Very special pigs are selected for Parma Ham. Pigs must be born and bred in one of 10 regions in Central and Northern Italy, certified Large White Landrance and Duroc breeds, fed with quality foods (maize, barley, serum derived from the production of Parmesan), over 9 months of age, and have an average weight of 160 kg.
Only pigs that meet these stringent requirements, certified by the documentation and tattoo affixed by the breeder, can be introduced into the Parma circuit.
Cooling: The fresh thigh rests for 24 hours in special cooling cells until it reaches a temperature of 0 C°. This firms the meat so it can be trimmed more easily. During the cooling phase, the product undergoes its first weight loss, losing about 1%. The thighs used for the production of Parma Ham must not undergo, except refrigeration, any storage treatment, including freezing.
Trimming: This stage give Parma Ham its characteristic rounded shape. Trimming is carried out by removing part of the grease and the cotenna. This serves a technical reason too, as it prepares the meat for subsequent salting. With trimming, the thigh loses fat and muscle, losing about 24% of its weight. During this operation, the thighs that have even minimal imperfections are discarded.
Salting: Salting is a diversified, unique process. Parts of the cotenna are treated with moist salt, while the lean parts are sprinkled with dry salt. This operation is extremely delicate and must be carried out on thighs at the correct temperature. If it's too cold, the thigh will not absorb enough salt, if the thigh is not cold enough, it can deteriorate. The thigh is then placed in a cold room at a temperature between 1 and 4 C° and 80% humidity. A week after this 'first salt', the thigh is cleaned and residual salt is removed. Next, the thigh is subjected to a slight salt pass, the 'second salt', and then returned to a new cold room for 15 to 18 days, according to its weight. At the end of this second salting period, the thigh loses another 4% of its weight, since the meat gives up some of its moisture as it slowly absorbs the salt.
Rest: Once the residual salt has been eliminated, the thigh remains for periods ranging from 60 to 80 days in a special resting cell, at a temperature between 1 and 5 C° and 75% humidity.
During this phase the thigh must 'breathe' without becoming too moist or too dry. Air exchange in cells is very frequent. Absorbed salt penetrates deep and is distributed evenly within the muscle mass. The weight drop in the resting phase is about 8 to 10%.
Washing and Drying: The thigh is then washed with warm water to remove any salt crystals or impurities. Drying takes place using natural environmental conditions, on dry and ventilated sunny days, or in special 'dryers' in which convective movements of air are duly exploited.
Pre-seasoning and Grooming: Hanging from the traditional 'ladderre', hams dry naturally in stanzoni with opposing windows. The windows are opened depending on the conditions of the internal humidity, both with respect to the external climatic humidity and that of the product. This allows the product to dry gradually at a consistent rate. The weight loss at this stage is around 8 to 10%.
Sugnature: The uncovered muscular part is covered with sugna, a mixture of ground pork fat with the addition of a little salt and ground pepper and, sometimes, rice flour. The plumage performs the function of softening the superficial muscle layers so that they will not dry faster than the internal layers, while still allowing for the further loss of moisture. The plum is not considered an ingredient by Italian legislation since it is a slaughter product. All our hams are therefore completely natural and made without any kind of preservatives.
Seasoning: At the 7th month, the Parma Ham is transferred to the "cellars", located in the heart of the traditional area of production. Particular environmental characteristics influence the seasoning, during which important biochemical and enzymatic processes also take place. Together they create the characteristic scent and flavor of Parma Ham. During the seasoning, the weight drop is about 5%.
Survey: At the end of the maturation process, the survey operations are carried out. An olfactory examination involves the penetration of the muscle mass with a horse bone needle, a material that has the peculiar property of briefly absorbing the aromas of the product. The needle is "sniffed" by experts trained to recognize and evaluate the olfactory characteristics, an important step for verifying quality production. This olfactory test seeks the peculiar sweetness for which Parma Ham is renowned.
Marking: After a minimum of twelve months, and after special investigations are carried out by external inspectors, the 5-pointed ducal crown's is firebranded on the product. This mark identifies Parma Ham and guarantees absolute compliance with the traditional processing method.