Pampering, proximity and salt make a king of hams

Tue Oct 13, 2009 2:03am EDT
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By Gabriella Bruschi

MILAN (Reuters Life!) - You need salt, fresh air, expert hands and nothing else. It might seem like the recipe for a stay at a luxury spa, but these are instead the ingredients for turning a leg of pork into the "King" of Parma hams.

It's not as simple as it sounds, though, to produce the sweet, tender delicacy that Italians call "Prosciutto di Parma" and which has become increasingly popular with Britons and Americans as "Parma Ham."

It takes months of careful work by experts who stick to traditions as ancient as Christianity, eschewing modern technology and additives.

"There are no secret formulas here," says Paolo Tanara, chairman of the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma, the organization that supervises production of the deep pink hams.

"There are, or better still there should be, only personal expertise and practice, a favorable environment and the simplest and oldest preservative: sea salt."

Prosciutto di Parma can only be produced in a very restricted area of 29 sq km (11.2 sq mile) around the town of Parma in the region of Emilia Romagna, just north of Tuscany.

To the north of this area, production must be 5 km south of the ancient Roman road, the Via Emilia, to avoid the fog of the Po valley.

In the south, it cannot climb above 900 meters on the Appenines to avoid the severe mountain climate. To east and west, it is bordered by the rivers Enza and Stirone respectively.   Continued...