Four Reasons to Visit Parma Ham, Cheese, Wine & Gelato

Sponsored trip by Parma Alimentare

You’ve heard about Parma ham (Prosciutto di Parma) and Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano Reggiano), but have you ever been to the city of Parma in Italy? The city is famous, in particular, for its export of these two consumer goods, and there are plenty of other reasons to visit the medieval Italian town in the region of Emilia-Romagna. Last year, I was on a three-days press trip with Parma Alimentare, and these are the four main reasons I would go back.

The castle of Torrechiara seen across the vineyard of the Lamoretti winery
The castle of Torrechiara seen across the vineyard of the Lamoretti winery

How to get there: Flights to Milano, or directly to Parma, depending on your airport of departure

Where to stay: Grand Hotel de La Ville (ad: affiliate link)

None food-related attractions: A performance in the Baroque-style Teatro Farnese

Palazzo della Pilotta, home of the Teatro Farnese, in Parma city
Palazzo della Pilotta, home of the Teatro Farnese, in Parma city

1. Experience the Production of Prosciutto di Parma

Probably the most famous ham in the world and certainly the most prized in Italy, prosciutto di Parma means simply ham from Parma. The process of making it is far from simple, though. Hind legs of pork are cleaned, salted, and left to cure for two months. At the San Pietro factory, which we visited, a team of workers then proceeds to remove the salt and hang the meat in a dark, well-ventilated room until each individual leg (depending on its size) is dry.

The famous Prosciutto di Parma
The famous Prosciutto di Parma

A small elevator transported us to the secret second floor of the factory. A team of two women spends their entire workday covering the exposed meat area of each leg with pig fat and preparing the ham for its final resting place. Another guy had only one task: inserting a wooden needle into each ham to check the aroma. When his excellent nose tells him that the prosciutto is ready, he calls upon the even more superior sense of smell of an inspector from the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma (an organization established to secure the quality of the Parma production). When approved, each ham gets fire-branded with the official Parma crown seal of approval.

The result, after 12 or up to 30 months of aging, is a ham with a nutty flavor (due to the specially bred pigs being fed with whey derived from the production of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese), a sweet smell and a light pinkish red hue. Both the taste, aroma, and color is all natural, as the DOP (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta) allows for no additives. As such, prosciutto di Parma consists only of 100% natural ingredients – pork meat, sea salt, air, and time. Get in touch with the local tourist office to arrange a visit.

The final resting place – the aging room
The final resting place – the aging room

2. Eat the Most Perfect Gelato Fior di Latte

There are many reasons to eat lunch or dinner at restaurant Parma Rotta, located a good 10 minutes drive outside of Parma city center. Head chef Antonio di Vita and his team make excellent primi piatti with pasta in all shapes: ravioli, strozzapreti (aka strangled priests) and pappardelle to name a few. They also grill meat and vegetables over wooden embers – a simple and delicious secondi piatti. However, the true star of the show at Parma Rotta is the dolce – in particular the very special gelato fior di latte.

“We receive unpasteurized milk from the highest quality Parmigiano Reggiano cows.” – Chef Antonio di Vita

Head chef Antonio Di Vita at Parma Rotta
Head chef Antonio Di Vita at Parma Rotta

Chef Antonio told me his secret to making the perfect gelato fior di latte – that’s gelato with no added flavor, tasting only of the milk from which it has been made. “We receive unpasteurized milk from the highest quality Parmigiano Reggiano cows. The milk is only pasteurized once, in the restaurant, after adding sugar and heating the milk to make the gelato.” Another trick, he revealed, is to prepare the ice cream at a lower temperature, and store it at a higher temperature than you normally would, to preserve more of the flavor of the milk. Can you believe that in Norway it’s even illegal to sell unpasteurized milk!?

