PARMA, Italy— Driving through the rolling Tuscan hills, our bus stopped at a wonderful family run meat company, Salumificio La Perla, run by Carlo Lafnranchi and his brother Fabrizio. If you’re ever looking for a meal that comes with an experience, this is the place.
First, lunch: thin slices of prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar and, shockingly, cantaloupe. The sweet cantaloupe cut the salty ham in the best way, and the balsamic on the Parmigiano was an impressive pairing. After our delicious meal we went below the restaurant to learn about the production of the prosciutto we’d just eaten.
On the production floor we inhaled the obvious scent of meat, yet there was none in sight. We found that the prosciutto, a cured ham made from the hind leg of a pig, was in the surrounding freezers. When La Perla receives the legs, they are stored at approximately 32°F for five days. Then the legs are massaged and moved to another freezer two degrees cooler. Here, due to the cooling, the visible meat becomes darker in color. After fifteen days the ham is massaged again and moved to the drying room.
The meat takes two years to cure and is checked by an inspector to ensure that the ham meets the Italian DOP (protected designation of origin) regulation. The inspector takes a long hollow horse bone and sticks it in five different points around the center bone of the leg to extract the interior of the ham. As if it wasn’t weird enough to use a horse bone to stick in a pig leg, after each poke the inspector as well as the owner actually smells the bone to determine the quality of the meat. Upon passing this peculiar inspection the ham receives an oval crown with the word PARMA stamped on it. This marking is a guarantee that the ham is from the region of Parma and nowhere else.