Origins & Information - (A-Z) Prosciutto

If you eat at Italian restaurants often, you'll likely see some dishes that note that they have prosciutto in them. Sometimes places that aren't even Italian may have them in their salads or as part of an appetizer. So depending on how often you actually order these items, you do or don't know what prosciutto is. Let's just say that it is delicious!

What we call prosciutto here in the United States is actually a form of prosciutto in Italy. The word itself merely means "ham" but the one that we have often is prosciutto crudo which means it is uncooked. This ham is salt cured but has not been cooked; the cooked variation is prosciutto cotto. Prosciutto is made from pig/wild boar hind leg or thigh (the "ham") that has been salted for a few months, frequently re-rubbed with salt and turned. The ham is drained of blood and slowly pressed during this process; afterward, all the salt is washed off and the ham is hung somewhere nice and breezy to be air cured. Traditionally this last step takes two years. The meat is thinly sliced (to be nearly transparent) when needed to be used lest it rots or spoils when exposed.

Prosciutto has been made in this way since Roman times and is still being enjoyed today. The flavor will vary depending on the regions from which the hams came. Certain standards per region must be adhered to in order for it to be designated Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO) Prosciutto. An example of a variation is the well-received Prosciutto di Parma which comes from pigs who are fed a diet that includes the whey of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. If you're looking for sweet hams, go for the Prosciutto di Parma or Prosciutto di San Daniele; if savory, Prosciutto Toscano. Of course, hams imported from Italy will be quite the pretty penny so it will be unlikely that you'll go running to purchase prosciutto by the pounds any time soon.

When you have it in restaurants, you'll most likely find slices with pasta, salads, or in appetizers. If you've seen "saltimbocca" on the menu, you're looking at veal and sage wrapped with prosciutto and pan-fried. A great Italian combination is prosciutto e melone which is ham wrapped around honeydew or other melons. If you actually are eager to give cooking with prosciutto a try, you can start looking at recipes at for some inspiration!

This post is part of an A-Z series I am running for my blog category "Origins and Information" while I am in Vietnam with my family for July. Many of the posts in the series answer questions that were posed by friends/readers. If y'all enjoy the series, I will gladly run another in the future!