3. Visit a Winery and Walk in the Vineyard

Giovanni Lamoretti greeted us as we rolled into the driveway of the Lamoretti winery. He was eager to take us on a tour through the vineyard. His father and mentor, Isidoro Lamoretti, smiled at us from the terrace. The old man, with only one leg left, was the original driving force behind the vinification choice of letting nature run its course as much as possible. “We do more than an organic winery. We use less sulfites than the law suggests, and no toxins in the vineyard,” Lamoretti, the son, explained to us. The idea is to allow the finished product, the wine, to taste as much of the initial fruit, the grapes, as possible.

Lambrusco grape clusters
Lambrusco grape clusters

“We do more than an organic winery. We use less sulfits than the law suggests, and no toxins in the vineyard.” – Giovanni Lamoretti

The Lamoretti winery
The Lamoretti winery

The Lamoretti winery is situated at the heart of the Colli di Parma (Parma Hills), with a stunning view towards the castle of Torrechiara across the vineyard. “We grow eight different grapes here,” Giovanni told us. The grapes had already been harvested at the time of our visit, but we were lucky to find a few clusters of Lambrusco and Malvasia that had been overlooked. I tasted the Lambrusco grape first and was surprised by the delicate, sweet flavor. However, the Malvasia grapes blew me away. Intense sweetness and acidity! Later on, we drank the end result – two lightly sparkling wines, available at the Norwegian wine monopoly, by the way, both the Lambrusco and the Malvasia. Lamoretti winery offers cellar tours and wine tastings if you contact them in advance.

Lambrusco and Malvasia grapes
Lambrusco and Malvasia grapes
The Lamoretti vineyard
The Lamoretti vineyard

4. Learn How They Make the Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese

Grandpa Giorgi is a Master Cheese Maker with a whopping career of 60 years in the cheese making industry. We had to come early in the morning, around 7.30 AM, in order not to miss the daily routines. Only ten cheeses are made every day, each consisting of 550 liters of milk, so the production is very exclusive. From start to finish the process will take a minimum of 12 months, an average of 24 months, and up to 36 months for the King of Cheese to be ready.

Grandpa Giorgio has made cheese for 60 years!
Grandpa Giorgio has made cheese for 60 years!

Younger Parmesan cheese (12 months old wheels are marked Parmigiano Reggiano Mezzano) has a milder flavor and is less grainy than those aged longer. When a wheel is at least 24 months it is called Parmigiano Reggiano, and at this point, you can be sure that all lactose has been broken down into lactic acid – making the cheese virtually lactose-free and more easily digestible. The closer the cheese gets to three years of age, the more of the crunchy protein crystals it will have.  Just like Champagne or Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano is an area protected name (P.D.O. – Protected Designation of Origin). Within the EU, you cannot refer to any other cheese as Parmesan, unless it has been produced in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, and Bologna to the west side of the river Reno, or Mantua to the south of the river Po.

The new-born baby curd is gently lifted out of the cauldron ...
The new-born baby curd is gently lifted out of the cauldron …
... and settled into a mould.
… and settled into a mould.

The process of making Parmesan cheese is even more complicated than that of the Prosciutto di Parma. Hence, I won’t go into much detail, but some elements are more important than others. Parmesan cows can only eat natural grass or hay from the landscape of the region, in order to give the correct flavor and aroma to the cheese. Farmers milk the cows both morning and evening, and the dairymen use a mix of these two kinds of milk to produce the cheese. After 20 days in a special salt brine, the cheese is left to age for a minimum of 12 months. Then, the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano inspects every wheel, tapping them with small hammers to identify faults. If approved, the cheese, just like the ham, gets a fire-branded logo on the rind. Get in touch with the local tourist office to arrange a visit, or book through this website.

And now ... the waiting game.
And now … the waiting game.

Have you ever been to a production facility of cheese or ham? Share your story in the comments.

Disclaimer

This was a sponsored trip by Parma Alimentare. They had no influence on the choice of recommendations or content of this article. I received no monetary payment. The guide contains an affiliate link to booking.com.

Anders Husa

I am Anders Husa – a foodie living in Oslo. I eat at the best restaurants in Oslo, Copenhagen, Stockholm and the major food destinations in the world. I share my foodie stories here.

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