Prosciutto and whether it can be eaten raw is up to you. But there are many hundreds of varieties. Mainly just two types dominate the world, ‘Crudo‘ & ‘Cotto‘.
Now, most prosciutto is Crudo Prosciutto, however, I would call them ‘dried’ not raw.
Prosciutto is kind of like the King of Kings when it comes to cured meats. My passion for making and devouring prosciutto has lead me to months and months in Italy.
Once you get your finger on the pulse, you see why it is such a respected food across the globe.
The Italian rules are that you’re looking at a minimum of 12 month drying and curing, this basically intensifies the flavor.
Because of all the strict rules, the quality of the pork used for Parma prosciutto or Italian prosciutto is formidable. It has an international protection DOP (Italian) or PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), and you know it’s going to be incredible.
The main type of Italian prosciutto is Crudo, which is dried (was raw).
Firstly it goes through the curing process and then carefully goes through the drying process (these guys in Italy under PDO, are literally inspected all the time).
This is opposed to prosciutto cotto, which is probably more like your deli ham which is smoked and also cooked.
This type of ham is also cured, but because the drying and moisture aren’t removed it doesn’t have the long-term months of drying and preservation that Crudo has.
Cotto = ‘Cooked’
Cotto vs Crudo difference explained more here.
It’s pretty crazy but you can have five-year-old dry-cured meat that has been hanging and intensifying and flavor. This is top-notch stuff that you pay a sizable amount for whether it’s from Italy or Spain (Iberian Jamon – wiki).
Can Prosciutto Be Eat Raw?
Yes, prosciutto can be eaten raw (dried) if it is dry-cured or done in a style such as Parma ham. The other major type of prosciutto is ‘cotto’, which is a smoked and cooked ham, therefore it is not raw.
For a lot of people, it’s a bit crazy to think you’re eating something raw, but it’s not really raw since it’s been salt-cure preserved and then dried.
And that is why you call this meat dry-cured, just like dry-cured salami or dry-cured pancetta (I wrote all about what is dry cured here.
Why Can it Be Eaten Raw? (Dried)
The Power of Salt in Preserving & Drying
The Ingredients of Prosciutto
Specifically, so far we are talking about prosciutto that is made in Italy, there are attempts and successful attempts to make prosciutto in other parts of the world.
They may have more ingredients than the protected Italian PDO prosciutto. (Even in Italy some prosciutto has Nitrates/Nitrites for color, taste and preserving effect, as long as it isn’t heated to a high temperature – I’m ok with eating it)
In terms of food ingredients for Parma PDO it is:
Salt and pork
But I would list ingredients more like this
Quality Pork, Salt, Time, Penicillin, Favorable Environment for Drying, Passion & Skill
There is a fine balance when dry curing meat, it helps once you have built up the natural penicillin that’s floating around everywhere in the world to help protect the meat (think white stuff on dry-cured salami).
Once this is established at a prosciutto factory, basically it will start protecting and growing on the meat to help the long-term development.
Parma from Italy is still generally speaking hand salted, I visited it medium-sized Parma prosciutto factory got a tour by the owner. It was producing 85,000 Prosciutto ham a year, and every single leg of pork was still hand salt rubbed.
How the Salt Cures Prosciutto
In the simplest form the salt inhibits and draws out the moisture in the meat, but it’s also binding inside the cells. The salt has the ability to slow down and inhibit the bacterial growth inside the meat.
For tens of thousands of years salt has been used in this manner to preserve food. It just got a little bit more fancy when it came to prosciutto.
So it’s the beneficial penicillin which protects the outside of the meat and the salt working its magic inside and around the mean. It ends up producing one of, what I think is the finest food delicacies in the world.
Best Ways to Eat Prosciutto
If you’re talking classic Italian style, pretty much they just put prosciutto in a decent bun or a few bits of bread and you have a prosciutto sandwich -sounds simple and quite often it is with Italian food.
But because you’ve got quality ingredients, the quality speaks for itself, dry-cured prosciutto ham can be a blissful experience.
One of the other favorite ways to consume prosciutto is wrapped around melon, rockmelon works very well. But many other melons do this matching very well, the umami of the prosciutto matched with some sweetness – and of course the delectable fat of the prosciutto.
I have attempted cooking the dry-cured prosciutto since it has a high level of salt it seems to come through when cooked. The cooking ends up intensifying the saltiness and for me doesn’t make it very pleasant.
Wafer thin slicing makes sense because the saltiness is balanced, I have cut thick prosciutto, and it a complete different taste.
But if you use it sparingly and cooking it can work, my advice just leave out the salt if you can.
Thousands of Years of History
What makes it so incredible is that the Romans for such a long time were producing this for taste and necessity.
It is well-known that, of course, there wasn’t any way of refrigeration back in the Roman Empire. But when it was time to harvest animals they wanted to enjoy them for as long as possible for taste and for survival sustenance.
So that’s why breaking down the pig into the muscles that are able to be cured, otherwise known as salumi came about.
That is the short answer to what salumi is if you want to know more about this, here is the post I wrote on the difference between salami and salumi.
Amino Acids That Are Easier to Digest
It’s pretty crazy when I discovered this, but there is some science behind the idea that drying the meat in the way that prosciutto is made is easier and more beneficial for the body in terms of digestion.
The amino acids are broken down more with this long drying process, and therefore you’re nutrients more easily digested. I’m not an expert here, so here is some of the info.
Trying the best Prosciutto
There are many variations of prosciutto out there, but there are some that definitely get a few extra gold stars. If you want to check out the best of the best, I would highly recommend this prosciutto.
And if you want to try the decent Iberian Spanish version. that ticks all the boxes, this is the one here the Spanish dry-cured hams finish the pigs on acorns. Nutty and Complex!
Thanks for dropping by, I’ve been passionate about meat curing for around 20 years now. Having been lucky enough to learn inside fine dining kitchens through to backyard smoking sessions. From doing courses, trial & error and reading extensively – finally, I thought it was time to share my passion online.
My insatiable appetite and passion toward classic Italian dry-cured salumi and all forms of curing and smoking are what drives this website engine. All the best, Tom