Musei del Cibo (Parma Food Museums) in Parma, Italy

If you want to spark a heated discussion among Italians, just ask one question and the topic will never end. It has been going for years and it is something that sees no light in ending. What is the Italian region with the best food? True, every region in Italy has something great to contribute to the national gastronomy. True, in every region, there really is something edible to die for. And true, it is the hardest question to answer. Perhaps. Unless. Maybe, there is one region that can top the rest and most will agree without so much debate (even if you will still hear some grumblings from the old-timers). Emilia-Romagna.

Emilia-Romagna has nine provinces including Modena, Bologna, Parma, and Ferrara, which are its centers for food and automobile (think Ferrari, Maserati, Pagani, Lamborghini and Ducati) production. 

Parma was recently designated the title of being one of UNESCO's Creative City of Gastronomy which is a first in Italy. This underlines the fact that the province has a concentration of the some of the best food traditions of Emilia-Romagna. Being the Food Valley of Italy, they have the Parmigiano Reggiano, pasta, tomatoes, wine, salami of Felino, and prosciutto. And to celebrate these six important food traditions, they opened different kinds of museums that focus on each product which are collectively called Musei del Cibo or Parma Food Museums.

Opening Hours of all Museums: 

From 1 March - 8 February: Saturdays, Sundays and holidays (10:00-13:00 / 15:00-18:00), Mondays to Fridays (bookings only) 
From December to February: Closed (Admission for groups is possible by bookings)
Museum Shops: All museums have museum shops where you can buy publications, and typical products from Parma.
Food Tastings (Degustazione): Food tastings are possible in all the museums. Please check the link of each museum for the prices.
Ticket Prices: €4 full price without tasting / €3 reduced price without tasting / €5 ticket with tasting (excluding drinks) (except Museo del Prosciutto)/ Free for disabled people plus companion, teachers accompanying schoolchildren, journalists, and minors until age 6

Musei del Cibo (Parma Food Museums)

c/o Parma Point
Piazzale della Pace, 1
43121 Parma
Tel: +39 0521931800
Fax: +39 0521931881

Museo del Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmigiano Reggiano Museum) in Soragna

The museum is housed in the 19th-century cheese-making circular building of Corte Castellazzi (Castellazzi Court), close to the Rocca (Castle) Meli-Lupi of the town of Soragna. One hundred and twenty different tools, vats, photographs, old publications, labels and other materials from dating between 1800 to the first half of the 20th-century in making Parmigiano Reggiano are on exhibit that transports visitors to the original process of production from its milk form to the finished product for the past eight centuries. These manual cheese making procedures remain unchanged until present times. 

Considered as the King of Cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano plays a very important role to the gastronomy of Parma and the whole of Italy. It is produced exclusively in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, parts of Bologna and Mantua, between the hills, plains and mountains that are enclosed between the Rivers Po and Reno. Milk can only be procured from cattle fed with local silage and fermented seeds in the designated areas. Under Italian law, only cheese produced from these places can be labelled Parmigiano Reggiano and it has a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). Outside the EU, Parmesan may be used as a kind of cheese similar or inspired by Parmigiano Reggiano.

Parmigiano Reggiano wheels on a 19th-century weighing scale
The production of Parmigiano Reggiano is a long one using manual labor as it had always been for the past eight centuries. In the production of a single wheel, 600 liters of milk is required and it undergoes a process and aging of a minimum of twelve months. After maturation of 12 months, the wheels are inspected by the experts of the Consortium one by one. 

Top left: Parmigiano Reggiano wheels on a 19th-century weighing scale Top right: Copper boiler Bottom left: Wooden forms of Parmigiano Reggiano over the centuries Bottom right: Barrel & churn for making butter

If the wheel meets the PDO requirements, it gets the hot iron branded seal of Parmigiano Reggiano. If it doesn't meet the standards, all identifying marks are removed from the wheel. It does get a hot iron branded seal called Mezzano and horizontal lines are grooved on the wheel. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese wheels can then be aged further from 18 to 36 months.

 Labels of Parmigiano Reggiano wheels from 1839
Barrel & churn and polygonal drum for making butter
Museo del Parmigiano Reggiano
c/o Corte Castellazzi
Via Volta, 5
Soragna (Parma)
Tel: +39 0524596129

Museo della Pasta (Pasta Museum) in Collecchio

From Soragna, we head towards southwest to a town called Collecchio where on the right bank of the River Taro, the medieval agricultural farmhouses of the Court of Giarola are located. Both Museums of Pasta and Tomatoes share the same building in Giarola. 

