Our travels across flavours start with the King of delicatessen: ham.
First stop: Felino – a small town in the province of Parma, famous for its salami – in order to visit the small Branchi company, specialized in high quality cooked ham.
The factory is located in the center of the town, but we only knew how to get to the main square. As we got there, we met a Branchi truck and we decided to ask the driver for some infos… and, how we later found out, he was Mr. Tito Branchi in person, current owner of the company. Who could show us the way better than him? Indeed, we didn’t have any problem in finding the plant: 100 mt away, rusty gate, nr. 11.
The first thing I noticed was the front of the house (that we later got to know is still occupied by Tito Branchi’s old mother): a pale, clean facade, with a small plant of climbing roses, their color perfectly matched with the window green. A poetic sight, symbol of the simpleness and the authenticity of the company and of their products. And its romanticism too, because there surely is a lot of love in the devotion that the Branchi’s put in their job.
In the courtyard, we found a welcoming Giovanni, Tito’s son and brother of Franco, the three pillars of the company.
After taking us to a cellar converted into a meeting room, soflty enlightened and full of family heirlooms, he started telling us the story of their business.
The firm started in the Fifties maturing ham. After a while, the family – because, we need to underline this, it’s a family-owned business – decided to specialize in cooked ham and to abandon the maturing activity.
Giovanni, in particular, has been a rugby player at a semi-professional level until the age of 29. Then he graduated in Food Science and Technology, he left rugby and he decided to dedicate himself to the company. They updated everything, in order to create a more modern series of products even if keeping on respecting all the criteria of homemade production.
That’s how they gave birth to Magnolia Cooked Ham, the series of the Smoked ham and the one of the Specials – High Quality: the Classic Local Printed Cooked Ham, the Hand-Tied, the Cooked Culatta (made with a fine part of the thigh) and the Mec Special (the only one made from non-local thighs). Every local ham has the P.P. brand, which stands for “Parma Production”, and the meat is personally chosen by Franco, who goes on purpose to the slaughterhouse every week.
The latest launched is also the flagship of the Branchi production: the “Cotto ’60” (“’60 Cooked ham”). It was born in 2010, and it’s a completely natural product, cooked inside the typical can used in the Sixties for this kind of production. It was subject to various tests, but even the very first version revealed itself as a world-beater: it was indeed awarded – by the prestigious “Gambero Rosso” magazine – as the best cooked ham in Italy in July 2010, after it was introduced to the market at Taste exhibition in April of the same year.
After this introduction, it came the moment to go and visit the real plant, quite small in its genre – it’s about 1100 square mts – and suitable for a company that, as we said, is an artisan and family enterprise.
The production is not very extensive, we’re talking of about 500 pieces of ham per week… which are a lot anyway, if you think of all the hand-made actions that Giovanni and the employees do!
Our tour started in a cold store where the fresh thighs were hanging. Everyone of them was marked, so that their origin and characteristics are recognizable.
Then Giovanni let us see the “ribollita”: a huge pot full of very dark water, which was the concentrated infusion of spices, used to season the pieces of ham. Real spices, that we later saw with our eyes and profusely smelled, which are mixed following a secret family recipe and then boiled to extract their essence. No flavourings, normally used in the industrial output, nor other weird brew to make the meat damper and heavier – at the expenses of quality and above all of our health! The Branchi’s only use their secret spices, salt and water in a sufficient but not excessive quantity: the pieces of ham loose a bit of weight compared to the fresh thighs, but they absolutely gain quality.
The brine is injected in the meat with a multi-needle technology, the femoral arteries are hand-cleaned one by one and the thighs are manually salted, then they are churned – that is they’re put in a kind of a “concrete mixer” which massages and softens them, and finally they’re put into the molds – or into the cans if it’s the “Cotto ’60” – and cooked for about 24 hours.
For the smoked series, the smoking is done on the raw meat by burning beech wood, then the pieces of ham are cooked.
Once ready, the products get to the small room where a brisk worker hand-packs them, sticking every single label on the bag and then wrapping the pieces of ham.
The last step is the pasteurization, and after that the products are ready to be sent to the addressees!
Addressees among which stands also Paola, who cuts and sells Branchi’s cooked ham in her shop “La Delizia”… so, if you got fascinated by this story of complete devotion of Branchi’s family towards their products, if you’re looking for absolute quality which respects both the meat they use and the consumer, if you want an excellent product both in the processing and in the flavour, you ought to know that you can find it in Russi (Ravenna), always at your disposal!
Believe me, after getting to know this kind of reality, seeing how they treat their products and, instead, listening to how ham is processed in the industrial production, you couldn’t desire nothing but a few good slices of artisan cooked ham, made in accordance with the rules… like this!
So when you’re around you should run to “La Delizia” to taste it! 🙂