By Zara McDowell
PARMA, Italy- The sound of loud air conditioning units and smell of raw meat fills the air of the Parma ham factory, La Perla Salumficio, owned by brothers, Carlo and Fabrizio Lanfranchi.
Prosciutto di Parma can only be produced in the Parma region of Italy using pigs born and bred in central-northern Italy, by law. After 2,000 years of this style of production, 160 families now carry on the tradition. Each year, ten million pieces are produced in Parma and the Lanranchi’s create 50,000 of them.
Visitors this day are greeted by Carlo, sharply dressed in a purple button down that pokes out of his white lab coat; he is sporting a warm smile as he rolls out a cart full of hairnets and white robes to cover our clothes.
Next, he opens a heavy industrial door to reveal many pink and red pig thighs hanging from a rope on long silver poles. Carlo proudly explains the following steps of the Parma ham curing process.
- First, during a 20-day period, sea salt is added to the thighs, the only additive that is allowed. The thighs are massaged to spread the salt evenly.
- Second, the meat dries an additional 90 days. We see this stage as Carlo leads the group around a corner, and a new aroma somewhat like Thanksgiving greets us.
- The thighs are then washed in hot water (40 C, 104 F).
- Around the next corner, hundreds of rows of hanging meat cures for a minimum of one year of aging.
- Then, the exposed end of the hams are covered with a layer of lard and sea salt in order to prevent the external layers from excessive drying.
- In the final stage, Carlo sticks a hollow probe made from horse tibia bone into five spots on the lard-covered end of the ham. He smells the results with his 1-million-euro-insured nose to determine if his masterpiece is complete. His nose expertise developed over 30 years of working with Parma hams.
Another bonus to visiting here (with a reservation) is that Carlo and his crew welcome you to their upstairs dining area with a three-course meal after the tour. A fresh plate of prosciutto, melon, bottles of water and wine, Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar are on the table as bottles are popping and forks are clinking on the white square plates. Everyone, in awe of the spectacular flavor of the prosciutto, sits a little straighter as a plate of spinach and ricotta-filed ravioli, accompanied by grated Parmesan, comes out of the kitchen. Dessert includes a plate of chocolate squares, lemon and fruit bars.
In the dining area, Carlo points out a picture displayed proudly on a table. Carlo and brother Fabrizio smile in the frame next to fellow American, Guy Fieri.
Carlo makes sure to eat at least one piece of his Prosciutto di Parma each day, unless he brings it home to eat, then he will have it twice, “I can never say no to a good piece,” Carlo exclaims.
And, it turns out, neither can I. The fresh prosciutto placed on a slice of bread with a sprinkle of Parmesan is irresistible.