What is Prosciutto?

Prosciutto is a delicacy made in Italy since ancient Roman times. It’s a well-loved type of meat that tastes like nothing else. No one could resist enjoying its flavor over a toasted slice of artisan bread. 

In the Italian language, the word “prosciutto” translates to “ham.” It is made only from the hind legs of a pig and is aged through a process called dry-curing. One can buy the whole leg as a highlight for a lavish family meal or packaged pre-sliced thin pieces.

There are two main types of prosciutto: prosciutto crudo, which is dried and salt-cured, and prosciutto cotto, which is cooked. If you want to learn more about this delicious meat, read on!

Where Does Prosciutto Come From?

The precise origins of prosciutto are somewhat obscure. According to legend, the dry-aged ham was invented by Celtic people from northern Italy as a means of preserving meat for a long period.

When they learned how good this kind of meat could be, more and more people started adopting the Northern Italian techniques used to make prosciutto. 

Today, we enjoy prosciutto as refined meat that tastes great in numerous dishes, not only in Italian cuisine but many others as well.

What Does Prosciutto Taste Like?

Prosciutto has a delectably sweet and salty taste. Its sophisticated and robust porcine flavor varies depending on how long it’s been aged. The longer it’s aged, the more complex it tastes.

When sliced perfectly thin, the product melts in your mouth, creating mind-blowing taste sensations to emerge. Each slice of meat is commonly streaked with fat and has a salmon pinkish to reddish-brown color.

Some types of prosciutto are flavored with herbs and spices such as garlic, rosemary, black pepper, and juniper, which give the meat an even more refined and fragrant taste.

How is Prosciutto Made?

The process of making prosciutto begins with high-quality pork legs covered in sea salt. In this condition, the raw meat rests for a few weeks. During this time, the salt takes out the blood and moisture. Thus, it boosts the flavor and helps prevent bacteria from getting into the meat, making the raw product safe to consume.

As soon as the resting time has finished, the pork legs are hand-washed and seasoned. Then, the meat gets covered with a lard mixture to provide an appropriate drying process for each leg.

The final step, which demands patience, is a dry age. The pork hind legs dry-age at a controlled temperature for 14 to 36 months. The meat should remain in a cellar with little sunlight or air during this period.

How to Eat Prosciutto?

Prosciutto is perfect for consuming in diverse Italian and European recipes, and it’s a delicate snack on its own as well.

To indulge in the rich flavor of prosciutto, serve it in paper-thin slices. Just put a piece in your mouth and let the fat of the Italian ham melt on your tongue. Thus you’ll be able to enjoy the creamy texture of the leaner parts of the meat, which are sweet, salty, and flavorful.

Prosciutto is extremely versatile – that’s why you can serve it on its own. The best pairings with the meat are sharp cheeses, fruits, vegetables, bread, and wines that will highlight its complex tasting notes.

What Are the Types of Prosciutto?

There are many types of prosciutto made in different regions around the world. Let’s look at the most popular ones.

Prosciutto di Parma

Known also as Parma Ham, Prosciutto di Parma is an extremely popular type of meat from North-Central Italy. It has an exceptional reputation due to its aging process, which is commonly twice as long as other types. It gives prosciutto a rich, buttery flavor and creamy texture.

Prosciutto Crudo

Italian Prosciutto Crudo is widely used in various appetizers as well as main dishes. It’s known as one of the healthiest hams because it doesn’t contain any artificial ingredients.

The dry-aging process of the meat usually takes from 16 months and may last as long as three years. Prosciutto Crudo usually comes in two flavors: sweet and savory.

Prosciutto di San Daniele

Compared to the most popular Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto di San Daniele’s latter is a bit sweeter, and the meat itself is darker.

This type of prosciutto requires a unique salting process. The meat is sea-salted and then pressed for approximately three days, intensifying the flavor to its full extent.

Prosciutto Cotto

One more well-known type of Prosciutto is Prosciutto Cotto. Though its taste is similar to Prosciutto Crudo, it’s made in a completely different way. While the first is dry-cured ham, Prosciutto Cotto, on the contrary, is cooked. 

