Prosciutto is an Italian word for ham. In
English, the term prosciutto is almost always used
for a dry-cured ham that is usually sliced thinly and served
uncooked; this style is called prosciutto crudo in Italian and is
distinguished from cooked ham, prosciutto cotto.
Commonly associated with Tuscany and Emilia, the most renowned
and expensive legs of prosciutto come from central and northern
Italy, such as those of Parma, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and San
Daniele. It is also known in western areas of Slovenia (Kras and
Vipava Valley), Montenegro (Njeguši) and Croatia (Dalmatia, Croatian
Littoral and Istria), where it is known as pršut/a.
History of a Word
The word prosciutto derives from the Latin perexsiccatus (perexsicco),
which gave way to the modern Italian word prosciugare, meaning "to
thoroughly dry"; the Portuguese presunto has the same etymology. The
Slovene, Serbian and Croatian word, pršut/a, comes from Italian.
Prosciutto comes from either pigs leg or from a wild horses
thigh. The process of making prosciutto can take anywhere from nine
months to two years, depending on the size of the ham.
Today, the ham is first cleaned, salted, and left for about two
months. During this time the ham is pressed, gradually and carefully
to avoid breaking the bone, to drain all blood left in the meat.
Next it is washed several times to remove the salt and 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
The ham is then left until dry. The amount of 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, for up to eighteen months.
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. Only sea salt is used in many
PDO hams, but not all; some consortia are allowed to use nitrite.
Prosciutto's characteristic 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
Sliced prosciutto crudo in
Italian cuisine is often served as an antipasto, wrapped around
grissini or, especially in summer, cantaloupe or honeydew. It is
eaten as accompaniment to cooked spring vegetables, such as
asparagus or peas. It may be included in a simple pasta sauce made
with cream, or a Tuscan dish of tagliatelle and vegetables. It is
used in stuffing for other meats, such as veal, as a wrap around
veal or steak, in a filled bread, or as a pizza topping. Prosciutto
slices are often difficult to cut in pieces for use in cooking, as
they tend to shred and stick to one another. In this case either
using very sharp knives or shredding by hand is best.
is a famous Italian veal dish, where escalopes of veal are topped
with a sage leaf before being wrapped in prosciutto and then
Prosciutto is often served in sandwiches and
Panini, sometimes in a variation on the Caprese Salad, with basil,
tomato and fresh mozzarella. A basic sandwich served in some
European cafes and bars consists of prosciutto in a croissant.
Culatello is a refined variety of prosciutto, made from heavier
pigs, cut to a fraction of the normal prosciutto and aged, and may
be cured with wine, with Culatello di Zibello having PDO status. It
is commonly served as a starter along with slices of sweet melon or
It is often served as a dish on New Year's Eve.