Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Prosciutto Festival in Parma

Last Sunday we woke up with only one agenda in mind. The Festival del Prosciutto di Parma was on, and we wanted to take this opportunity to visit one of the many prosciutto manufacturers or prosciutteria that were open for visits to the public.

We arrived in Langhirano, a small town outside the city of Parma, to find the festival in full swing. There were many booths lining the streets selling food, trinkets and of course prosciutto. Langhirano is home to one of the biggest concentration of prosciutto makers in the Parma region. At the meeting point, we left our name, and 10 minutes later our group was ready to go.

We ended up in the group visiting a prosciutteria that was just 5 mins walking distance away. For the ones further away, they had small buses arranged to drive visitors over. 

It was a beautiful day with sunny blue skies. The temperature was perfect. When we arrived, we were further divided into smaller groups of 10. We were led through the facility by one of the master prosciutto makers himself. He was very friendly and explained the steps in detail, starting from the delivery of the meat from local butchers. 

Here, the legs of ham are resting at one of the earlier steps. 

The hams pass through several different rooms of different temperatures and humidity where they rest of a set amount of time. Although there were modern machinery especially for the initial cleaning process, and for moving the hams through different parts of the facility, what really amazed us was that many of the steps were still very much as it was traditionally hundreds of years ago.

For example, in one of the later curing steps, the windows are actually opened for several hours each day, to let the hams air out and breathe in the Langhirano valley air.

Another example is the initial salting process. A machine is used to apply salt on the legs of ham, our guide explained, but he himself will personally check each one after that and adjust the quantity of salt depending on the size, shape and fat content of each leg, 

We got really excited when we entered this last room where the hams are left to age for 12 up to 36 months. There were 60000 hams hanging in that space at a time!

The sight and smell of the hanging prosciutto was just amazing. We didn't want to leave!

At the end of the tour, we were treated to a freshly sliced ham served on slices of bread. There was also a nice selection of water, beer and wine. Some of us really had a hard time tearing themselves away from the tasting table.

It really was a fun and interesting visit. This prosciutto maker produces about 3000 legs of prosciutto a week, or about 150000 annually and even exports internationally. What really surprises us was how such a producer remains family-sized with only 25 employees.

We sure enjoyed our time in Langhirano. The tours were very well organized and definitely worth a visit considering we didn't have to pay a cent. The festival is on till next weekend so it's not too late to plan a visit if you are in the area.

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