An Italian word, indicating a type of ham, that's to say the thigh from a rear leg of a pig cured with salt and partially dried. prosciutto is a contraction of prosciutto crudo (raw ham), normally opposed to prosciutto cotto (cooked ham).
In Italy there are two prosciutti whose name is protected by law:
- Prosciutto di Parma: cured in the province of Parma, and aged on the Appennini where the air is drier than in the Pianura Padana.
Can be made only with Italian pigs. Terribly expensive, terribly good.
- Prosciutto di San Daniele: leaner than the Parma, with a different and slimmer shape, this prosciutto is made in (and around) the village of San Daniele in Friuli.
Notice that Italian food laws
prevent you from using those names for anything else, much like French laws protect the good name of Champagne
A couple of suggestions: prosciutto tastes best at room temperature with Italian bread. Don't cook it or fuck around with it: eat prosciutto when it is freshly sliced.
A good prosciutto has a white fat layer, is slightly moist and does not taste salty.
The small part of the prosciutto (that would be the part close to the knee) tastes much sweeter. In Italy it is called gambetto (the little leg), and it is usally sold cheaper.
An unopened prosciutto can last (in the proper fresh, humid environment as provided by a cellar) many months: once it is sliced, it oxidizes rapidly. In particular, the fat turns slightly yellow and smells rancid, while the muscular part turns dry and musty.
If you are feeling all gourmet-loik, compare it with pata negra.