Dry-cured hams (cured in salt and then air dried) are an important part of many different cuisines, but they are particularly important in Italy. Tuscan prosciutto differs from the more famous Parma and San Daniele prosciuttos in that it adds spices and herbs during the curing process. If you have the patience and space, you can make your own Tuscan-style proscuitto from fresh ham.
- 12 to 15 cloves garlic (peeled)
- 6 pounds salt (fine sea salt)
- 1/2 cup to 1 cup black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon mixed spices (a bit of any mixture of the following: cinnamon, nutmeg, juniper berries, bay leaves, and cloves; you don't want them to overshadow everything else).
- 1 (30-pound) fresh ham
- 2 cups warm water
- 2 cups vinegar (distilled white)
- 2 cups lard (rendered)
Gather the ingredients.
Grind the garlic in a mortar together with lightly moistened fine sea salt, peppercorns, and spices.
Lay the ham on a surface that won't absorb liquids and then rub the garlic mixture all over the ham.
Let ham rest for 3 days, wiping away any liquids it may give off, then massage it again with more of the garlic mixture. Sprinkle it well with fine sea salt.
Repeat the process again after 5 days and salt the ham well.
Leave ham flat on a surface to absorb salt and give off moisture for 30 days, turning it occasionally, and then shake off the excess salt and let it rest for another 10 days.
At this point, it is salted. Rinse it with a mixture of equal parts warm water and distilled white vinegar, and hang it up in a dry place that's impervious to flies (they're drawn to prosciutto at this stage) for 2 to 3 months.
Cover the exposed flesh of the ham with rendered lard and hang it to age for another 7 to 8 months.
At this point it's ready, though barely. Many prosciutto makers age their prosciutto for 15 or more months total. You may follow their lead, or if you want to experience something truly special, seal it up in a wooden case surrounded by wood ash for two years. The quality of the ash is important—you'll want ash from non-resinous hardwood, for example, oak or chestnut. Don't use pine.
Serve and enjoy.
How to Slice Prosciutto
You'll need a sharp knife; the traditional prosciutto knife is about 12 inches long and 1/2-inch wide. You'll also want a prosciutto holder, which is a large clamp device that lets you stand the prosciutto on edge, with the bone horizontal (one generally begins with the half with the most meat facing up). Trim away the rind and begin slicing the prosciutto, parallel to the bone, trimming away more rind as necessary. With practice, you'll be able to cut thin, even slices. Once you reach the bone, flip the prosciutto over and begin slicing the other side. And once you have trimmed away all the meat you can get, use the prosciutto bone for soup.