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Prosciutto

Prosciutto
Prosciutto

Prosciutto is the Italian word for ham, used in English to refer to dry-cured ham.

In American English usage, the term is used more narrowly for a dry-cured ham from central and northern Italy, the two most common kinds being Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto di San Daniele.

Terminology

The word prosciutto derives from the Latin perexsuctum which means "thoroughly dried" (lit., "(having been) very sucked out").

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

Prosciutto(before curing)
Prosciutto(before curing)

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

Manufacture

The process of making prosciutto can take anywhere from nine to eighteen months, depending on the size of the ham.

Sea salt being added
Sea salt being added

First the ham is cleaned, salted, and left for about two months. During this time the ham is squeezed in the press to drain all blood left in the meat. The squeezing is applied gradually and carefully to avoid breaking the bone inside the prosciutto. Next it is washed several times to remove the salt. It is then 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. 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 at room temperature for up to eighteen months.

Prosciutto is never cured with nitrates (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. Prosciutto characteristic pigmentation seems to be produced by certain bacteria, rather than a direct chemical reaction.

Traditional Prosciutto is cured for over 3 years. In Bill Buford book Heat he 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 its 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. 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 designation of origin

Under the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union, 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. xxA 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. xxThere 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 consistent with the Parmigiano Reggiano whey that is required to be in 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)
  • 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)

 

References

  • McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking (revised). New York, NY: Scribner, 2004.
  • Youth Farm, an EU-sponsored website with information on quality certification and designation of origin (Slovenian)
  • Buford, Bill Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany Knopf, 2006

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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