Prosciutto is not your average ham. Dry-cured and served sliced paper thin, prosciutto crudo takes anywhere from 9 months to two years to prepare. This is not a ham that you will be studding with cloves and decorating with pineapple rings and cherries, but an elegant, traditional Italian delicacy that is most often served cold, as antipasto, often with fresh fruit such as melons and cantaloupes, or wrapped around breadsticks (grissini).
Prosciutto is also awesome on thin crust pizzas and a mainstay in traditional Tuscan cuisine, served with tagliatelle and vegetables, or simple cream sauces.
In Italy, where the production of prosciutto has stringent guidelines, there are two major types: Prosciutto di Parma is famous for its rosy colour and delicate, almost nutty flavour, a result of the parmigiano reggiano that goes into the pig’s diet, and the prosciutto di San Daniele, characterized by a deeper colour and slightly sweeter taste.
To prepare prosciutto, the boar or pig’s leg is cleaned and covered with salt and left alone for about eight weeks. During these months the ham is gently weighted-sometimes buried- to compress the meat and remove all the blood. After pressing the ham is thoroughly washed to remove the salt, and left to hang in a cool room until thoroughly dry. Once totally dry, the leg is hung again, this time at room temperature, for up to a year and a half.
This is obviously a labour of love, the process not having changed for hundreds of years.
Prosciutto can be found sliced thin and vacuum packed at most supermarkets, but nothing matches the real thing, freshly sliced from a leg that has been hanging around for a couple years for this moment.
Local chefs have been trotting out their homemade charcuterie in recent years, and “house made” prosciutto is becoming a hot commodity. If you want to sample some local prosciutto, prepared by some of Toronto’s best chefs, among them Mark Cutrara, Ted Corrado, Rob Gentile and Fabio Bondi, they will be slicing up their own prosciutto for you to try.
Drop by the Drake Hotel on Monday, January 30th at 7pm for “Battle Prosciutto”, taste them all and determine your favorite. It’s free and open to everyone.