“Prosciutto di Parma is a simple product. It’s nothing but pork, sea salt, air, and time!” – Giovanni Bianchi
Their prosciutto comes exclusively from Duroc pigs, red in color with a large muscular body.
Giovanni Bianchi is the fourth-generation owner of Pio Tosini, a family-run prosciuttificio located in the commune of Langhirano, in the heart of Parma. It was founded by Ferrante Tosini in 1905 and named for his son, Pio, who entered the business after World War I. It could not be construed as a factory, even with production of 100,000 hams per year. While superior hygiene practices and adherence to PDO standards are embraced, they still follow the unchanged traditional hands-on process. Freshly butchered pork legs are hand salted, cured and aged with the cool salty breezes of Langhirano to become Pio Tosini Prosciutto di Parma.
After more problems with that funky GPS and a phone call to the prosciuttificio for more directions, we finally arrived and parked our Alfa outside a complex of impressive brick buildings bearing the company’s distinctive Tre Ghiande (three acorns) trademark.
Everything in sight was spotless and well maintained with the unmistakable fragrance of prosciutto everywhere – a very good thing. We met our guide Silvia, donned the required lab coat and booties and began our tour.
Silvia had warned us before our arrival that we would not see the beginning part of a normal tour because Pio Tosini does not receive any legs during spring months. Historically, all producers observed that practice because spring pigs have hormonal changes that diminish the quality of their fat. Bianchi says because of the noticeable difference in quality, he chooses to stop new production during these months. However, Agri-business producers work year round so must utilize breeds that minimize the changes.
This shorter production period is one reason Pio Tosini hams are more expensive. Another is that Bianchi pays the abattoir extra to ensure the right of refusal for each leg that they are offered.
If the leg is not exceptionally meaty with a thick layer of fat or if the color is off, the leg is rejected. Thick fat insulates the meat giving balanced drying and a silky texture to the ham. The rejected legs go to a different prosciuttificio with possibly lower standards.
Nothing could have prepared me for my first impression when we walked into the long, high ceilinged curing hall. Thousands of hams were hanging on racks in all directions. In one area, a mastro salatore (master salter) rubs salt into the legs at two specific periods in the cure. He judges, by eye and touch, where and how much salt to use for the best cure. A machine cannot do this. After about sixty days in different temperature and humidity controlled rooms, the hams are moved to a refrigerated room which is like the winter curing of tradition.
At this stage, a mixture of lard, salt, pepper and rice flour is rubbed into the hams to prevent spoilage and excessive moisture loss while keeping the meat tender. This work was going on while we were on our tour.
The hams then begin their final aging. The secret of their flavor, Bianchi has said, is the Langhirano air, so on days when the wind is right, they open windows and let natural breezes help cure the meat.
The minimum aging required by PDO is not strict enough meet the standards demanded by Bianchi. Pio Tosini hams are cured a minimum of 500 days assuring a flavor profile unlike any other. This is, arguably, the best prosciutto in Parma.
Before final approval, Consorzio inspectors insert a horse bone needle into five different critical points of each ham. The porous bone both absorbs and quickly releases the smell so that he can capture it and move on to the next. The inspector’s highly trained sense of smell detects any sign of spoilage and confirms sufficient aging. If even one test fails to meet PDO specifications, the leg is not approved and has to be sold in other ways – not as prosciutto.
If satisfied, the inspector literally brands the surface of each leg with the five-point ducal crown that ensures the product as a true Parma-made ham.
The nutty, fruity aroma, the salty, sweet taste, and the silky texture make Pio Tosini Prosciutto di Parma a truly rare treat – guess what we ate for dinner that night!