Prosciutto Toscano

Now we are moving to Tuscany, Italy, where one more type of prosciutto comes from. Prosciutto Toscano commonly has a dark rind as it’s not only salted but also peppered and spiced in dry rub. Black pepper, rosemary, juniper, and garlic are the most popular spices for the process.

Prosciutto di Modena

The climate of Modena, a province in the northern region of Emilia-Romagna, is ideal for making an extremely flavorful Prosciutto di Modena which is last on our list. It has a deep red color and is made without the use of any additives or preservatives. 

The Bottom Line

One of the favorite and most famous Italian foods worldwide, prosciutto is something that no one can resist. Its unique taste distinguishes dry-cured ham from other types of meat. When melting in your mouth, the product creates mind-blowing taste sensations to emerge. 

Prosciutto is the best highlight during lavish feasts. Add its slices to your charcuterie board with various fruit and nuts, or place it in your favorite sandwiches instead of other meats. 

If you are hesitating about which type of prosciutto to choose, try several at once to enjoy its sophisticated and robust porcine flavor and pick your favorite.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is prosciutto considered raw?

Yes, prosciutto is considered raw. It undergoes a lengthy curing process where it is salted and air-dried for several months. During this time, the meat becomes safe to eat without being cooked in the traditional sense. However, it is not considered “cooked” meat.

How does prosciutto differ from Parma ham?

Parma ham is a specific type of prosciutto that originates from the Parma region of Italy. It must adhere to strict production standards to be labeled as Parma ham. Prosciutto refers to the broader category of cured Italian hams, which includes Parma ham as well as other regional variations with different flavors and curing methods.

What is the difference between prosciutto cotto and crudo?

Prosciutto crudo is the uncooked, air-dried form of prosciutto, while prosciutto cotto is cooked. Crudo undergoes a curing process, as mentioned earlier, while cotto is cooked with aromatic spices such as garlic, rosemary, and black pepper, giving it a different flavor and texture.

Can you make prosciutto from beef?

Prosciutto is traditionally made from pork. However, there are beef alternatives, such as bresaola, which is air-dried and salted beef from northern Italy. The flavor and texture are quite different from pork-based prosciutto, but it can be enjoyed in similar ways, such as sliced thinly and served with bread and cheese.

What are some popular prosciutto dishes?

Prosciutto can be used in many dishes, both hot and cold. Popular options include pairing it with melon or figs, wrapping it around asparagus or other vegetables, topping a pizza, or simply adding it to a sandwich or charcuterie board. It can also be used in pasta dishes, like spaghetti carbonara, or served with cheeses and olives as an appetizer.

How does prosciutto taste compared to regular ham?

Prosciutto has a more intense, savory flavor compared to regular ham due to the curing process. It can be somewhat salty, with a slight sweetness, and has a rich, melt-in-your-mouth texture. In contrast, regular ham is typically less flavorful and has a firmer texture, as it is usually smoked, brined, or baked.

What is Prosciutto? + Recipe

Here's a simple recipe for making prosciutto at home:
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 28 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 16
Calories 233 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 fresh ham about 15-20 pounds
  • 4 cups kosher salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon juniper berries
  • Cheesecloth

Instructions
 

  • Begin by trimming the fresh ham of any excess fat or skin, leaving only a thin layer of fat on the meat.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the kosher salt, sugar, black pepper, garlic powder, thyme, rosemary, and juniper berries.
  • Rub the mixture all over the ham, making sure to cover every inch of the meat.
  • Place the ham in a large plastic bag and seal it tightly. Place the bag in the refrigerator and let it cure for 2-3 weeks.
  • After the curing process is complete, remove the ham from the bag and rinse it thoroughly under cold water.
  • Pat the ham dry with paper towels and wrap it tightly in cheesecloth.
  • Hang the ham in a cool, dry place with good air circulation, such as a basement or pantry. Let it hang for 6-12 months, depending on how dry and salty you like your prosciutto.
  • Once the prosciutto is ready, remove it from the cheesecloth and slice it thinly. Enjoy!

Nutrition

Calories: 233kcal
Keyword what is prosciutto
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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