Made in Italy since the ancient Roman times, prosciutto is an Italian delicacy made from a pig’s hind leg meat (bacon and pancetta, on the other hand, come from the belly). ‘Prosciutto cotto’ refers to cooked ham, whereas ‘Prosciutto crudo’ is raw and cured. In the USA, we tend to associate the term ‘prosciutto’ with the cured “crudo” variety. You can purchase it in pre-sliced wafer-thin pieces, or as a whole leg to use as a centerpiece to a lavish family meal.
Practically every region in Italy has its own version of prosciutto, each slightly different to the next, and the most prestigious varieties tend to come from northern and central Italy. The taste and texture of each prosciutto depends largely on the breed of pig, its diet, altitude, processing techniques, and other factors.
How is Prosciutto Made?
When it comes to making prosciutto crudo, the leg is usually cleaned and salted before being left in a cool place for several weeks or months. During this time, the salt adds flavor but also acts as a preservative, removing moisture from the meat and preventing harmful bacteria from surviving. Later, the salt is largely removed from the meat, which is then dried for up to 18 months. This entire curing process can sometimes take 2 whole years.
How to Eat Prosciutto
Like most hams, prosciutto can be enjoyed by itself but is usually eaten as an accompaniment, topping or wrapping for other foods. Italians will often wrap it around a chunk of cheese, or skewer it alongside olives and fresh fruit. It also tastes great on pizza or in salads and sandwiches. There’s really no end to the amount of ways you can enjoy prosciutto!
Types of Prosciutto
Prosciutto di Parma
The most famous and celebrated prosciutto is Prosciutto di Parma, so revered it has its own Designation of Origin protected by European Law. Beloved for its exquisite sweet-and-salty flavor, Prosciutto Di Parma is salted and dried for at least 18 months, and must be made in the hills around Parma using only Duroc, Large White or Landrace breeds of pig. In spite of its highly selective and closely monitored production methods, Prosciutto Di Parma can vary widely in flavor, sometimes adding nutty or buttery overtones to the usual sweet-salty combo.
Prosciutto di San Danielle
Prosciutto di San Danielle is made around the village of San Danielle Del Friuli. It is darker in color and sweeter in taste than Di Parma, making it better suited to cheeses and breads than to larger savory dishes.
Speck Alto Adige PGI
Produced in northern Italy’s South Tyrol region, Speck is often crafted according to the adage: “A little salt, a little smoke, and a lot of fresh air.” Made from firm pork thighs, it often includes seasonings like pepper and rosemary. Locals in Tyrol often eat it in small cuts alongside sausages, pickles and local cheeses, not to mention bread and wine.
Prosciutto di Modena
The province of Modena is famous for its balsamic vinegar, but it also produces a time-honored prosciutto with bright meat. Less salty and more aromatic than Prosciutto di Parma, it is best enjoyed with fruits such as melon or fig.
Cured in Tuscan spices like pepper, garlic and juniper, as well as in salt, Prosciutto Toscano has an earthy, herbaceous flavor profile. In Tuscany, locals often enjoy it with unsalted bread, and its potent seasonings make it an excellent enhancement for mild-tasting dishes.