paramount with any Denomination of Protected Origin product. But how do you test a ham without cutting the whole thing open?
By smell. Here, an inspector inserts a sharpened tool made of...horse bone. Why? Horse bones are porous in such a way that they pick up smells, but "lose" them within seconds. Thus, jab a ham, smell the bone, and you'll get a whiff of what that ham smells like inside, but only for a few moments. Then the smell is gone and the bone's ready to go again.
Inspectors test each ham at a few key points—near the bone, further away, and so on—smelling for any defects.
Brand of Approval
If the hams pass the test? The inspector heats up a firebrand with the Prosciutto di Parma crown...
And brands it right onto the skin.
Labeled and ready
Once the hams are good to go, they're labeled and shipped off near and far.
Slice and serve
Prosciutto slicing is a tricky thing, generally requiring the aide of a meat slicer.