Sandwiched between Parma ham and cheese

The Parma region is well-known for its ham and its cheese. But what exactly goes in to making the final products that are loved across the world?

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.


Parma hams and culatello

They’re hanging from the ceiling, bat-like, smelly and dusty. In the darkened basement you feel like they could suddenly come alive, turn on you in a swarm and leave you with no defences.

They look menacing – partly because of the dimly-lit and enclosed environment, partly because of their resemblance to cocoons of dangerous and exotic predators, and partly because of the unknown. What are they?

parma ham, what is culatello, parmigiano cheese, parma

Well, they’re parma hams. In this cellar underneath an old castle in the Italian region of Emilia Romagna, more than five thousand pieces of pig are being turned into one of the local delicacies – the ‘culatello’ variety of prosciutto.

It’s one of the finest pork products you will ever eat! There’s a reason some of the world’s rich and famous order their own supplies from here – see if you can spot a celebrity name in this batch.

parma ham, what is culatello, parmigiano cheese, parma

What is culatello?

The professionals here at Antica Corte Pallavicina take their work seriously. It is a fine art to create meat like this and they’ve been using the same technique for generations.

First, the softest part of the upper thigh is cut off to be used. It’s massaged with wine and garlic and then with salt and pepper. It’s left to rest for five days before being put into a pig bladder. It’s tied up and then hung in this cellar.

parma ham, what is culatello, parmigiano cheese, parma

There’s a reason all the hanging hams are dusty and mouldy. They’ll stay suspended from the ceiling for at least twelve months… and sometimes for as long as forty months!

parma ham, what is culatello, parmigiano cheese, parma

Once they are ready, the bundles will be taken down, the bladder will be removed and the meat will be left wrapped in a cool cloth for two days. When the cloth is removed, the meat must be sliced within one hour.

To eat true culatello you must be here in the Emilia Romagna region because transporting it will ruin the delicate taste.

So much effort and care goes into ensuring the meat is of the highest quality. It starts well before the pig is even slaughtered.

At Antica Corte Pallavicina, they grow their own maize, barley and bran to feed to the animals. I would’ve said the pigs eat better than the humans… but that was before I had my chance to taste the culatello.

parma ham, what is culatello, parmigiano cheese, parma

Parmigiano cheese

We eat it with cheese – the parmigiano-reggiano – which this region is also famous for. And drink it with a chilled lambrusco made locally.

We’re finally out of the cellar, in the castle’s courtyard, watching the sun go down over the river nearby while peacocks meander through the grounds. The balance of the flavours is perfect. There’s a harmony with our setting too.

parma ham, what is culatello, parmigiano cheese, parma
parma ham, what is culatello, parmigiano cheese, parma

So much time has gone into preparing this meal – months and months. So much care has been taken with every step along the way. It’s a pleasure to take the time and care to savour the moment.

parma ham, what is culatello, parmigiano cheese, parma

Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Emilia Romagna tourism board but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.

27 thoughts on “Sandwiched between Parma ham and cheese”

  1. It’s fascinating to me how many hours and months is put into making food taste great when we only taste it for mere seconds.

    I would have loved to have tried this pre-vegetarianism days so for now I’ll gladly settle for the cheese and wine

  2. I’m with Caz 🙂 I’ll gladly settle for the cheese and wine, too, although even though we don’t eat meat, it’s still fascinating the amount of love and effort that goes in to preparing these types of meat. The ultimate slow foods!

    • It’s funny, you kind of get used to the smell. But it was still pretty creepy being down there. I honestly did expect them to start flying around and attacking me at any moment!

  3. What Caz said! Amazing how much time and effort goes into this sort of thing. Part of me wonders how humanity could be if we spent this much time focusing on solving issues. On the other hand, the ham looks tasty…

  4. That’s hilarious, I just wrote about Alain Ducasse in a freelance story I did last night about famous chefs opening up restaurants in the Caribbean! Mary and I have really gotten into charcuterie in recent years, and I have not yet had breakfast, so this looks like heaven! Nom nom nom…


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