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Only hams cured in the hills around Parma, Italy may become Parma Hams. There are around 160 producers associated in the consortium. The consortium's role is to safeguard the tradition and protect the designation which guarantees the authenticity to consumer. Parma Ham is an all-natural product, made from only four ingredients, Italian pigs-- born and bred in farms in Italy-- salt, air, and time. It is steeped in tradition, and used in a wide range of modern cuisine. The unique conditions of this region make it possible to produce a very special ham that has been appreciated since Roman times, and here's how it's done. A highly-trained maestro salatore, rubs sea salt into the meat, which is then refrigerated for about a week. Residual salt is removed, and the ham gets a second thin coating of salt, which is left on for another 15 to 18 days. By making daily adjustments in temperature and humidity, the maestro ensures that the legs absorb just enough salt to cure them, thereby preserving Parma Ham's reputation as a sweet ham. The hams are hung for approximately 80 days in refrigerated humidity-controlled rooms. The hams are then moved to well-ventilated cellars at room temperature. The Parma air ventilation is key in creating Parma Ham, and the production buildings all have closely-set tall windows to allow air to course through them at times. By the end of this phase-- which lasts about three months-- the exposed surface of the meat has dried and hardened. These hardened surfaces are then softened with a paste of minced fat, salt and pepper. The hams are moved to dark cellar-like rooms and hung on racks until the curing is completed. Parma Ham specifications require 12 months of minimum curing. There is no maximum limit, and some hams are cured for up to three years. After 12 months, quality testing takes place. An inspector pierces each ham at five critical points with a porous horse bone needle, smelling it after each puncture. This helps determine whether the ham is of Parma Ham quality. Hams that pass all of the quality control tests are fire-branded with the official mark of the consortium, the five-point Ducal crown that identifies them as genuine Parma Ham. Only the independent IPQ, Instituto Parma Qualita can brand the finished product.