Prosciutto is made from either a pig’s or a wild boar’s hind leg or thigh, and the base term prosciutto specifically refers to this product. Prosciutto may also be made using the hind leg of other animals, in which case the name of the animal is included in the name of the product, for example “prosciutto cotto d’agnello” (“lamb prosciutto”). The process of making prosciutto can take from nine months to two years, depending on the size of the ham.
A writer on Italian food, Bill Buford, describes talking to an old Italian butcher who says:
When I was young, there was one kind of prosciutto. It was made in the winter, by hand, and aged for two years. It was sweet when you smelled it. A profound perfume. Unmistakable. To age a prosciutto is a subtle business. If it’s too warm, the aging process never begins. The meat spoils. If it’s too dry, the meat is ruined. It needs to be damp but cool. The summer is too hot. In the winter—that’s when you make salumi. Your prosciutto. Your soppressata. Your sausages.
Today, the ham is first cleaned, salted, and left for about two months. During this time, the ham is pressed, gradually and carefully so as to avoid breaking the bone, to drain all blood left in the meat. Next, it is washed several times to remove the salt, and is hung in a dark, well-ventilated environment. The surrounding air is important to the final quality of the ham; the best results are obtained in a cold climate. The ham is then left until dry. The time this takes varies, depending on the local climate and size of the ham. When the ham is completely dry, it is hung to air, either at room temperature or in a controlled environment, for up to 18 months.
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