When you look at how many dry-cured hams are on the market, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed.  Some are simply labeled “prosciutto,” they might even be sliced and vacuum packed and ready to use.  Others are called “Prosciutto di Parma,” or “Prosciutto San Danielle.” And now we even have people making their own prosciutto state-side.  Going off of pricing alone doesn’t simplify the issue either, the prices are all over the board – and a higher price doesn’t always equate to a better quality product..  So what’s a ham lover to do?  I sat down with our fearless leader, Scott (who’s been importing Prosciutto to Minneapolis for nearly a decade) to learn his tips of the trade.

Scott recommends you ask these questions:

How does it smell?
Well-aged prosciutto should smell sweet, a little porky, floral – and when aged correctly will also be a little “savage,” in the best sense.  It shouldn’t smell barnyardy, or feral.  The curing process will also develop nutty, fruity esters – pineapple is a common aroma in a good leg of prosciutto.

How is the flavor?
Similar to the smell, it should taste sweet, a little porky, fruity and rosy.  Knowing that hams are salt-cured at the beginning of the curing processing; the salt level should be present and well balanced but not overpowering.

How is the texture?
The texture should be fine grain, velvety and supple, to the point that it almost melts in your mouth.  It should not be chewy, rubbery, or chompy – you don’t want it to chew like bubble gum.

How long has it been cured?
The USDA mandates prosciutto is aged for a minimum of 400 days.  We special-order our DOP Prosciutto di Parma in advance, and ask them to age it for a minimum of 600 days.  The additional aging results in more concentrated flavors and ultimately a supple, velvety, melt in your mouth texture.

Was it cured with the bone-in or out?
Our hams are always cured bone-in, which helps get the best flavor in the ham.  Similar to when you cook meat bone-in, it gives you better flavor than cooking it boneless.

How much does it weigh?
Our 600 day hams are in the 16lb/leg range.  Hams that are cured for less time weigh less. But in order to properly age a ham for 600 days, it is imperative to start with a larger leg.  A smaller leg will dry out if you try to age it that long.

What don’t most American’s know about prosciutto?  American’s think prosciutto should be hard in texture rather than velvety.  The other thing is that the fat is so important.  Hams that are cured properly have good, clean tasting fat.  If you start out with bad pork and don’t cure it properly the fat is not good.
Want to find out if you picked the right prosciutto?  Give us a call and we’ll set up a meeting to taste our 600 day prosciutto next to the one in your larder.  To learn more about the history of Prosciutto di Parma, click here.