The Museum of Pasta is dedicated to the history and the progression of technology of the production of pasta. Divided into six sections, the museum houses various kinds of grains, mills, machinery, different types of pasta, historical posters made by famous artists, and other materials pertaining to the world of pasta. A walk along the whole length of the museum is walking through the history of one of the most important food product ever invented.

Having decisively contributed to the museum's conception, Barilla, the world leader in pasta production, started its activities in Parma only in the 19th-century after it had been going on in different parts of the country for centuries. With Middle Eastern origin, it arrived in Italy through Sicily, Naples, Liguria, and Bologna.  

Top photos: Pasta rimagoles Bottom: Types of grains

The museum is divided into six stages of pasta production that are equipped with exhibitions of old machinery, mills, tools, documents, photos and samples. The museum starts with the cultivation of wheat, then you move on to the grinding of the grains, bread and baked goods then to the preparation of pasta in households from the old times. 

Different forms of pasta

You will be surprised to know that the first form of pasta ever created was gnocchi because it didn't require any tools in making them - just the hands. Then the rolling pin was used to flatten the dough and other new shapes were invented like the tagliatelle, taglierini and spaghetti alla chittara. Soon after 1300, more pasta shapes were created. There will be more interesting information to absorb as you walk along the museum's length.

A well-preserved 19th-century industrial pasta factory
At the end of the museum is an impressive display of the complete genuine machinery and tools of an old industrial pasta factory from the early 19th-century. Across this old pasta factory, don't forget to check out the little window display of the oldest sample of preserved spaghetti from 1837.

Oldest spaghetti preserved from 1837 and 1838
The last part of the museum (after making a U, going back towards the entrance) is dedicated to an interesting collection of historical posters done by famous artists, different kinds of colanders, rigmaroles for each pasta shape, and the gastronomy.

Historical pasta posters made by famous artists

Museo della Pasta

c/o Corte di Giarola - Parco del Taro
Strada Giarola, 11
43044 Collecchio (Parma)
Tel: +39 3332362839

Some of the pasta rigmaroles on display

Museo del Pomodoro (Tomato Museum) in Collecchio

You don't need to travel far from the Museum of Pasta to go to the Museum of Tomatoes because they are across from each other in the same building. Like the Museum of Pasta, it is located in a long room with brick ceiling. Beautiful.

Tomatoes are the new kids on the block after having found their way in the soil of Parma only in the second half of the 19th-century. Looking at the tomatoes' history in Italy, these plump fruit arrived in the country in 1548 through Naples from Spain. Referred to as tomat, pomodoro, and pomme d'amour in different parts of the country, it first gained popularity as a decorative plant which usually graced the table tops because of their beauty. Incorporating it into the local cuisine only started in the late 17th-century to early 18th-century. 

While tomatoes were being grown and consumed in other parts of Italy, Parma started its cultivation in the second half of the 19th-century. But planting them was not enough to keep the poverty-stricken farmers afloat. With the establishment of the technologies for food preservation, tomato preserves and sauces were industrially produced by then-budding industries in Parma like Mutti, Pagani, Rodolfi, and Pezziol.

Today, Parma enjoys a huge success and exports its "Red Gold" to half the world. With its rich history, memories of people, production, packaging, publicity, documents, and graphics are all recreated in the Museum of Tomatoes in Parma.

Museo del Pomodoro

c/o Corte di Giarola - Parco del Taro
Strada Giarola, 11
43044 Collecchio (Parma)
Tel: +39 333236839
Fax: +39 0521821139

Bottle of wine from Recinto di Felino by Henri Caumont Caimi, awarded with silver medal at the International Wine Exposition in Paris in 1887

Museo del Vino (Wine Museum) in Sala Baganza

There's nothing more dramatic than to place a wine museum in a 13th-century fortress in the foothills of the Apennines. And apropos to its purpose, it is located at the old wine cellar and icehouse of the Fortress of Sala Baganza. Wine is the fourth (of no particular order) important food tradition of Parma.

Wine production takes us back to thousands of years of history in Georgia in 6,000 B.C. where the earliest archaeological findings were unearthed. It became widespread as it expanded geographically and when the ancient Roman Empire adopted the practice, it had an extensive impact. It became an integral part of the Roman diet and wine making became an explicit activity. Indeed, almost all wine producing regions of western Europe were developed during the Roman Empire. 

Bottom left: Dolium from the 1st century B.C. used in fermenting the wine All the rest: Containers from different periods for use in consuming wine

Amphorae used for transporting the wine from the 1st century B.C. unearthed in Parma

It arrived in the area of Parma in the 1st century B.C. during the height of drinking of fermented drinks based on different kinds of fruits and cereals. La Brusca or Lambrusco in modern times, was the very first vine ever planted in the soil of Parma. To make the frothy red wine taste better, they were being stored in terracotta balloon-shaped containers with small mouths called olpe.

