eventy per cent of the Prosciutto di Parma produced in the Emilia-Romagna region is eaten in Italy, our guide tells us. After a weekend exploring this timeless city, it certainly feels like we made our contribution towards that 70%! Its world-famous Ham is on every menu; breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Voted City of Gastronomy in 2015, Parma is City of Culture for 2020 and has seen tourism grow by 20% in two years. Yet strolling around the streets, with their terracotta- and butter-coloured 18th century facades – all wrought iron balconies and faded shutters – it doesn’t feel touristy. A few visitors in the Cathedral have cameras, but what most people really come for is the food. Parma’s reputation for the finest prosciutto dates back 2,000 years; Parmigiano Reggiano, its younger sibling, has just 1,000 years of heritage, but the locals are fiercely proud of the quality of both. As one Parma Ham vendor tells us; ‘It is possible to drive a Fiat, but why not a Ferrari?’
Where to eat
Ristorante Angiol d’Or (angioldor.it) has prime position beside Parma’s cathedral. Skip lunch if you’re having dinner here as the torta fritta, light golden parcels made with flour, water and lard, and particular to the Emilia-Romagna region, are irresistible served with 30-month aged Parma Ham and pickled vegetables.
About 4k outside Parma, Antichi Sapori (trattoria antichisapori.com) is a secret the locals would like to keep to themselves. Always full, it specialises in traditional Italian fare; sharing starter plates featuring Prosciutto di Parma (naturalmente!), but also salame de felino, and they do an amazing onion tart with a Parmigiano cream. Other highlights include silky soft tortelli filled with ricotta and Swiss chard.
What to see
‘Our soul is deeper than just ham and cheese,’ our guide Silvia tells us as we admire renaissance paintings in the ancient Cathedral, and the religious frescos of the 800-year-old Baptistry, but there’s no getting away from the city’s love affair with eating. Any salumeria, a shop specialising in cured meats, will encourage you to taste before you buy – try Rastelli on the Strada della Repubblica or La Prosciutteria in Via Farini. Or you can book a factory tour and learn about the stringent production processes for Prosciutto di Parma. Ours took us to Tanara Giancarlo where we learned…
- Parma Ham can only be produced in a small area of Parma controlled by the Consorzio (a consortium that safeguards quality). It must be cured for at least 12 months before being fire branded with the Ducal Crown. Every associate producer can decide how long to age their hams (ie 16, 24, 30 months) but the recipe is the same for everyone.
- The recipe is simple: pork (rear legs only) from designated farms in northern and central Italy, plus sea salt from Puglia and Sicily.
- The pork is salted twice and air-dried by machine. After salting comes the resting stage, riposo, when the legs are hung up to dry for up to 12 weeks.
- Next comes the curing stage where the meat is protected by a layer of fat to stop it from drying out.
- Before it can be called Parma Ham, an inspector of the Consorzio pierces the ham in five places with a needle made from horse bone to check the aromas. Only then can it be stamped with the iconic crown of Parma.
Where to stay
Grand Hotel de la Ville (grandhoteldelaville.com), is a 15- minute walk from the centre. Its restaurant, Ristorante Parmigianino, served us a lovely paccheri al pomodoro, olive e pesce spada (swordfish pasta), washed down nicely with a fruity Lambrusco.
How to get there
Fly Ryanair, BA or easyJet to Milan Malpensa or Bologna – both connect to Parma by train, taking between an hour and 1 hour 15 minutes. Tour guide: Silvia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Try Proscuitto di Parma in this warming autumn recipe:
Parma Ham, Potato & Rosemary Soup
50g unsalted butter
170g onion, diced
500g floury potatoes (eg. Maris Piper, King Edward),
diced in 2cm pieces
1tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped (plus extra for garnish)
Salt & pepper
450g chicken stock, plus extra to loosen the soup
(1 Oxo cube per 500g)
100g whole milk
6 Parma Ham slices, torn
Single cream, to garnish
Melt butter over medium heat and then reduce before adding the onion, potato and rosemary. Season well with salt and pepper.
Cover with a lid or tin foil, then let the vegetables steam for 12 minutes until the potato is soft. Shake the pan every few minutes to ensure that nothing sticks to the bottom.
Add the stock and milk, ensuring that the potatoes are covered in liquid. Simmer for 20 minutes until the potatoes crumble apart.
Purée the soup until smooth. If the consistency is too thick, add more stock.
Divide into bowls, garnishing with the Parma Ham, chopped rosemary and a drizzle of fresh cream. Serve with crusty bread and butter.