Definitions

Caprese salad

Prosciutto

[proh-shoo-toh]
Prosciutto (proˈʃutːo, pronounced "pro-shoo-toe") is the Italian word for ham. In English the word is almost always used for an aged, dry-cured, spiced Italian ham that is usually sliced thin and served without cooking, in particular from central and northern Italy such as Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto di San Daniele.

Terminology

The word prosciutto derives from the Latin perexsuctum, which gave way to the modern Italian word prosciugare which means "thoroughly dried" (lit., "[having been] very sucked out").

In Italian, "prosciutto" refers to the pork cut, not to its specific preparation. Italian speakers therefore make a distinction between prosciutto cotto (literally, "cooked ham"), which is similar to what English speakers would call "ham", and prosciutto crudo ("raw ham"), the dry-cured ham which English speakers refer to as simply "prosciutto" or "Parma ham". By default, in Italian menus (typically in pizzerias) an unqualified "prosciutto" refers to "ham" ("prosciutto cotto"), whereas "prosciutto crudo" is sometimes referred to simply as "crudo".

Culatello is a special variety of prosciutto, made with a fraction of the normal cut and aged, and may be cured with wine, with Culatello di Zibello having PDO status.

Manufacture

The process of making prosciutto can take anywhere from nine to eighteen months, depending on the size of the ham. First the ham is cleaned, salted, and left for about two months. During this time the ham is pressed, gradually and carefully to avoid breaking the bone, to drain all blood left in the meat. Next it is washed several times to remove the salt and hung in a shady, airy place. In some places—for example Croatia—the ham is smoked by burning different types of wood that give the prosciutto a special flavor - this type of ham is often called by the German name Speck. The surrounding air is important to the final quality of the ham; the best results are obtained in a cold climate. The ham is then left until dry. The amount of time this takes varies, depending on the local climate and size of the ham. When the ham is completely dry it is hung in an airy place, either at room temperature or in a controlled environment, for up to eighteen months.

Various regions have their own PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), whose specifications do not in general require free range ham.

Prosciutto is sometimes cured with nitrites (either sodium or potassium), which are generally used in other hams to produce the desired rosy color and unique flavour. Only sea salt is used in many PDO hams, but not all, some consortia are allowed to use nitrite. Prosciutto’s characteristic pigmentation seems to be produced by certain bacteria, rather than a direct chemical reaction.

Traditional prosciutto is cured for over 3 years. Bill Buford describes talking to an old Italian butcher who says:

“When I was young, there was one kind of prosciutto. It was made in the winter, by hand, and aged for two years. It was sweet when you smelled it. A profound perfume. Unmistakable. To age a prosciutto is a subtle business. If it’s too warm, the aging process never begins. The meat spoils. If it’s too dry, the meat is ruined. It needs to be damp but cool. The summer is too hot. In the winter—that's when you make salumi. Your prosciutto. Your soppressata. Your sausages.”

Use

Sliced prosciutto crudo in Italian cuisine is often served as an antipasto, wrapped around grissini or, especially in summer, cantaloupe or honeydew. It is eaten as accompaniment to cooked spring vegetables, such as asparagus or peas. It may be included in a simple pasta sauce made with cream, or a Tuscan dish of tagliatelle and vegetables. It is also used in stuffings for other meats, such as veal, or as a wrap around a cooked steak. Prosciutto may further be used in a filled bread or as a pizza topping.

Prosciutto is often served in sandwiches, sometimes in a variation on the Caprese Salad, with basil, tomato and fresh mozzarella. A basic sandwich served in some European cafes and bars consists of prosciutto in a croissant.

Protected designations of origin in Italy

Under the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union (EU), certain well-established meat products including some local prosciutto, are covered by a Protected Designation of Origin and other, less stringent designations of geographical origin for traditional specialties.

A complete list of agricultural products with an EU Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), or Traditional Speciality Guaranteed (TSG), listed alphabetically by nation, is at the Europa Agriculture site

There are two famous types of Italian prosciutto crudo exported abroad: prosciutto di Parma, from Parma, and prosciutto di San Daniele, from the San Daniele del Friuli area, in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. The prosciutto di Parma has a slightly nutty flavor from the Parmigiano Reggiano whey that is sometimes added to the pigs' diet. The prosciutto di San Daniele, on the other hand, is darker in color and sweeter in flavour.

The other EU protected designations for prosciutto, each slightly different in color, flavour and texture, are:

  • Prosciutto di Modena, Italy (PDO)(allows nitrites)
  • Prosciutto Veneto Berico-Euganeo, Italy (PDO)
  • Prosciutto di Carpegna, near Montefeltro, Italy (PDO)
  • Prosciutto di Norcia, Italy (PGI)
  • Prosciutto Toscano, Italy (PDO)
  • Prosciutto crudo di San Daniele (UD)

In other countries

Air-dried hams are made throughout southern Europe, and most of these traditional products now have some kind of PDO protection:

Similar hams are produced in many other countries, such as Jinhua ham in China and country ham in the southern United States. In some cases similar hams are made in imitation of others rather than following a long tradition.

See also

  • Coppa or capicola, made in Italy from dry-cured pork shoulder.
  • Bresaola, made in northern Italy from air-dried beef.

Notes and references

Further reading

  • McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking (revised). New York, NY: Scribner, 2004. ISBN 0-684-80001-2

External links

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