The Best Italian Raw Ham – A Basic Guide
Italian Raw Ham is a typical Italian salami that comes from the process of dry-salting a leg of pork. Perhaps one of the most famous Italian cold cuts in the world in absolute. Prosciutto Crudo has been interpreted in many ways by the different local regional products. However, the two most famous and renowned variants are mainly Prosciutto San Daniele DOP and Prosciutto di Parma DOP.
Friuli Venezia Giulia exclusively produces Prosciutto San Daniele. In the hilly area in the homonymous municipality in the province of Udine, to be precise. Prosciutto San Daniele is easily recognizable by the presence of the pig’s trotter; it is a completely natural food, without any type of additive or preservative. Moreover, its curing has a minimum duration of at least 13 months. The aroma is intense and the taste is sweet and delicate with a slightly stronger aftertaste.
Prosciutto di Parma is globally famous for excellence, being probably the best known Italian salami. It is produced in the area including the territory of the province of Parma up to the south of the Via Emilia, although the bulk of production is concentrated around the town of Langhirano. It is recognized for its crown, the historic trademark of the original Parma ham and is also a completely natural product, without any type of additive or preservative. Its taste is sweet and refined and it also has a low-calorie content, which does not affect its intense and characteristic taste.
Parma and San Daniele Italian Raw Ham: the differences
These two Italian raw hams represent two excellences that the whole world envies us. They are natural and made with Italian pigs’ legs and are obtained after a professional curing process. The peculiarity of these two products certainly lies in the high nutritional value that allows them to be food suitable for any diet thanks to its easy digestibility.
However, it is good to know what you are buying and to know the main differences between these two cold cuts.
The first difference that stands out is certainly the place of production: Parma Ham is produced in an area between the Apennines, the Via Emilia and the courses of the Stirone and Enza rivers, while the area reserved for the production of San Daniele is limited to the homonymous municipality of Friuli, in the province of Udine.
A second difference lies in the salting method, while in Parma ham the outer parts, those of the rind, are treated with wet salt, the actual meat, on the contrary, only with dry salt.
Prosciutto San Daniele, on the other hand, uses only dry salting. This different choice of salting also leads to a difference in the pressing method. It allows the salt to penetrate deeper into the pork meat, to facilitate the curing process.
Another difference is found in the different maturing method. In general, the air that dries the legs of Parma Ham is more humid. It slows down the curing process, but at the same time allows one to obtain a softer product. The different maturing process depends on the climate and environmental conditions typical of the two different natural habitats.
This is precisely why, with the same number of months of aging, San Daniele will always seem more mature than Prosciutto di Parma. This difference lies in the different centuries-old tradition of Friulian art that uses this paw to facilitate the release of moisture from the thigh during the curing process.
How can you recognize the two hams?
The two cured meats are easily distinguishable thanks to their distinctive signs. Prosciutto di Parma is represented by a famous five-pointed crown that is stamped on each whole ham and printed on each pack of sliced product in a tray.
The distinctive mark of San Daniele is instead a stylized paw and its shape is reminiscent of a guitar, which tends to be more flattened due to the different pressure methods used.
Useful Tips for Tasting Italian Raw ham
Italian Raw ham is a food rich in particular natural ingredients, this alchemy makes it necessary to follow a few simple rules to fully enjoy its properties.
Additionally, Italian Raw Ham does not contain carbohydrates and if you try to avoid them, this salami is perfectly suited to this lifestyle.
The old saying “country you go to” fully reflects the soul of this sausage. Depending on the place, the length of the curing process varies, which allows you to obtain a more or less sweet ham to better integrate it with the dishes on our tables.
A piece of useful advice is to cut the ham into slices that should not be more than two millimeters thick. Last but not least, it is a good rule to taste the raw ham at room temperature and not cold from the fridge, this allows you to melt the fat to the right point.
