Step Up Your Ham Game – Switch to Prosciutto
How long are Colosseum tours?
Let’s face it, ham is boring. You have probably been eating the same ham since you were 5 years old and it has been boring since you were 6. It’s pretty much flavorless, sometimes mechanically formed and does little to a good sandwich other than bring it down a notch. Honey baked ham basically takes that tasteless meat and adds a little sweetness to the mix but is that enough anymore?
Well, guess what. You have grown up and the time is past due to let your taste buds develop and experience the world. You don’t know it yet but those poor, under-appreciated taste buds of yours have been yearning, begging even to be introduced to the wonders of prosciutto.
History of Prosciutto
Prosciutto is a dry-aged ham that originated in Italy and can be described easily in one word, magic. According to one of it’s most prominent producers, San Daniele, the specialty ham has been around since about the first century of the year 1000, giving it a history that is almost as rich as its flavor.
The European Commission that oversees food quality states that “In central-northern Italy, the breeding of heavy pigs, used for this type of ham, developed over time from the Etruscan period (between eighth and third century BCE) to today.”
The salting of meat as a method of preservation goes back to the Celts in Northern Italy and is where the name of prosciutto comes from. According to the people at San Daniele “The word prosciutto comes from the Latin pro (meaning before) and exsuctus (meaning to suck out) and that’s basically what adding salt does, it removes the moisture from the meat.” Salt is an important player in the world of prosciutto but there is more.
None would be too surprised to discover that the process of air-curing which is pivotal in producing a masterful prosciutto goes back to the Ancient Romans. “In Parma, the only “ingredients” added to the pork during production are the highest quality Italian sea salt, air and time.” say the world renowned masters at Prosciutto di Parma.
Production of Prosciutto
The quick explanation of Prosciutto di Parma’s production process is as follows: they take the hind legs of a heavy pig that has been bred specially for this occasion, salt them, store them in a refrigerator, wash the salt off , store them hanging in a cellar, then rub them with a combination of lard, pepper, and salt to soften them and prevent the outer layers from hardening too quickly. Then they return them to the cellar so they can cure for a minimum of twelve months or as long as 3 years. This simple process leads to a delicacy that is cherished world-wide.
At the end of that process you have the prized prosciutto which is packaged raw and is technically called prosciutto crudo. In some cases the prosciutto is steamed slowly culminating in what is called prosciutto cotto or cooked ham. This version of prosciutto resembles an average ham but packs in about 10 times more flavor.
Now that you have the prosciutto crudo it is time to talk about what to do with it. The options are almost limitless. It is recommended to eat the specialty ham raw so cooking it can be difficult. It’s delicate taste can be lost easily which in Italy is considered almost a sin. Most often you will find the prosciutto thinly sliced on a charcuterie board for you to pair with slices of delicious crusty bread, various kinds of cheeses, olives or other kinds of marinated veggies. Another typical Italian dish that challenges the taste buds with contrasting flavor profiles is draping prosciutto crudo on a juicy slice of melon. If you are feeling a little more daring: try your hand at a Chicken or Veal Saltimbocca where the prosciutto is used to hold the sage leaves against the meat before it is breaded and lightly fried in vegetable oil. One of my family’s favorite recipes that uses prosciutto cotto is a cream sauce spaghetti with squares of prosciutto cotto and asparagus.
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