Fresh Ideas for Prosciutto
Prosciutto, specifically Prosciutto di Parma, is a cured ham from Italy. Produced only in Parma, Italy it is air-dried and salted with specific precision and technique that has been followed for generations.
Produced from the hind leg of a pig born and raised in government-approved regions of Northern Italy, the pigs are fed a diet of barley, maize, cereal and Parmesan whey. The pigs are slaughtered at 9 months of age and must weigh at least 340 pounds. The history of curing pork dates back to 100 B.C. where first mention included burying legs of pork in barrels of salt, then smoking and drying the meat. Later the air-curing process was refined and the production of prosciutto no longer includes smoking.
Today the Proscuitto di Parma production process is strictly regulated and held to a set of quality standards that each ham must pass before receiving its final branding. From the birth of the pig to the final branding of the product each step must be specifically followed. Parma Ham contains only four ingredients – pork, organic sea salt, air and time. No additives, nitrates or other preservatives are allowed.
The preservation process takes place at a prosciuttificio and takes a minimum of 400 days. The legs are trimmed and then salted by a maestro salatore who is highly trained to apply just enough salt to complete the curing process and not affect the sweet flavor of the ham. The ham is hung for a minimum of 100 days in refrigerated 80 percent humidity rooms where the meat is monitored by the salt master for temperature, darkening and salt coverage.
Next the hams are washed and brushed to remove salt and then hung in pre-curing rooms to air dry. When the temperature and humidity are favorable, the windows are opened in these rooms to allow the outside breezes to aid in the drying process. This step takes approximately 3 months. Many believe this is the step that imparts the flavors in the ham due to the aromatic breezes of Parma, Italy.
The final curing takes place in dark cellar-like rooms where the hams are rubbed with a mixture of lard, salt and pepper and hung for three to five months or longer. Towards the end of this process an inspector inserts a long needle into the hams in five different places. He then sniffs the needle after each puncture to determine if the ham contains the quality that is acceptable. If it is not perfect, the ham will be rejected and not pass inspection. At the end of the process it is inspected to meet all quality standards and branded with the five point ducal crown that identifies the ham as official Proscuitto di Parma.
American-made prosciutto and other prosciuttos from different regions of Italy are available, but the technique of curing and the way the pig is fed and raised may not be the same.
When ordering prosciutto from the deli counter, ask for it by the slice rather than by weight. It should also be sliced paper thin for the most enjoyable texture and flavor.
Prosciutto & Melon Salad with Cantaloupe Vinaigrette
For the Vinaigrette:
1 cup diced cantaloupe
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the Salad:
6 cups arugula leaves
1/2 medium honeydew melon, peeled, seeded, and cut into 6 slices
1/2 medium cantaloupe, peeled, seeded, and cut into 6 slices
12 very thin slices Prosciutto di Parma
Freshly ground black pepper
To make the dressing, combine first 3 ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. To make the salad, divide arugula between 4 salad plates. Wrap each melon slice with a slice of prosciutto. Place 3 wrapped melon slices on each plate. Drizzle each serving with about 1 tablespoon dressing. Sprinkle evenly with pepper. Serve remaining vinaigrette in a small bowl on the table. Makes 4 salads.
Recipe from “Favorite Flavor Cookbook” by Christine Gardner. Available at FRESH by Brookshire’s and Sweet Gourmet.