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. Prosciutto is a fatty cut of meat that, when sliced thinly, has a buttery texture and will melt in the mouth.
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.
Prosciutto is often served as an appetizer, either alone or wrapped around another food item. Its saltiness makes it a good pairing for sweet foods like melon or dates. It's 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, and it's also 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 since they're less versatile.
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 make it easier to handle the slices without tearing them.
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 specific 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 its slightly sweeter flavor and darker color.
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 di Parma can cost 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.