Last updated on October 26th, 2023
Bright red, buttery and incredibly flavorful, prosciutto is one of the most luxurious cured meats out there but have you wondered how it’s made? Is it raw or cooked?
Prosciutto is funny because it looks raw but it’s actually dry-cured, making it 100% safe to eat.
Read on to learn:
- what prosciutto is
- how to pronounce prosciutto
- how prosciutto is made
- what prosciutto tastes like
- different kinds of prosciutto to try and the best ways to enjoy it
Remember: In this article, we are talking about prosciutto crudo.
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How To Pronounce Prosciutto In Italian
Prosciutto in Italian is pronounced proh-shoot-toh.
Listen to the pronunciation of prosciutto here:
Prosciutto crudo is pronounced proh-shoot-toh kroo-doh in Italian.
Listen to the pronunciation of prosciutto crudo here:
What Is Prosciutto?
In Italian, the term prosciutto means ham of any kind. It can be cooked (cotto) or cured (crudo). Different kinds of prosciutto may have different names based on their geographical region of origin and any certification of quality production such as PDO and PGI.
Fact: When you say prosciutto in English, it’s assumed you are referring to prosciutto crudo, not prosciutto cotto. Read more about the differences between prosciutto cotto and crudo.
Prosciutto crudo is a dry cured bone-in ham made from high-quality pork from the hind legs of the pig, meant to last for an extended period of time. It’s characterized by a deep red color, marbled with streaks of rich, white fat.
Fact: Prosciutto crudo is never cooked.
Prosciutto crudo can further be subdivided between prosciutto dolce e prosciutto salato, sweet and salty, respectively.
Prosciutto Crudo Dolce
Prosciutto dolce means “sweet”, referring to prosciutto crudo that is not quite as salty as other versions. It’s considered more refined, more mild and best sliced paper thin and enjoyed with simple, light flavors.
Prosciutto Crudo Salato
Many rustic versions such as prosciutto toscano are seasoned heavily with salt and sometimes other herbs and spices, making them even saltier. These varieties tend to be sliced thicker and sometimes by hand. This prosciutto is better paired with fruit or plain bread that absorbs some of the saltiness.
What Does Prosciutto Crudo Mean?
Prosciutto crudo literally translates to raw ham, prosciutto meaning “ham” and crudo meaning “raw”, even though prosciutto is not exactly “raw” as many foodies define it.
Is Prosciutto Raw?
So is prosciutto raw? Yes and no. Not the answer you were looking for? Let me explain!
Prosciutto is not cooked with heat but it is preserved through the process of curing. This process is not considered a process of cooking but rather, preservation, just as cooking accomplishes. Prosciutto crudo means it has gone through a process of preservation, making it 100% edible, even months after production!
Certified PDO and PGI Italian Prosciutto
The terms prosciutto and prosciutto crudo are not protected, although specific varieties within these categories are. Prosciutto can really be made anywhere in the world and labeled prosciutto. The difference lies in the specific names of the prosciutto.
There are several varieties of prosciutto in Italy that have been made and packaged in accordance with strict guidelines of Italian production from the initial raising of the animals to the finished product, conducted in a specific geographical location within Italy.
- PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) certification is given to prosciutto that is produced in a specific place and adheres to specific phases of production that follow strict regulations (DOP in Italian), including the breed of pig used.
- PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) certification is given to prosciutto that originate in a specific place. Only one of the production steps must take place in this same geographical area according to looser guidelines (IGP in Italian).
What Does Prosciutto Crudo Taste Like?
Prosciutto crudo varies significantly in the type you get, which depends on the pig breed, its diet, how much salt and what kind of spices were used in the curing process. Some are spicery and more aromatic flavored with herbs like black pepper, garlic, juniper, and rosemary. Other, “sweeter” versions are less salty and considered more mild.
Good To Know: The longer prosciutto is aged, the more complex it will taste and the more expensive it will be!
Prosciutto is a very salty cured meat with a melt-in-your mouth sensation.
How Prosciutto Crudo Is Made
The process of making prosciutto crudo is a real artform, taking years from start to finish.
First, the hind pig’s legs are removed and cleaned well.
Fact: Prosciutto crudo is still considered an artisan craftsmanship in Italy which is why you find such a large variation between different kinds and varieties for sale, even within the same town!
Certified prosciutto such as prosciutto di Parma is then tagged with a kind of metal button indicating the date it will begin curing. The prosciutto leg is then salted by a master known as the Maestro Salatore and left to dry in a controlled environment. This step is extremely important because it’s what makes prosciutto edible for long periods of time by drawing out all the moisture and blood, making it safe to eat.