Throughout its history in Parma, it became a very important activity that the people embraced with passion. New methods were invented as it became more prevalent. The technology of bottling arrived in the 16th-century then the usage of corks came about after mid 17th-century.

The Wine Museum is divided into six areas where history, varieties of grapes, different phases of wine making from cultivation, production, bottling, and storage are all documented with exhibits of old machinery, tools and other paraphernalia. It is a completely educational tour that gives you an understanding of the big world of culture behind every bottle that we drink.

Top: Different bottles of wine from the historical cellar of Casa Basetti a Vairo in Parma Bottom: At the icehouse
Perhaps the most interesting part of the tour is the old icehouse, the heart of the museum, because inside its dramatic circular shape, you are enveloped with a 360° experience of viewing as you internalize the role of wine and its integration to art, culture and rich history.

At the icehouse of the Fortress of Sala Baganza
At the end of the museum tour, it is possible to have a tasting of the local wines as well as different kinds of prosciutto and cheese. The grape varieties grown in Parma are Barbera, Malvasia, Pinot Nero, Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Bonarda, Cabernet Franc, Croatina, Cabernet Sauvignon, Fortana, Lambrusco, Merlot, Chardonnay, Moscato, and Pinot Bianco.

Museo del Vino

Rocca Sanvitale
Piazza Gramsci, 1
43038 San Baganza (Parma)
Tel: +39 0521831809
Fax: +39 0521821139

Different kinds of corkscrews
Different kinds of salt

Museo del Prosciutto (Ham Museum) in Langhirano

Bordered on the north by the River Po and the Apennine ridges in the south, and in the valleys between Enza and Stirone lies the fertile land of Langhirano, the seat of Museo del Prosciutto of Parma.  Langhirano has an ancient history of rearing pigs from the Celtic times because of the vast woods filled with oak trees that yielded acorns on which herds of pigs grazed. From that period, the knowledge of preservation was developed due to the necessity to use and conserve the meat.  

Curing the prosciutto with salt
The favorable characteristics of the land and the natural elements of the sea winds enables an exceptional seasoning to the preservation of the salted pork meat. The sulfur-rich water of Lesigno and Salsomaggiore permits the direct extraction of thermal salt. In addition to that, the dense, humid fog allowed the soft curing of the meat. All these elements combined together seals the distinctive culinary masterpiece that in present times is famously known as Prosciutto di Parma. 

A prosciutto slicer of Berkel from the initial years of the 20th-century

With this historical food tradition born in a unique land that has been passed on from generation to generation, the Museo del Prosciutto unfolds its rich history in the old Foro Boario, a restored 20th-century rural building for livestock in the town of Langhirano.
The whole length of the building is dedicated to understanding the land of Parma, different aspects of production, the fundamentality of salt as an ingredient in preserving the prosciutto, different races of pigs, and varieties of cured meats produced in Parma. 

Bottom left: Boxes of Niveo salt from Salsamaggiore in the 1930s

Museo del Prosciutto

c/o ex Foro Boario
Via Bocchialini, 7
Langhirano (Parma)
Tel: +39 0521864324
Fax: +39 0521821139

At the end of the tour, it is possible to have a tasting of Prosciutto di Parma for a price of €3 and €2 for children until the age of 12. It is also possible to have a tasting of the typical products along with a selection of local wines.

Top: The needle made with  horse bone used by experts who check the scent of the prosciutto by inserting it inside one by one. Bottom: Stamp used to label the prosciutto

Museo del Salame di Felino (Salami Museum of Felino) in Felino 

The first document that pertains to the salami found in Parma was dated 1436 when Niccol├▓ Piccinino, a mercenary soldier under the Duke of Milan who had an operative base in the city, ordered the procurement of 20 pigs suitable for making salami, "porchos viginti a carnibus pro sallamine"

In the past, the preparation of salami with a rich taste, yet not so salty was not easy to accomplish because it required a great deal of salt to ferment well. In the Parma area, a technology was developed which exploited the characteristics of the land and natural elements that allowed the creation of salami with the use of a limited amount of salt. The optimum quality of salt coming from nearby Salsomaggiore and Felino's position at the mouth of the Baganza river valley made it ideal for the production of excellent cured pork meat products. The temperature, humidity and air circulation contributed to the highly desirable finished products.
Underlining the importance of salami in Felino, the town gave its history a suitable home in the magnificent 18th-century cellars of the Felino Castle. The museum gives us the possibility to get to know and appreciate the Prince of Salami in its own territory.

Museo del Salame di Felino
c/o Castello di Felino
Strada al Castello, 1
43035 Felino (Parma)
Tel: +39 0521831809 / +39 0521821139
Fax: +39 0521821139