History of Parma Ham
The centuries-old tradition of sausages is ordered, as an activity in its own right, only at the end of the Middle Ages, by the Art of the Lardaroli, which originated by specialization from the stronger Art of the Beccai.
But the fame of Parma ham, an exclusive specialty of Parma's lardaroli, has its roots in even more distant times, in Roman times. Parma, then located in the heart of Cisalpine Gaul, was renowned, as Varrone recalls in De re rustica, for the activity of its inhabitants who raised large herds of pigs and were particularly skilled in producing salted hams. Cato himself outlines the production technique in his De agri cultura already in the second century BC, substantially identical to the current one. Going back over the centuries, Polybius, Strabo, Horace, Plautus and Juvenal spoke about the ham and the preparation technique. John B. Dancer writes that when Hannibal in 217 BC entered Parma and was welcomed as a liberator, the inhabitants to celebrate offered him pork legs preserved in salt in wooden barrels that he appreciated very much. Gastronomic references to Parma ham can be found in the "Libro de cocina" of the second half of the fourteenth century, in the Colonna wedding menu of 1589, in the precious text by Nascia, a cook by Ranuccio Farnese in the second half of the seventeenth century. Ham peeps out from among the rhymes of Tassoni and the dietary advice of the Bolognese doctor Pisanelli. The Prime Minister of Don Filippo di Borbone, Guglielmo Du Tillot, had studied a plan for the construction, in Parma, of two slaughterhouses for pigs, to enhance and increase the local cured meat industry. The development of this tradition was undoubtedly influenced by the presence in the Parma area of saline springs such as those of Salsomaggiore. hygienic conditions, has been able to keep the traditional characteristics of the product intact.
To protect the quality of this raw ham, the same producers in 1963 set up the Parma Ham Consortium, which, since then, has supervised the processing and selection of the raw material. Furthermore, in 1996 the European Community conferred the recognition of protected designation of origin (PDO) on Parma ham. The trademark requires the registration of production regulations and compliance with them by anyone who intends to use them.
Origin of the Name
In the Parma area in the local dialect the term "ham" is called "pàr-sùt", that is, "it seems dry", due to the maturation of the meat which, in addition to being enriched with a percentage of salt, loses a lot of water and in this way carne dries, "pèra sùta", "looks dry". Another school of thought has it that the name comes from the Latin Perex Suctum which means "dried up", this theory is supported with respect to the previous one by the fact that the Parmesan dialect and with it the word "pàr-sùt" is certainly younger than the product "Ham". Furthermore, the latter theory was officially adopted by the Parma Ham Consortium
Parma ham has about 150 producers concentrated in the eastern part of the province of Parma, in particular in the Langhirano area. The breeding and fattening phases of the animals are regulated and guaranteed by the consortium. Only heavy thighs are used. It is also called sweet ham as a low amount of salt is added during processing. The salting is accompanied by a short period of rest in cold rooms and followed by the sprinkling of a precious fat, which takes the name of lard, obtained from the pig. This guarantees a slow drying, so that the producer can season the thigh for a long time (at least 12 months), adding a little salt. Once matured, the product should be released on the market between 7 kg and 8 kg, while the product with bone should weigh between 9.5 kg and 10.5 kg. Parma hams with a weight that differs greatly from those just mentioned have a lower commercial value.