The word prosciutto is derived from Latin pro (before) + exsuctus (past participle of exsugere "to suck out the moisture").
Prosciutto is made from either a pig's or a wild boar's hind leg or thigh.
Every leg of Prosciutto is aged for at least 400 days and up to 36 months. As Prosciutto ages, the flavor becomes richer, more complex, and drier in texture.
It is recommend using younger ages for cooking and longer ages for enjoying as-is.
The ham is first cleaned, salted, and left for about two months. During this time, the ham is pressed, gradually and carefully so as to avoid breaking the bone, to drain all blood left in the meat.
Next, it is washed well to remove the salt, and is hung in a dark, well-ventilated environment.
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 time this takes varies, depending on the local climate and size of the ham. When the ham is completely dry, it is hung to air, either at room temperature or in a controlled environment.
Prosciutto is sometimes cured with nitrites (either sodium or potassium), which are generally used in other hams to produce the desired rosy color and unique flavor, but only sea salt is used in Protected Designation of Origin hams. Such rosy pigmentation is produced by a direct chemical reaction of nitric oxide with myoglobin to form nitrosomyoglobin, followed by concentration of the pigments due to drying. Bacteria convert the added nitrite or nitrate to nitric oxide.
Under the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU，certain well-established meat products, including some local prosciutto, are covered by a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) – DOP in Italian – and other, less stringent designations of geographical origin for traditional specialties. Various regions have their own PDO, whose specifications do not in general require ham from free-range pigs.
The two famous types of Italian prosciutto crudo are:
1. prosciutto crudo di Parma, from Parma. The prosciutto di Parma has a slightly nutty flavor from the Parmigiano Reggiano whey that is sometimes added to the pigs' diet.
2. prosciutto crudo di San Daniele, from the San Daniele del Friuli area, in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. The prosciutto di San Daniele, though, is darker in color and sweeter in flavor.
For both of them, the product specifications completely prohibit additives such as nitrite and nitrate that are often present in unprotected products.
EU-protected designations for prosciutto in Italy, each slightly different in color, flavor, and texture, are:
Prosciutto di Parma, Italy, PDO
Prosciutto di San Daniele, Italy, PDO
Prosciutto di Modena, Italy, PDO
Prosciutto Toscano, Italy, PDO
Prosciutto Veneto Berico-Euganeo, Italy, PDO
Prosciutto di Carpegna, near Montefeltro, Italy, PDO
Crudo di Cuneo, Italy, PDO
Regardless if it’s a bone-in or boneless leg, it should be immediately refrigerated in its original packaging.
1. Refrigeration is necessary, especially in warmer environments. Because kitchens can get warm quickly, it’s best to get the legs into a cooler temperature to avoid getting soft.
2. Bone-in legs will only continue aging if they’re not refrigerated.
3. A vacuum-packed leg is best if used within 12 months of deboning, refrigerated at 40°F to 45°F. Once the vacuum seal is broken and slicing begins, the ham can be held under refrigeration for up to two months.
4. NEVER place a leg of Prosciutto di Parma in a freezer. Prosciutto di Parma cannot be frozen because it causes the moisture to expand. When it thaws, the moisture dissipates, causing the leg to become too soft and losing its flavor.