The history of Prosciutto di Parma dates back to the Roman period. Parma was located at the heart of the Cisalpine Gaul, a province of the Roman Republic. In De Re Rustica, Varrone wrote that the local inhabitants raised large herds of pigs and were particularly skilled in curing ham. In the 2nd century, Cato wrote De Agricoltura and included a technical explanation for making prosciutto, a process that has essentially unchanged.
Throughout the course of history, many other authors wrote about prosciutto and prosciutto making, including Polibio, Strabone, Orazio, Plauto and Giovenale. The production of encased salumi, or insaccati, was officially recognized at the end of the Middle Ages with the formation of the Arte dei Lardaroli, a salumi-makers guild. The guild was a branch of the much larger Arte dei Beccai, a guild of all types of food producers, from butchers to fishermen. Culinary references made to Prosciutto di Parma can be found in the Libro de Cocina, written in the second half of the 14th century, the wedding menu of Colonna in 1589, and the precious text written by Carlo Nascia, Ranuccio Farnese’s private chef in the second half of the 17th century. Prosciutto appears in the poetry of Tassoni and in the dietary advice of Pisanelli, a medical doctor from Bologna. Guglielmo Du Tillot, the Prime Minister of the Duchy of Parma, even created a plan for the development of two pork slaughterhouses in Parma in order to improve the quality and quantity of the local salumi industry.
Prosciutto di Parma DOP
The first step in producing prosciutto was once done by hand, but has since been industrialized. Industrialization improved sanitation while keeping the traditional characteristics of the product. In order to be called Prosciutto di Parma, the prosciutto, or ham, must come from pigs raised in a specific area (either Emilia Romagna, Lombardy, Piedmont, Veneto, Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Lazio, Abruzzo, or Molise) and produced in a precise area in the province of Parma.
This area is recognized for its special microclimate, caused by the air that blows up from Versilia. The wind softens as it passes through the olive and pine groves of the Val di Magra, dries as it reaches the Apennines and is enriched by the perfume of chestnut before it arrives in Parma, giving the prosciutto its unparalleled sweetness.
Prosciutto di Parma is made by rubbing and massaging the hind legs of pork with an amount of salt proportionate to the weight of the meat. After the ham has been salted, it is washed, dried and left to age in aging rooms for a period of 10 to 12 months.
The Prosciutto di Parma Consortium
The Prosciutto di Parma Consortium was founded in 1963 in order to protect the quality of the ingredients and the scrupulous production methods. The Italian government gave the Consortium until July 3, 1978 to regulate production and enforce the standards outlined in their manual. If a prosciutto meets these standards, it is branded with the crown symbol of the Consortium
The Consortium is responsible for the development and promotion of the product. It is recognized throughout Europe and is even allowed to operate outside the European Union in places like the United States. Prosciutto di Parma has been given DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) status by the European Union.