Prosciutto is a thinly sliced cured Italian ham that dates back to ancient Romans.
It’s still primarily produced in Italy’s Parma province, specifically in the Emilia-Romagna region, at the top of Italy’s boot. Because prosciutto is so important to the region, in 1996 the European Union assigned Prosciutto di Parma PDO status, or Protected Designation of Origin. This type of prosciutto is the most authentic available, and only produced in Parma. The mountain climate that’s neither too humid nor too cold and dry, lends itself to perfect prosciutto production.
There are two types of prosciuttos: prosciutto crudo, which is raw and cured, and prosciutto cotto, which is cooked ham. Most people consume the prosciutto crudo variety.
First, the meat is slathered in salt and is left to rest for a few weeks or months; this process prevents bacteria from entering the meat, making it safe to eat in raw form. Despite its Italian origins, prosciutto can be made in the U.S., and is aged for a minimum of 400 days. Some producers let the prosciutto age even longer since the longer it’s aged, the more flavorful it becomes.
Prosciutto comes from tough pork leg meat, which is why it’s cut so paper-thin. It doesn’t need to be cooked, as it’s already salted, dried and cured.
There is no right or wrong way to serve, or to eat, prosciutto. It can take center stage on an antipasto platter or charcuterie board or have a supporting role in a pasta and pea dish, a salad or as a pizza topping.
Because it’s so thin, it’s often used as wrapping paper – think prosciutto-wrapped asparagus or melon slices, both ideal for appetizers. In fact, fruit is a classic pairing for prosciutto, generating a fusion of sweet and savory flavors.
Prosciutto is not limited to appetizers or dinner; it can be a perfect addition to a breakfast strata, part of an egg panini or an ingredient in a hash brown bake.
Look for a pink or deep rose color when selecting your next prosciutto. If it has been aged well, it should give off a slightly floral, almost fruity scent. The texture should be velvety smooth, with a melt-in-your-mouth sensation.