Prosciutto di Parma and Balsamic Factory Tours

by brittany on May 19, 2012

If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you’re wondering why I didn’t even try smuggling one of these ham legs home with my under my shirt.  I’m kicking myself.  For some reason, we aren’t allowed to bring pig products into the US.  Argh.

On our recent visit to Parma (which is worth seeing in its own right–everyone rides bikes and the town is super pretty), we toured a Prosciutto di Parma factory.

When the pig legs arrive at the factory, they all spend some quality time in this machine.  The contraption massages and salts the legs, which makes me wonder if I should get on the conveyor belt next.

The hams rest in a chilled room for a couple of weeks, then take another pass through the massager/salter machine.

The ham legs age for two years.  Two years.  This is amazing, because if you’ve ever eaten authentic Prosciutto di Parma–not that “just fine but not at all comparable” stuff from the Black Forest–you know it is bright pink and meltingly tender.

The grey stuff at the bottom of the legs is pepper, used to seal and preserve the end.  It isn’t used as flavoring and doesn’t enter in the final product, so it isn’t listed as an ingredient (the only ingredients being ham and salt).

The hams are all marked to show their authenticity.  They also have metal pins at the top.

This is the Prosciutto di Parma factory.

For lunch, we ate… guess what… Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano (we went on the cheese tour earlier in the day), bread, other cured meats, and antipasto, washed down with wines from the winery where we dined.  Mouths–commence watering.

After lunch, we visited another winery whose owners still produce traditional Balsamico as part of their family’s legacy.  Their main business is wine, but they make enough Balsamico for their own consumption and limited sales.

The regional tradition is for a young woman to receive a set of five barrels when she marries.  Traditional Balsamico is more of a concentrated grape syrup than a vinegar.  The grape juice is boiled for two days, then it goes into the largest barrel.  Every few years, as the syrup ages and evaporates, it is transferred into the smaller barrels.

These barrels contain Balsamico that each have different flavor profiles.  If the final product doesn’t taste quite right, the makers might add small amounts of the contents of these barrels to balance the flavor.

We tasted three different ages of Balsamico–12 years old, 22 years old (pictured above), and 28 years old.

You can see how thick the 28-year-old Balsamico is.  When fancy chef-type people talk about topping vanilla ice cream with balsamic, this is what they mean.

Michael used his international driver’s license to shuttle us around the countryside in our rental car (a Renault, rather than a the Fiat we expected).  He did a great job and even honked his horn like a local.

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