Next, prosciutto crudo is washed by hand and seasoned again, according to a specific recipe that may or may not include other spices.
Other spices that might be used to season prosciutto include:
- black pepper
The amount of salt used to season the prosciutto depends on what kind of prosciutto is being made. The prosciutto is then left to air-dry in a tightly controlled environment in terms of temperature and humidity.
Fact: Different prosciutti crudi are aged at different temperatures and humidity levels, both of which affect the final taste and texture of the cured prosciutto.
The length of time a prosciutto is left to age depends on the type of prosciutto being cured. Generally speaking, this step lasts between 12-36 months. The longer the aging process, the more complex the flavor of the final prosciutto crudo will be.
For PDO (DOP) viarites, prosciutto crudo goes through strict inspections and quality control measures at the end of the aging process. This is why you pay a premium price for PDO and PGI prosciutto.
At this point, the prosciutto is 100% cured, meaning it’s ready to be stored and enjoyed over a long period of time. Although the prosciutto crudo has not been cooked with heat, it has been treated with salt and age, which preserve the prosciutto.
Italian Travelers: When buying prosciutto in Italy, note that prosciutto can be purchased either pre-sliced, from the deli (which is the best option), in large pieces or even as a whole leg to be sliced at home either by hand or with a meat slicer.
Types Of Prosciutto Crudo
There are several types of prosciutto crudo in Italy, all of which follow different recipes for salting, and curing. Learn more about the most popular types of prosciutto crudo below.
Prosciutto di Parma
Prosciutto di Parma is made from a particular heritage pig breed that eats a diet primarily based on chestnuts. This sweet, DOP prosciutto, is considered the king of all Italian hams and thus, each individual prosciutto goes through a rigorous quality check before being approved for the market (Emilia-Romagna).
Prosciutto di San Daniele
Prosciutto di San Daniele is characterized by its unique shape, similar to a guitar, created by pressing the meat after it has been salted. This sweet variety is delicate and just like the Parma prosciutto, it should be enjoyed sliced paper thin (Friuli-Venezia Giulia).
Prosciutto Toscano is more of a savory version, flavored with pepper, rosemary and juniper in the salting process, made with pigs born and raised strictly within Tuscan borders. It’s quite salty and thus, paired particularly well with pane toscano or fruits such as melon and figs (Tuscany).
Prosciutto di Modena
Prosciutto di Modena is made around the basin of the Panaro river, and cured for a longer period of time than other versions of prosciutto. It’s mild and sweet, very well balanced (Emilia-Romagna).
Prosciutto di Carpegna
Prosciutto di Carpegna is made from the Pesante Padano pig breed and characterized by its exterior coated in a lard-and-spice blend (Le Marche).
Prosciutto di Norcia
Prosciutto di Norcia, produced in the province of Perugia, particularly in Norcia is aged for up to 12 months and defined by its particularly salty flavor (Umbria).
Prosciutto Veneto Berico-Euganeo
Prosciutto di Sauris
Prosciutto di Sauris are made from the Large White, Landrace and Duroc pig breeds. This prosciutto is cured first with salt and then with smoke, a tradition from German and Austrian influences (Friuli-Venezia Giulia).
Jambon de Bosses
From the small town of Saint-Rhémy-en-Bosses in the Gran San Bernardo Valley, Jambon de Bosses has been around ever since the Middle Ages. Flavored with pepper, sage, rosemary, garlic, juniper, thyme and bay leaf, just the smell of this prosciutto reminds you of the mountains (Aosta Valley).
Best Ways To Eat Prosciutto
The absolute best way to eat prosciutto is in paper thin slices. This allows the cured prosciutto to melt on your tongue, slowly releasing its complex, salty flavor. The more marbled the prosciutto, the better it will melt in your mouth and well-balanced it will be.
Exception: In central Tuscany where the prosciutto is much saltier, it’s often cut by hand and enjoyed in thicker slices.
How Best To Eat Prosciutto
It’s best to eat prosciutto raw, rather than in recipes because the flavor is so delicate and can easily be lost in other flavors. Below are some of Italy’s most beloved ways of enjoying prosciutto raw:
- prosciutto e melone – with melon
- prosciutto e fichi – with figs
- tagliere – charcuterie board
- pizza – added after cooking
- panini – sandwiches
What To Pair With Prosciutto Crudo
Serve prosciutto with crisp, white wines.
Prosciutto Crudo FAQ
You absolutely can cook prosciutto but it does tend to change the flavor and texture, which is why most Italians choose to eat it as is.
Yes! It should be labeled “cured” or “fresh”, indicating that it’s been processed to be consumed as is.
The most famous Italian ham or prosciutto is called prosciutto di Parma, produced in Emilia-Romagna.