What Is Prosciutto? The Ultimate Guide

What is prosciutto? It is nothing more than the Italian word for ham, but does it really end there? When we think of ham, we might think of a thick pink slice that is served to us for Christmas dinner. Or, perhaps, a slice of fried ham for breakfast, one that maple-flavored and that is maybe a little hard to bite into. Italian prosciutto, however, is nothing like this kind of ham.

Instead, it is very thinly sliced, marbled with delicate ribbons of white fat, and the good kind should melt in your mouth. So, what is prosciutto exactly, how is it made, and what gives it its unique characteristics?

What is prosciutto

What Is Prosciutto

There are two main types. The first is an uncooked cured ham called prosciutto crudo while the other type is a baked ham known as prosciutto cotto. It comes from the hind leg of a pig which is heavily coated in salt to preserve it. It is then left to dry out in a cool, dry space. This drying and this salt not only prevent bacteria from growing on the meat, but it also gives it a unique flavor.

Once the curing process is complete, the salt is washed away and the leg is left to dry for another several months, sometimes even years. The legs are stored in large buildings which allow breezes to flow inside, the wind drying the legs in a slow and special way. The amount of time that it is aged for is very important. You can notice the difference just with your eyes.

Young prosciutto is a deep pink and offers a soft texture and sweet flavor. With age, it grows darker in color, a little more firm, and the texture is more complex.

Delicious pizza with prosciutto and mozzarella cheese served on table

Prosciutto di Parma vs. San Daniele

These two types of prosciutto are some of the most popular not only in Italy but in the rest of the world too. The names might sound fancy, but they merely state where it comes from: Parma and San Daniele. Prosciutto di Parma is some of the oldest prosciutto around. In fact, around 100 BC, the Roman politician Cato enthused over the delicate flavors of the ham that came from Parma.

While the two varieties might share many similarities, there are also important differences to consider. For example, the San Daniele prosciutto keeps the hoof of the pig leg while on the Parma variety it is cut away. They are both aged between 13 months and 3 years.

Interestingly, the different breeze-filled buildings that the legs are stored in apparently receive different breezes which contribute to the difference in taste between the two hams. Prosciutto di Parma has a noticeably sweet flavor while, on the other hand, prosciutto di San Daniele has a more earthy flavor.

Sliced Meat With Green Vegetable and Sliced Onions

Final Thoughts

Interestingly, while you can get prosciutto in America, you’ll only be able to find a small representation of the world of this ham compared to what you might find in Italy. This is because in the 1960s it was made illegal to transport most types of prosciutto crudo to the United States out of fear of spreading disease. Because of this, only very few types of prosciutto crudo are ever brought to America.

However, in more recent years, this ban was removed from certain regions of Italy. This is great news for Americans who want to try more types of this product. You might be wondering if this ham can be made in America. It can, but the taste and texture are nothing like the ham that comes from Italy.

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