You’ve seen Prosciutto. Whether in the deli section at your go-to grocery store or on the menu of your favorite restaurant, you see it everywhere. It raises so many questions. How is prosciutto made? Do you serve it raw? Should I put it on a sandwich or just eat it plain? 

If you’ve ever asked yourself any of these questions, then you’ve come to the right place. We’re going to dispel some of the mystery around everyone’s favorite paper-thin Italian cured ham. Then, at your next cocktail party, you’ll finally be able to speak confidently when someone inevitably asks; What is prosciutto?

The Basics

First, it’s important to define what prosciutto actually is and where it comes from. We’ll start by breaking down some of the attributes of how prosciutto is made and what characteristics make it the superior cured ham.

What is Prosciutto?

Prosciutto, quite simply, is a style of ham. It comes exclusively from the hind pork leg, a cut that is quite lean and benefits from wet and dry curing as well as smoking methods. Roasting can often cause the leg meat to dry out. The inherent fat marbling throughout the leg is key to maintaining even flavor development throughout the aging process and creating that signature melt-in-your-mouth sensation.  

How is Prosciutto Made?

Prosciutto and similar products are created using a curing method that involves thoroughly salting, washing, and slow aging the meat over many months in a temperature and moisture controlled environment. This process makes factors like animal diet, and regionality imparts a variety of distinct flavor notes into the meat. The result is the signature soft but rich flavor of prosciutto we all know and love. 

Volpi employee holding a cured ham with more hams hanging in the background

Where Does Prosciutto Come From?

Many theories exist about how prosciutto first came to be, but most people agree that the process emerged in Pre-Roman Italy. The curing process was originally created to preserve pork meat for long periods of time. This allowed the meat to age and for new robust flavors and textures to form. Over time, local people began honing this practice. Now, hundreds of years later, prosciutto is a premium artisan-crafted product enjoyed around the world.

Can I Eat Prosciutto Raw?

Yes. Although Prosciutto is not exactly “raw” in the typical sense due to the curing process. The salt mixture and aging time are designed to keep bacteria out of the meat, allowing it to be safely eaten without cooking. 

Some varieties of Italian ham are cooked. This is called Prosciutto Cotto, which is an entirely different product that has a different flavor profile. The classic style of cured prosciutto is called Prosciutto Crudo.

What’s Prosciutto di Parma? Toscano?

Producers across Italy have developed their own unique (and often secret) practices to impart their meat with a specific flavor, texture, and appearance. These variations are usually defined and certified by the local province they are produced in. 

Official Prosciutto di Parma is exclusively made in the Parma region of Italy. There are numerous regional varieties of prosciutto including Prosciutto Toscano, Prosciutto di Modena, Prosciutto di Carpegna and Prosciutto di San Daniele. They all have unique tastes so you’ll have to try them all to find your favorite!

How Long Does Prosciutto Last?

Most people purchase pre-sliced Prosciutto packed in 3 or 4oz containers at the grocery store. Unopened, the meat should stay fresh for several months in your refrigerator. Once you open the package, it’s best to make use of it within the next 3-5 days (that’s assuming, of course, that you have leftovers!)

Prosciutto Tips, Tricks, and Pairings

When used correctly, prosciutto can provide a savory flavor boost to a dish, impress guests on a grazing board, or simply function as a decadent snack. Here are some of our takes on various ways to get the most out of your prosciutto.

Salami, sliced ham, sausage, prosciutto, bacon and red wine glass. Meat antipasto platter on stone table

Does Prosciutto Pair With Wine?

Prosciutto, like most Italian classics, was born to be paired with a glass of quality wine. To create an ideal pairing, it all depends on what type of wine you prefer and how you choose to prepare and serve your prosciutto. If you’re serving plain prosciutto slices, remember that the richness imparted to the meat from the fat would pair well with a highly acidic wine with strong tannins. Consider something like a Chianti or Sangiovese, but don’t be afraid to get creative and try out different pairings

How Do I Serve Prosciutto? 

There are many ways that you could serve up prosciutto, but you can’t go wrong with this complex and rich cured meat product. Traditionally, prosciutto is served by slicing it into incredibly thin, nearly translucent slices. The longer the prosciutto is aged, the deeper and more unique the flavor is, so make sure to savor every slice.

Obviously, prosciutto is bound to make a splash on any charcuterie board throughout the year. Its flavor profile makes it stand out and it can be draped, bunched, stacked, or folded into any presentation. Check out one of our favorite charcuterie boards using prosciutto here.

If there’s going to be meat, chances are you’ll want to pair a nice cheese option to go along with it. For prosciutto, sharp cheeses deliciously complement its richness. Layer shreds of aged parmesan over your prosciutto slices, or offer a nutty Gruyere to enhance its rich, meaty flavor. Try adding a multi-grain cracker or tart green olives to offer a balance to the saltiness of these pairings. 

Prosciutto isn’t exclusively a charcuterie board accompaniment. Consider swapping in prosciutto where you normally might have used sliced deli ham as a treat in lunches. You can also wrap pieces of prosciutto around melon slices for a quick pre-dinner appetizer to satiate hungry masses If you’re interested in a convenient prosciutto snack check out our line of Roltini Singles, ready for a quick bite at home or on the go.

Prosciutto Recipes

The supreme versatility of prosciutto cannot be overstated enough. It works as a delicious addition to sandwiches, pasta, salads, and so much more. When using a product with as much heritage and tradition as prosciutto, don’t be afraid to experiment. Try it out as a substitute for mainstays, everything from salads to pasta, and more. Even consider getting a package of prosciutto to carve your own slices and try new inventive ideas.

Conclusion

If you weren’t a knowledgeable prosciutto connoisseur before, you’re certainly on your way there now. The next step is putting your skills to the test by providing a thoughtful answer every time someone asks “what is prosciutto?” and experimenting with different prosciutto variations, recipes, and pairings. The world of cured meat is at your fingertips… or at least a few slices of delicious prosciutto.