Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Prosciutto: What is Prosciutto?

Prosciutto (pronounced "pro-shoot-toe") is the Italian word for ham.

In English the word prosciutto is almost always used for an aged, dry-cured Italian ham that is usually sliced thin and served raw. In Italian, however it's paramount to distinguish between "prosciutto crudo" (raw) and "prosciutto cotto" (cooked - which instead identifies the wet cured ham). The most renowned and pricey legs of "prosciutto" come from central and northern Italy, such as the region of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Prosciutto is a vast world of taste and texture, with each Italian region putting its own spin on this classic. Prosciutto di Parma is Italy’s best-known variety of cured ham, but many others compete with it: Le Marche's Prosciutto di Carpegna, Tuscan Prosciutto Crudo and Prosciutto di San Daniele are just a few of the many kinds of available prosciutto.

Prosciutto, whose name comes from the Latin word for “deprived of all liquid”, has been made in Italy since the second century BC. Although each kind of Prosciutto claims its own flavor and texture nuances, the curing process is similar in all. Pork thighs are first hung in a breezy and well-ventilated room for a day or longer. Next, the fat and hide are trimmed, then salt is massaged onto the meat once a week for a month. At the end of the month, the hams are washed off and dried (traditionally, in the sunlight, although now they are more often dried indoors in a warm room). The hams are greased with a mixture of salt, lard, pepper and flour and are aged for months or years, depending on the kind of ham. During this long aging period, hams will lose up to a third of their weight.

What can vary greatly between Prosciutto-making regions is the diet pigs are fed. In order to be officially recognized as a Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) Prosciutto, the ham must follow strict guidelines about what kind of pig the ham is made from and what those pigs are fed. To make Prosciutto di Parma, for example, local pigs are fed whey from locally made cheese, which has been orgic for thousands of years.

The delicate flavor of Prosciutto is best enjoyed with a dry but not too powerful white wine (like dry Malvasia), so that none of the ham’s flavor is masked. Ideal recipes for Prosciutto are those that allow the ham’s unaltered flavor to shine through; serve it on thick Italian bread with Olive Oil, accompanied by a soft cheese like mozzarella, or alongside fruit like melon or figs. Prosciutto and melon is often found on the menu as a tasty way to enjoy prosciutto.

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)
Recently, many people prefer to buy their prosciutto pre-sliced. In the United States supermarkets do sell pre-sliced prosciutto from Italy. The finest quality pre-sliced prosciutto, which is authentic prosciutto, may be found in your grocery deli by looking for the mark on the packaging that proves it is authentic prosciutto.

For more about Prosciutto check out video of Prosciutto.

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