It’s a pretty special pig that gets to eat parmesan every day. Then again, it takes a pretty special pig to make prosciutto.
Many varieties of prosciutto ham are made throughout Italy including San Daniele from Friuli, Carpegna made in Urbino, and the acorn ham called Prosciutto di Ghianda from San Leo.
But the greatest prosciutto is made in Parma, an ancient city in northern Italy that is also home to parmesan cheese. You see, these lucky pigs are fed on a blended diet that includes corn, barley and the leftover whey from the production of parmesan. This protein-rich diet increases the muscle content of the pigs without the need for exercise, which in turn yields a rich, supple and flavoursome ham.
Prosciutto can come in both the classic cured (crudo) variety, as well as a cooked (cotto) version similar to English ham. The curing process can take up to three years, although most commercial prosciutto is sold after just nine months.
The pork legs are first butchered to a rounded shape with the bone intact before being salted and pressed for 60 days. Once the salts have done their work the legs are rinsed twice and left to air-dry in a cool and draughty place.
As the ham dries it will lose up to 40% of its initial weight. This concentrates both the texture and the flavour. Therein lies the difference between good and great prosciutto. The aged hams have a sweet and intense perfume that lingers long after the delicate texture has melted away. By contrast, younger and cheaper prosciutto still tastes of uncooked pork and has a noticeably stringy mouthfeel.
Spend the extra time to track down an authentic aged Parma ham, and spend the extra money it will cost. Indulge yourself in true prosciutto and come to understand to flavour and beauty that gave prosciutto its place in the culinary pantheon.
Shaved prosciutto with nectarines and goats cheese