The history of raw ham dates back to the Etruscan civilization. It seems that the first news of ham production in Italy can be traced back to this civilization of the 6th-5th century B.C. even if we have many more findings that indicate its widespread use in ancient Rome. There is still a Roman road called “Panisperna” (panis=bread and perna=thigh of pork).
Italian raw ham: a refined processing
Raw ham is a type of sausage that is produced following an ancient and sophisticated processing sequence that involves three important phases: salting, fermentation, and maturation. The entire process follows the natural path of the meat and is carried out without the addition of additives or preservatives. In particular, only the cut of the hind limb of the pig is allowed to cool until it reaches a temperature of 0 °C. This operation facilitates trimming, which consists of carving the ham into a round shape, removing excess fat and part of the rind.
This type of processing is distinguished by being a “dry” production process that always begins with the salting process. In this phase, the rind is covered with wet sea salt, while dry sea salt is used for the rest of the meat. It is no coincidence that the Latin term ‘perexsuctum’ means ‘dried’. During salting, the ham is placed in a humidity-controlled cell where it rests for at least 80 days. It is then washed with water and hung according to an ancient tradition in airy rooms. The secret to avoiding over-drying lies in covering the uncovered meat with pork fat and spices, which makes the ham even sweeter and tastier.
This particular procedure takes place in exclusive micro-environments and microclimates, and it is precisely this special mixture that allows the European Union to award the PDO mark.
After a wait of about 6 months, the hams take their typical shape and are ready to be massaged and laid on sloping shelves, where they are again covered with salt.
The real masters then proceed with the “stuccatura” in which the ham is overhauled to fill any holes and imperfections with a mixture of flour, lard, water, pepper.
This then leads to the most delicate phase, the curing, which can last from 8 to 16-18 months depending on the different types of ham to be obtained. The hams are hung on trestles in special, well-ventilated and ventilated rooms at a constant temperature of 14-15°C which allows them to lose about 30% of their initial weight.
The critical success factor for proper curing is the climate in which it takes place and, for this reason, it is necessary to regularly open and close the windows of the large rooms to guarantee the ham the climatic benefit of the particular habitat in which it is produced.
This slow and careful procedure allows the degradation of proteins which leads to the formation of amino acids. The amino acids released to allow the formation of aromatic substances that infuse scents and make the ham taste so special.
In these natural reactions, there is also a degradation of lipids that, through the transformation into aldehydes, allows to give the ham that intoxicating unmistakable scent.
Italian raw ham: Benefits & Nutritional Values
Raw ham is a food that has important properties for our psychophysical wellbeing and which our body cannot do without thanks to its extraordinary relationship between fat and lean components.
Its lipidic component is of absolute quality, thanks to the high presence of unsaturated fatty acids (64.9%), the type of fats that are friends of health, such as oleic acid (45.8%) monounsaturated fat also contained in olive oil that protects against cardiovascular diseases.
The main component of essential fatty acids is linoleic acid (source of omega 3) and arachidonic acid (source of omega 6); acids that allow us to synthesize all the other polyunsaturated fats, indispensable for biological membranes, for the development of the nervous system, for growth, for immune defense, to fight cancer and to regulate blood cholesterol levels. Consequently, these are fatty acids which have a preventive action against arteriosclerosis.
The chemical composition of these essential fatty acids makes it possible to inhibit the action of free radicals, the main cause of aging and degenerative diseases, and to restore the natural physiological balance of our body, thanks to the contribution of natural antioxidants such as vitamin E.
The absence of carbohydrates allows you to lose weight and take a healthier path. It is because it is a highly digestible food and therefore ideal for children, the elderly and sports-minded people. Moreover, because Italian raw ham also is a rich source of high-quality proteins, as a result of proteolysis that occurs during aging. Raw food is not only rich in proteins but also contains B vitamins, especially B1, niacin, B12 and vitamin E. It is also rich in mineral salts such as iron, zinc, and selenium. It is also the best friend for all those who practice physical activity because, thanks to the detoxifying and anti-fatigue action of the branched amino acids represented by valine, leucine, and isoleucine, they allow a faster and regenerating recovery.