Italian dry cured ham – locally known as prosciutto crudo – is a high quality product prepared in the most traditional way, respecting the strictest food safety standards. The best varieties are certified with the European PDO mark (Protected Designation of Origin, DOP in Italian) which guarantees that each step of their production adheres to the procedural guidelines of the local Consortium that preserves the original recipe.
The eight types of ham that gained the PDO certification are: Prosciutto di Parma DOP (simply called “Parma” in Italy), Crudo di Cuneo DOP, Prosciutto di Carpegna DOP, Prosciutto di Modena DOP, Prosciutto di San Daniele DOP (simply referred to as “San Daniele”), Prosciutto Toscano DOP, Prosciutto Veneto Berico-Euganeo DOP and the Vallée d’Aoste Jambon De Bosses DOP. Parma and San Daniele are undoubtedly the most famous ones, both in Italy and abroad, however all these hams are considered to be the kings of Italian cold cuts.
One of the first rules that need to be respected in order to produce a Prosciutto Crudo DOP requires that the hogs are born and bred in those specific areas of Italy to which the PDO mark has been assigned. After the hogs reach a minimum weight of 160 kilos, they are butchered and the salting and curing process begins. It takes up to 16 months to make a prosciutto, in some cases even more. Only the hind legs are used and no additives or preservatives are used in making an authentic prosciutto crudo DOP: just salt and sometimes local herbs and spices (like for Prosciutto Toscano DOP). In some cases the hams are pressed (like the Vallée d’Aoste Jambon, that also keeps the trotter) or flattened (as it happens to the Prosciutto di Carpegna DOP which eventually acquires a roundish shape).
The difference in color, taste and fat content depend on local variables such as, for example, the natural ingredients used to feed the hogs or the place chosen for the aging process: this may range from the rascard, the typical wooden buildings of the Aosta Valley, to the aging chambers used for Prosciutto di Parma DOP which are open the local winds that give to the ham its unique taste.
Just like Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto crudo is totally natural and extremely healthy. To fully appreciate its delicious taste, it is best consumed at room temperature.