Parma ham or Prosciutto di Parma is probably the most famous meat from Italy and definitely one of our favourites, it is just one of many types produced in Italy. We use a lot of it in La Cucina and believe me it is not cheap. We buy the best quality we can and therefore the most expensive, a leg can cost us anywhere around €100 and we buy one nearly every week and we only use it for sandwiches and pizzas.  I have to say even the one we buy is still not as good as the different varieties that we’ve had in Italy. Our favourite way to eat it is Prosciutto e Melone, unfortunately the cantaloupe melon here in Ireland isn’t great so we rarely have it so needless to say we gorge on it in Italy. One of the best I’ve had was actually in a restaurant called L’orologgio in Sicily, the melon was so sweet and the prosciutto was excellent quality, I think I ordered it every time we went there.

Prosciutto derived from the the Latin word “perexutus” meaning “dried” is made from the cured hind leg of the pig. it is cut so one end is rounded. To preserve it the meat is massaged with salt daily for one month until the salt has penetrated right through to the centre of the flesh. The hams are then hung in specially ventilated rooms to mature for about 12 to 16 months,even up to 30 months in some cases and the ham loses 30% of it’s weight during this process. Parma ham is made from pigs raised in Emilia Romagna or Lombardy where the raw weight of the ham has to be at least 10-11kg. The production of parma ham is controlled by the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma(CPP) and guaranteed that the ham is locally cured and dried in the traditional way. It is also a guarantee that the pigs are raised traditionally and fed on the whey they use to make Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, maize and other natural foods so that the meat is tender and full of flavour. Another well known ham which is smaller and sweeter is the San Daniele from Fruili. Only hams that pass the required criteria receive the the five pointed ducal crown of Parma which is branded into the skin together with the producer’s identification code – the parma ham we use has this stamp.

Parma ham is best eaten freshly sliced, a lot of Italians would actually have their own slicer at home and then buy the hams whole, a certain Argentinian player on the Munster team does this. Parma ham loses a lot of it’s flavour when pre-packed so try and buy it freshly sliced from a deli, the most important thing is that it is sliced wafer thin. Parma ham is probably most well known as being part of a traditional Antipasto but it is also eaten with figs, melon, grissini or served with asparagus or served as a sandwich in a ciabatta

I know this recipe is probably in every cookbook but it is one of my favourites so I’m going to give it to you anyway. This is from Aldo Zilli’s book, I’m slowly getting through it:) This recipe is so fast and can be great for a starter or just as light lunch, it really is delicious.

WHAT YOU NEED – Serves 4

  • 16 large asparagus spears – mine weren’t great, DAMN SUPERMARKETS!!
  • 8 slices parma ham
  • 25g butter
  • 25g Parmesans cheese
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 75g rocket
  • black pepper – don’t use salt anywhere in this recipe as the parma ham and Parmesan will provide enough.


 – prepare the asparagus by trimming off the lower part and peeling the stalk

 – bring a pot of water to the boil, add the asparagus and simmer for 4 minutes until bright green and tender. Drain and set aside to cool slightly.

 – Wrap 2 asparagus spears in each slice of parma ham and place on an oven tray or foil lined grill pan. Mix the butter and Parmesan together and season with black pepper.

 – Dot the Parmesan mixture all over the wrapped asparagus and place under a hot grill for 4 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and brown.

 – Whisk the olive oil and balsamic vinegar together and use half to dress the salad. Arrange the rocket on a plate, place the asparagus spears on top and drizzle with remaining dressing.