Prosciutto a Closer Look

Prosciutto is another National Pride, along with many types of cured meats. It may be a bit confusing, so here is a list of cured meats:

  • Uncooked cold cuts: Prosciutto [crudo], pancetta (bacon), speck, bresaola, lard.
  • Cooked cold cuts: cooked ham, roasted turkey breast.
  • Raw cured meats: salami, sausage, cotechino.
  • Cooked meats: sausage, zampone, mortadella.

Among all of these, prosciutto crudo is the king! But I’ll talk about cured meats at another time. Let’s look at prosciutto only for now.

PROSCIUTTO CRUDO

Seasoned and dry-aged to perfection, prosciutto crudo is never cooked (“crudo” means “raw” in Italian). It has a deep red color, marbled with streaks of flavorful fat. Each paper-thin slice is delicately sweet yet intensely flavorful. Serving prosciutto crudo in ultra-thin slices is an intentional decision: as you place a slice in your mouth, the fat melts on your tongue, leaving behind an irresistible texture while the lean part offers your palate a sweet, yet salty, flavor.

The most prized are the Prosciutto di Parma PDO from the Emilia-Romagna region and the Prosciutto di San Daniele PDO from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.

The prosciutto di Parma has a slightly nutty flavor from the Parmigiano Reggiano because it is sometimes added to the pigs’ diet. The Prosciutto di San Daniele, though, is darker in color and sweeter in flavor. For both of them, the product specifications completely prohibit additives such as nitrite and nitrate that are often present in unprotected products.

REAR LEGS ONLY

Both Prosciutto di San Daniele and Prosciutto di Parma have to come from the rear legs of the pigs. But specifications when it comes to the pigs don’t stop there, they must have specific characteristics, both in terms of provenance, age and weight.

Strict rules govern D.O.P.-regulated foods, and this is one of them. The ban on freezing extends to even the first moments of production! Nor should the meat be altered with chemical additives, preservatives, or even sugar.

What else is prohibited? Adding sugar, smoke, spices, water, or nitrites. All you’re eating is a pig with salt. 

SEASONING

The environment affects the taste of the prosciutto

The Prosciutto di San Daniele association says that the maturation of the prosciutto simply must take place strictly within the municipal territory of San Daniele del Friuli, because winds from the Adriatic and the Alps and the area’s particular temperature and humidity give the ham its exact flavor and texture. The aging must last until the thirteenth month from the beginning of processing. During all this period it is essential to maintain an optimal temperature, humidity and ventilation condition.

Even Cato, Hannibal, bishops and Napoleon’s army loved prosciutto crudo

The association for Parma ham says that Cato the Elder was one of the first to write about ham production in Parma back in 100 B.C.! And in Roman times, hams from Parma were one of their best banquet delicacies, often paired with figs or other fruits. Moreover, in the 3rd century B.C., Hannibal stopped his conquering just north of Parma to eat bread and the ancient version of prosciutto di Parma.

At the Council of Trento of 1563, bishops convening to debate how to reform the Church wanted their prosciutto so badly, an armed guard had to deliver them a supply of San Daniele prosciutto. And Napoleon’s army sequestered a huge number of hams when he conquered the Venetian Republic in 1797.

Prosciutto crudo is better for you than you think

100gr of prosciutto has 268 calories, of which 1g from Carbs; 13g from fat; 27g from Proteins. It’s rich with free amino acids, which are a “quick metabolizing” form of protein.

HOW TO SERVE IT

You can get it at a grocery store—sliced paper-thin, just as it should be—and pair it with fresh crunchy bread, add a drip of Extra Virgin olive Oil on your bread, and you are up for a treat!

As an antipasto it is quite good with figs or cantaloupe. Prosciutto can be served as an antipasto platter with cheeses, fresh fruit, and a floral white wine. This type of prosciutto also works well wrapped around grissini (breadsticks). A trendy dish is certainly Tagliolini (pasta) with San Daniele Prosciutto (recipe will follow).

As I said it already here; prosciutto eaten in San Daniele, or Parma is the best.

Though, it lasts a few days properly wrapped, prosciutto does not have a long shelf life. Proper prosciutto crudo, like prosciutto di Parma and prosciutto di San Daniele, should never be frozen.

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