Sunday, July 20, 2014

Italy Food Tour: Langhirano, Home of Prosciutto di Parma

I am convinced that one of the best ways to learn about a culture is by eating your way through a place.  Yes, museums and archaeological sites are not less important in any travel itinerary, but the mind-blowing experience of tasting something for the first time at place where authentic food is found gives you a visceral understanding of a place, its heritage, its topography - all at once, on a plate.  

Food also takes you to places you perhaps would never learn about otherwise. Consider the town of Langhirano in Emilia-Romagna, the province at the bellybutton of Italy.  This has never been on my radar simply because I have never heard about it before in my life.  But we made it there somehow and learned that this Italian town is a powerhouse for the Italian prosciutto di Parma.

While in Italy, we had many opportunities to learn about local food.  Partly due to extremely auspicious events, we were introduced to Enrico, an extraordinary local in Regnano whose cheesemaking abilities are legendary.  He emphatically showed us why the best food in all of Italy comes from the Emilia-Romagna region by taking us to a family-run Parmigiano-Reggiano cheesemaker and a Parma ham facility after that.  I'll delve more into the facinating world of Parmigiano-Reggiano later in a separate post.  And more on the character that is Enrico later.  This post is entirely about proscioutto di Parma.   
We met Mirella Galloni, one of the owners and woman-in-charge at Galloni, one of the leading names in prosciutto di Parma in Italy, and perhaps, even the world.  Mirella indulged us with an intimate tour of their facility, fascinating us with stories of the art and science behind making prosciutto di Parma that their family had been making since the sixties.  We entered a huge open facility and our jaws dropped at the sight of endless rows of curing ham legs.  I had no idea!  We learned about the delicate nature of their Parma ham, only salted by hand and using many priceless years of experience to master the proper aeration techniques and proper placement and spacing between ham legs.  No wonder a full leg of ham could cost you, well, an arm and a leg
 Authentic prosciutto from the Parma region branded by the Parma crown seal, could run up to $500 for the whole thing.  It starts with healthy pigs raised locally and fed with local whey, a byproduct of Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Because of varying body compositions of the pork legs, Galloni salts everything by hand to get the exact amount of saltiness appropriate for the pork size.  It is then hung out to cure and dry for at least 12 months.
The tour ended at a special room in the basement.  We were led out of an elevator to a pitch dark room.  I didn’t know what we were in for.  The smell of salt was heavy in the air and I don’t remember which came on first – the spotlight or the classical music.  In the center of the room, a spotlight slowly shone on a classic Berkel prosciutto cutting machine (it’s Dutch, so we are mighty proud) surrounded by rows upon rows of showcase prosciutto, as the music escalated. 
It's crazy to imagine how ham could merit such a special room.  After all, isn't it just ham?  But that is the thing.  In Italy, it is not.  It is pride.  It is identity.  In Italy, food is intertwined and inseparable from culture and heritage, both of which are highly revered and esteemed.  In a world where everything is changing fast, it was demonstrated again to me that here, not everything needs to change.  Things can still be made the same way they have always been.   

Watch a clip below of our private and intimate tour's finale at the Galloni production in Langhirano, Italy!

A special present from Mirella Galloni that found its way to our coffee table


  1. Yes there is many opportunities to learn about local food. I am very foody person and really love to know every kind of food.
    trips to rome italy