We drove out of the center village of Parma and through the countyside…over the green mountains and around the fields of vines until we reached La Perla…another Parma Ham factory. This tour did have a small fee and was led by the daughter of the owner along with one other couple from the US. The factory conveyor line was not active so we did not see the massage and salting process, but she talked us through the various machinery explaining what happens to the ham from when it first arrives.
She opened the huge refrigerators, showing us the hundreds of legs hanging and resting in different parts of the aging process. She then took us to the aging room where the ham was drying after the pig fat mixed with pepper (looked like Crisco) was rubbed on by hand via a group of factory workers. She pointed out that not too much or too little is placed on the leg. If too much is put on, the meat doesn’t get enough oxygen but too little and it could get too much oxygen and go bad.
She pulled out her horse bone and asked who wanted to smell the inside of the meat…the concept is kind of gross if you think about it. You stick a bone of another animal into the pig leg by its main bone to smell the flesh and make sure there is no mold. Ick! But of course, Giff and I both volunteered to give it a big whiff, and sure enough…it smelled like ham. She went through all the various stamps found on the legs…the date it was received, the stamp of the slaughter-house, the stamp of the factory and of course the crown stamp…stating “Parma” . The stamp guarantees a certain type of pig that comes from a specific region and a set process for aging. It is the highest standard in the region and allows the ham to be sold at a premium price.
She explained that in the USA, we will never see the ham legs like they have them in Italy because they are not permitted to ship the legs whole. Instead, they have to be de-boned and vacuum packed to ship. Once the bone is out, the meat needs to be eaten within 6 months if kept in an airtight container. If the bone were to stay in, it can last a couple of years.
After our many questions and pictures, we finished the tour and walked into their little shop where we bought some fresh prosciutto di Parma and a couple pieces of salami. We also couldn’t resist buying a horse bone. It was really weird to sift through a bin of horse bones to choose our favorite one. How is one bone better than the other and why are we even buying a bone?
Back in Parma, we went straight to the center of town to find some lunch. We had read about a restaurant called Gallo d’Oro. So we plugged the name into our GPS and walked our way through the streets until we found it and sat down at an outside table. We ordered a Parma risotto and homemade thick pasta noodles served with smoked bacon and spinach. We paired lunch with a local Lambrusco (red sparkling wine). Lunch was good not great, but not every meal can supersede our expectations right?
We walked off our lunch as we strolled through parts of Parma we hadn’t seen yet, before going back to our hotel. Once we were back, we relaxed in our room and focused on getting some of our hotels booked for later in the trip. As for dinner, we sprawled out the remainder of our cheeses, meats, fruits and veggies while sipping on a bottle of full-bodied french wine (yes we still have bottles leftover from our trip to Bordeaux).