Slideshow: Behind the Scenes: How Prosciutto di Parma is Made

Glamour shot
Glamour shot

How does this rosy prosciutto get made? We'll show you.

Where it's made
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
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.

Riposto
Riposto

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%.

Tagged
Tagged

Hams are always labeled with their date of origin and place in the whole ham lineup; this guy is already 19 months old.

Drying out
Drying out

After the ham begins to cure, the exposed meat dries out noticeably. That's when...

Just hangin'
Just hangin'

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.

Testing
Testing

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
Brand of Approval

If the hams pass the test? The inspector heats up a firebrand with the Prosciutto di Parma crown...

Labeled and ready
Labeled and ready

Once the hams are good to go, they're labeled and shipped off near and far.

Slice and serve
Slice and serve

Prosciutto slicing is a tricky thing, generally requiring the aide of a meat slicer.

Ecco!
Ecco!
Tender petals of prosciutto di Parma. (Best with a chunk of bread and a glass of sparkling Malvasia.)