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Tat Tor Italia

Tat Tor Italia Emilia-Romagna has been known for its immense agricultural abundance since ancient times. The Roman Empire might have been forged through the sword, but its armies were fed off the felds in this region of northern Italy. The road the Romans built through here, the Via Emilia, still connects a string of places today – Parma, Modena, Bologna – whose very names have come to represent some of the world’s most sought-after foods



Spend fve minutes in Parma and it becomes clear this is a city of the well-heeled. Lamborghinis and Maseratis zip round its outskirts. In the pedestrianised historic centre, men in sharply tailored suits and women in pearls and stilettos cycle past ducal palaces, Baroque opera houses and the medieval cathedral. Boutiques are plentiful, but some of the most elegant shop windows belong to the delis, where hams and cheeses are displayed as meticulously and stylishly as the contents of an Armani store.

To the south lies the source of much of the city’s wealth: felds packed with pigs and the factories where their hinds are salted, cured and transformed into Parma ham. Among the smaller-scale producers here is Rosa dell’Angelo, which offers guided visits of its farm. Manager Luca Ponzoni shows guests around the pens where his hogs play in the dust under old oak trees, treating themselves to fallen acorns. ‘When you eat our ham, you’re tasting Parma’s countryside,’ says Luca. ‘It’s not just what the pigs eat – it’s how it’s aged. We leave the windows open to dry the meat. The wind brings in the aroma of beech, oak, chestnut and pine.’

Prosciutto is a favourite ingredient at Antica Corte Pallavicina in the north of Emilia-Romagna. Opposite Cascina Bodriazzo is a nearby farm with rooms specialising in Parma ham and its close kin culatello

Luca ushers the visitors into his 4WD and ferries them to the Rosa dell’Angelo Prosciutto Bar around the corner, so they can test his claims. Waiters shave paper thin, rose-coloured slices, laced with white ribbons of fat. After the tasting, Luca reveals the cellars where enormous haunches dangle from wooden frames. The air in these smells sweet, because of the sugars in the meat, with a slight, nose-tingling hint of the white pepper used to coat it. Each ham bears the fre-branded outline of a crown, the sign it has passed offcial inspection and can be sold as Prosciutto di Parma.

As well as rearing white pigs for Parma ham, Rosa dell’Angelo has started selling prosciutto made from an ancient local black breed. These black pigs are a key ingredient of another regional speciality, culatello. Even more highly prized than Parma ham, this cured meat is sold at £110 a kilo. In the countryside northwest of Parma, at Antica Corte Pallavicina, a Michelin-starred restaurant in a Renaissance mansion, the impeccably moustachioed manager, Giovanni Lucchi, shows off one of the few cellars in the world where culatello is produced.

Hunks of meat the size of boxing gloves hang low from the ceiling and from walls of metal chains. In the half-light, the culatello appears fuzzy. ‘That’s the mould – we’re closer to the River Po here than the hills where Parma ham is made, so we get more moisture,’ says Giovanni, as he ducks to avoid knocking into the suspended meat. He explains that this is all part of the normal ageing process that gives culatello its unique favour, a bit like some cheeses. Back out in the daylight, the tour continues to the pigpens. ‘This black breed grows very slowly. Then the meat is aged for at least 18 months,’ says Giovanni. ‘You could say the secret to good Italian food is taking your time.’Emilio. ‘The people of this region have a real aversion to waste. We preserve everything.’

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Lonely Planet - October 2017
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