If you can’t find prosciutto at your local market, you might be looking for a substitution. I will give a quick breakdown of other options and mention some aspects of why they are good substitutes.
Prosciutto is one of the more refined dry-cured meats since it’s often dried and flavors develop over the 9 months to 3+ years it takes to create this product. Often prosciutto takes 12-18 months of firstly curing, secondly drying – also why it’s called ‘dry curing’.
I’ve been savoring and making dry-cured meats for 20-plus years, so I’ll share a few aspects that few know about why dry-cured meats like prosciutto are epic.
So how do you find an alternative to your favorite cured meat?
Proscuitto is salt and pork crafted carefully and dried for generally, 12 months or more to break down amino acids and develop the depth flavor of quality pork.
Having other well-aged / dried meats is a solid alternative to the prosciutto.
Prosciutto can be substituted for dry-cured meats like Spanish Jamon or other classics like Culatello, Capicola, or pancetta. All these dry cure meats are produced with a similar process and should have over 6 months to dry and develop depth of flavor.
Genuine Italian prosciutto may be difficult to locate in your local supermarket.
Fortunately, the range of possibilities ensures that everyone may discover an alternative that meets their preferences.
But since often, dry-cured meats are a craft that can take months to make the final product, it’s not like other food products of fast commercial product offerings.
I definitely consider prosciutto a special occasion type fare!
These types of dry-cured meat alternatives also are epic slow food options, the slowest food around!
Good Substitutes for Prosciutto
When looking for a prosciutto alternative, the five substitutions below are relevant ways to go for an antipasti board or charcuterie plate.
- Serrano Dry Cured Ham
- Capicola / Coppa
- Black Forest Dry Cured Ham
Serrano is an ultra-tasty, Spanish ham that is cured in the open sea air. This prolonged curing process changes the ham, providing a rich taste and fragrance.
Serrano contains more taste and less salt than country ham (USA version of dry-cured pork leg like many of the others below, but often smoked), as well as less fat than prosciutto.
Certain regulations in the USA, mean that the dry-cured Country Ham has a higher salt content, often it’s also a cold smoked product, whilst Spanish Serrano, Italian Prosciutto, or French Jambon (all similar, with subtle variations).
However, Serrano ham looks similar to prosciutto since the hind leg of the pig is used, with the main difference being that the Serrano ham is made from a different breed of pig.
Also, Serrano pigs are often finished on a diet of acorns from oak trees to add a subtleness of nuttiness.
It is advised that you use the same amount of serrano ham as you would prosciutto. It may be served sliced paper-thin with cheese and olives, or it can be used to season your favorite hot dishes.
Wrapped around rock melon or sauteed asparagus is also too!
Thinly Sliced Capicola
Capicola is a seasoned dry-cured pork upper shoulder, the loin area above the shoulder specifically.
Its taste is kind of amazing flavor that is hard to describe, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves are often used.
But the subtleness and combination of these spices create something greater than the sum of the ingredients.
It is made from a spiced pork neck or shoulder that has been sealed, cased, and left to cure for six months approximately.
This is a salumi classic (major dry-cured Italian cuts, which salami is part of also) it may be found in your local deli if you’re lucky!
Because capicola is often sliced for you at the counter, ask for paper-thin slices to come as near to the prosciutto as possible.
Pancetta is a pork belly that has been cured in salt, sugar, and spices such as black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. (I like to add my own dried ground bay leaf mixture for the homemade type)
Pancetta’s taste makes it a decent substitute for prosciutto. However, it has more fat than prosciutto since it is from the belly. Quality prosciutto is dried to a point where the fat nearly melts in your mouth like prosciutto. Also, science has been done in Italy that highlights the amino acids of dry-cured meats are actually easier for our bodies to digest.
Pancetta slabs are often rolled into a log that may be cut to any thickness.
Pancetta is often enjoyed sliced wafer-thin but is also a staple of many classic Italian dishes.
Most supermarkets also sell it pre-sliced or, most typically, chopped into thick cubes for cooking it.
As mentioned, quality pancetta should be savored wafer-thin!
Culatello is a well-known and highly valued salumi in Italy. It is created in the province of Parma by curing solely the rear muscles of quality matured pigs.
It’s utilizing the hind leg, but deboning it and keeping it in a formed shape.
Culatello has a flavor comparable to prosciutto and is typically served as an appetizer. Though it is more difficult to get, culatello is a fantastic alternative to prosciutto.
Black Forest Ham (cold smoked)
Black Forest Ham (Schwarzwaelder Schinken) is a type of cold-smoked dry-cured ham. Again, it is not cooked, it is cured and dried.
The ham is dry salt-cured, and cold smoked then dried like other dry-cured meats above until the flavor develops, and at least 35-45% weight loss is achieved (the weight loss is for the preservation side as well as flavor.
Black Forest ham is an excellent prosciutto alternative and should be used in the same quantities as prosciutto.
There is some confusion and mislabelling, I have seen cooked versions, which should be avoided if you want the authentic stuff.
It should look like this:
What Is Prosciutto?
Prosciutto is produced from high-quality pork legs. The meat is salted and allowed to sit for a few weeks, sometimes a month or so.
This theory is also applied to all the substitutes above.
During this period, the salt binds and diffuses, reducing the unwanted bacteria. It’s all about disrupting the water activity in the meat, salt is the absolute key to this.
This also causes the flavors to become more concentrated, after the long drying process.
Prosciutto is thinly sliced, the wafer-thin slicing has a large impact on perceived saltiness. A deli slicer is very important since very few trained professionals can slice cured meats ultra-thin.
Or buy it or get it sliced wafer-thin!
You can buy whole chunks of prosciutto, but unless you have a precise deli slicer (often weighing 30 pounds/15kg plus), you won’t be able to get the desired results.
What Does Prosciutto Taste Like?
Prosciutto is subtly sweet and salty – but as mentioned the thin slicing makes the saltiness balanced.
Also, there are many variations of Prosciutto across the world and even in Italy. In Italy, I would say there are dozens of types across regions.
Prosciutto Parma Ham, being one of the classics, is strictly protected by law. And from the rearing of the pig, type of pig through to the whole process. It’s strictly controlled, it has 2 ingredients – Pork and Salt.
Prosciutto can have a huge range from salmon pink to brownish-red, and each slice is marbled with fat.
Some types of prosciutto are seasoned with spices and herbs such as black pepper, garlic, juniper, and rosemary, which gives it a more distinct, aromatic flavor.
Basically, it isn’t traditional prosciutto if it has more than Salt and Pork
The more time prosciutto is matured, the more nuanced it tastes, there is a 2-3-year-old prosciutto made with care and passion across Italy.
Prosciutto can be served on its own or with fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese, and wine. It is also used in cooked recipes such as pizza and pasta.
But with many pizzas, I’ve had, I’ve been lucky enough to work in Naples, Italy (Pizza Inventors). Proscuitto was added on top of the margarita. So the prosciutto wasn’t cooked.
While they cannot replace prosciutto, the alternatives in this article will be a solid alternative.
Many cured meats can serve as a replacement, but they do not provide the same feeling.
My 20 years of meat curing and eating experience plus: