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What is Prosciutto?

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Sliced Prosciutto

Sliced Prosciutto

Photo by Naotake Murayama

Prosciutto is the Italian word for ham. In the United States, the word prosciutto is used to describe an uncooked, dry cured ham, which is called prosciutto crudo in Italian. This article will explore dry cured prosciutto.

Prosciutto is a fatty cut of meat that, when sliced thinly, has a buttery texture and will melt in the mouth. Prosciutto has a mild, sweet flavor that can vary depending on the pig’s diet and the techniques used to cure the meat. For this reason, there are many regional varieties of prosciutto.

How is Prosciutto Made?

Prosciutto is made from the hind leg or thigh of a pig or wild boar. Once the leg is cleaned, it is heavily salted and left for two months in a cool, controlled environment. The salting process removes leftover blood and moisture and makes an unfit environment for bacteria. After the salting process, the salt is washed from the meat, and then left to dry age for up to 18 months. The entire prosciutto making process can take anywhere from nine months to two years.

How is Prosciutto Used?

Prosciutto is most often sliced thin and served as an appetizer, either alone or wrapped around another food item. Prosciutto is often paired with sweet foods like melon or dates but is also served wrapped around fresh or lightly cooked vegetables, like asparagus. Thinly sliced prosciutto is often served as a part of a meat board or tapas spread. With the popularization of gourmet pizzas, prosciutto has become a trendy topping for pizzas.

The rind or unsliceable ends of prosciutto can be diced and cooked into soups and stews for added flavor. These ends are usually sold for a much lower price than the thinly sliced flesh.

Prosciutto is extremely delicate and can be quite sticky so slicing must be done with either an extremely sharp knife or a professional grade meat slicer. Presliced prosciutto is often packaged with deli paper between the slices to facilitate handling the slices without tearing.

Protected Designation Origin

The European Union created the Protected Designation of Origin policy (PDO) to protect the name of regions and their agricultural products. Under this policy, only products produced in said regions are allowed to carry that name. The two most popular varieties of prosciutto protected by the PDO are Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto di San Daniele.

Prosciutto di Parma is made in Parma Italy, the same region well known for Parmesan cheese. The pigs raised in this region are often fed whey left over from the cheese making process, which gives the meat a slightly nutty flavor.

Prosciutto di San Daniele comes from San Daniele del Friuli in Italy and is known for it’s slightly sweeter flavor and darker color.

Where to Buy Prosciutto

Prosciutto can now be found in most well stocked delis and charcuteries in the United States. It is usually available sliced to order and priced by the pound. The price of prosciutto varies greatly depending on the manufacturer and where it is made. Some American made prosciuttos can be found for as low as $13 per pound whereas Prosciutto de Parma can fetch up to $30 per pound.

Pre-sliced and packaged prosciutto is also sometimes sold with the prepackaged deli meats. These slices are usually more uniform in size and the pieces tend to be larger than sliced to order prosciutto.

When purchasing prosciutto, the color should be rosy and the texture should be soft. Prosciutto that has a grey hue or is dry or crispy around the edges should be avoided. Prosciutto ends or rinds are not often advertised, so check with your deli for availability.

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