Janice Hopper visited Prosciuttificio Casale to witness Parma production, Lamoretti Winery for Lambrusco tasting, Alma International School of Italian Cuisine, Podere Cadassa to experience Culatello di Zibello production and Agricola Giansanti Cheese Factory to see Parmigiano Reggiano being made, as well as dropping by local delis such as Silvano Romani and Rastelli’s to see how food is bought and sold on the high street of Parma with Parma Alimentare - www.parmalimentare.net.

Parma Ham or Prosciutto di Parma is a household name. It’s on every supermarket’s shelves, it’s a known luxury for some consumers, a staple item in the fridge for others. It can be picked up at delis around the world. This one product has global recognition yet it’s still hand-crafted by small farmers and producers in a beautiful corner of rural Italy. The reach of these producers, in relation to their size, is astronomical. The strength and power of the brand is exceptional.  
Back home, Scotland has one of the richest larders in the world and an army of dedicated small producers, so what inspiration can be sought, and what lessons can be learned by visiting the Emilia-Romagno region of Italy and finding out how the people of Parma are reaching a global market without compromising their lifestyle, the quality of their output or their heritage. It turns out there’s no one path to success but multiple efforts and projects have put Parma on the map. Here’s how they did it:

Securing PDO status
A first step in highlighting the uniqueness and the quality of Parma Ham was to secure PDO status from the European Union in 1996. This links the production process to a very particular region with strict geographical boundaries. PDO stands for Protected Designation of Origin and it means that Parma Ham can only be made from pigs reared and slaughtered in designated areas, the ham is salted, cured, greased and hung in the Parma region, it’s tested and then branded with the Parma Ducal Crown. It can only be sliced and packaged locally. From beginning to end the product’s quality is assured and, indirectly, the producers’ livelihoods are somewhat secured as there can be no imitation.

Establishing a consortium
The Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma was set up in 1963 on the initiative of 23 producers with the aim of safeguarding the original Parma Ham product. Today it works with more than 150 producers. 
The consortium is partly funded by producers paying a fee: for example a few years ago the producers used to pay one euro to the consortium for each branded ham. 
The consortium’s remit includes safeguarding and managing the PDO status, overseeing production specifications, managing the economic policy and strategies for Parma Ham and promoting the product internally and internationally. 
Another way of looking at it is that the farmers/producers don’t have to worry about those sides of their business. They, therefore, have more time to focus on creating the tastiest product possible.

The consortium is willing to fight
The Parma Ham consortium is a cool customer. A court case arose when a supermarket giant sliced and packaged Prosciutto di Parma outwith the designated Parma region. 
It ended in court. The case could be put that it doesn’t matter where a product is sliced and packaged, ultimately it’s the same ham in the pack, but on the other hand the movement of any part of the production process could be viewed in a negative light. 
The consortium ultimately won its case. Upon victory Stefano Fanti, managing director of the Italian consortium at the time, said: “Control over the whole process, including slicing and packaging, guarantees quality and authenticity.” 
But even if the consortium had lost the case the fact that it is ready to take on huge corporations to protect its treasured processes and craft, speaks volumes.

The city is synonymous with its ham
Every September the picturesque city of Parma goes nuts about its pork products hosting the annual Parma Ham Festival. This is a great fixture in the diary to attract the media, tourists, chefs, trade and farmers to the city. 
It concentrates attention. Funded by a mix of local bodies and organisations, it’s an event that attracts tens of thousands of people. 
The fact that the ham is so closely linked to the city of Parma doesn’t seem to limit it in any way but simplifies everything and intensifies the focus both locally and internationally. When in Parma …

Local pride
Italians excel at bolstering their own skills, people and products. The local people are so proud of Parma Ham, but this isn’t just posturing or hot air, their actions speak as loudly as their words. 
You’d be hard pushed to visit any local trattoria, Michelin star or family run establishment, without finding Parma Ham on the menu in some form or another. There’s a lot to be said for passionate local support for local products in shops and restaurants.Secondly the people of Parma buy local. Parma delis and restaurants don’t just serve up the ham for visitors, the locals buy and eat it all the time. The demand and supply for homegrown goods is rich, what a blessing for local farmers.

Part of a bigger food production picture
Parma Ham isn’t the only big cheese in the area’s food production. Parmigiano Reggiano, or Parmesan, is another PDO product from Parma, as is Culatello di Zibello ham. The Lambrusco wine also attracts wine-lovers to the Emilia-Romagna region. Parma is home to Italy’s leading cookery school specialising in Italian cuisine – Alma – so it really is the stomach of Italy. 
The food producers often work together, with the marketing bodies and the tourist associations, to sell Parma as a food lovers destination. It received the Unesco Creative City of Gastronomy recognition in 2015. 
The city’s municipality worked together with various consortiums, the local university, ALMA Cooking School and several trade associations to make this happen. Tourists can book gastronomic tours to sample the finest wines, cheeses and hams the area has to offer. 
The other food producers aren’t competition for Parma Ham but consolidate its position in a city renowned for great food. From a visitor’s point of view it’s a delicious destination.

It’s marketing gold
Parma Ham is seen as a relatively natural product as consumers begin to turn away from overly processed goods. 
Large White, Landrace and Duroc pigs are fed on maize, barley and whey from the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. 
The only additions to the meat are salt and seasoned grease which is hand massaged into each ham. This really works well with the current demand for simple food, with clear origins, that tastes good. The marketing wing of the consortium is adept at reacting to what consumers want and highlighting facets of their product accordingly. 
Money and effort have been spent getting the product into food magazines, courting celebrity chefs and getting the message out there. Quality alone isn’t enough, communication helps, and the producers have a team of people doing the hard sell for them.

In summary
Whilst Italy, its laws, currency, culture, climate and soon its EU status, can’t be imitated here the key factors that can be emulated and which make Parma Ham a global player may provide inspiration and food for thought for dedicated Scottish producers. We’ve got the flavours, we’ve got the PDO products and we’ve got the passion.