In Italy, prosciutto just means ham. However, beyond Italy’s boot-shaped borders, prosciutto has come to mean a type of ham created by a very specific curing process. Italians call this prosciutto Crudo or raw ham. Immediately, you may ask: raw ham? How long is this going to last?
Prosciutto is uncooked, but it isn’t, in fact, completely raw. The curing process is what makes prosciutto safe to eat, as well as what creates its perfectly balanced rich and salty flavor.
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Dry-cured ham comes from all over the world, but prosciutto was created in Italy and the most highly prized prosciutto comes from the regions of Parma and San Daniele. From these regions, master curers take the hind leg of a pig and heavily salt it with sea salt. The leg is then hung for several weeks in a cool and arid room until all the moisture is drained from the ham. At this point, due to the drying process, bacteria can no longer flourish on the leg.
The next stage in the curing process sees the ham transferred to a humid area for two to three months. After this, the ham is washed of salt and dried for a staggering 12 to 36 months. By the time prosciutto appears in the store, it could be three years old already.
Once thin slices of ham are stripped from the leg, this product is packaged and sold as prosciutto. The drying, curing, and aging product creates a succulent ham that pairs well with cheese and fruit.
When you purchase prosciutto, the curing process is likely to have begun over a year ago. Now that you’ve bought it and left the store, you may be wondering how long it’ll last.
How Long Does Prosciutto Last?
Prosciutto is now a common ingredient to find at the deli counter of major supermarkets and it will often be packaged, pre-sliced, in plastic. However, prosciutto can also be acquired in specialist charcuteries cut fresh from the cured ham. And lastly, you may find yourself in possession of a whole leg of prosciutto, perhaps as a souvenir from your trip to Parma. We’ll look at how long you can expect prosciutto, in all its forms, to last.
How long your sliced prosciutto will last will depend on how it’s been packaged. Even though prosciutto is cured, once it has been sliced you’re allowing the meat to come into contact with the air, and an oxidation process begins. What’s more, prosciutto is sliced extremely thinly – whilst this contributes to the delicate flavor and its melt-in-the-mouth texture, it also gives it a high ratio of surface area which quickens its decline.
Prepackaged and unopened, prosciutto can last for several weeks if it’s refrigerated. Once you open the packet, however, the oxidation process takes hold. Prosciutto should be consumed within two to three days of opening.
Prosciutto freshly sliced from the leg will be of the finest quality. If you pick your prosciutto up at the charcuterie then you’ll need to eat it within a couple of days. That shouldn’t be a problem though, as it’ll be irresistibly delicate.
If you’re a prosciutto fiend then you might purchase your prosciutto by the leg rather than by the slice! A typical leg of prosciutto di parma can weigh in at around 15lb, so you can bring it back from Italy in your hand luggage.
The prosciutto leg can come either de-boned or with the bone still present. With the bone intact, it will last for six to twelve months if stored correctly. After six months the prosciutto will still yield edible slices, but the flavor will be compromised.
Deboned, your prosciutto leg has a shorter lifespan. It should last six months before the meat starts to spoil. This will be anticipated by the meat sliced from your leg beginning to lose its taste.
The process of dry-curing meat can vary greatly depending on the conditions under which the meat was cured. This will predominantly manifest itself in the flavor and texture of the prosciutto – charcuterie connoisseurs suggest that even the breeze that drifts past a drying ham will affect its flavor. But these processes can also affect how long prosciutto can last. For this reason, the dates given here are guidelines – it’s important to know the signs that your prosciutto is going bad.
How To Tell If Prosciutto Has Gone Bad
The bacteria that flourishes on spoiled meat can make you very sick so it’s important that you don’t eat any prosciutto that has gone bad. This is what to look out for.
Good quality prosciutto has a rosy pinkish color and the thin fatty strip around the outside should be white. These colors are a strong indicator that your prosciutto is good to eat, and it’s a good idea to become familiar with them as you buy fresh prosciutto – that way you’ll spot any changes.
If the color of the meat fades or changes, it will not be good to eat. Shades of blue, green and gray are signs that your prosciutto has gone bad.
When it’s fresh, prosciutto should have a barely noticeable aroma, and if it’s present at all it will be salty and mellow. This mild aroma is contrasted by the flavorful punch it’s packing. If your prosciutto is developing a peculiar scent, it’s a good chance it’s going bad. If you take a sniff and wrinkle your nose up at a sour smell, your prosciutto has gone bad – it’s time for the trash.
Fresh prosciutto should be dry as the curing process strips moisture out of the meat. Once sliced, it may naturally become moist in the air. It should never feel slick or slippery. If your prosciutto develops a slimy sheen, toss it out.
A Bad Leg
If you’ve acquired a leg of prosciutto then you may have it strung up for six months or more. Whether your leg still possesses its bone or has been deboned, it won’t go bad any time soon. And even after six months, the prosciutto you slice from the leg will be edible. The first sign that your leg is going bad is that the finely balanced sweet-and-salty flavor starts to diminish. If your slices lose their flavor, it’s time to toss the leg.
Sometimes areas of the leg that have been sliced will turn an off-color yellow, or a little mold will sprout. There’s no need to abandon your whole ham in this case – simply trim the discolored parts of the skin on your ham. This will stop the mold from spreading and your ham will be good to go.
How To Store Prosciutto
It’s important that you know how to store prosciutto in order to maximize its lifespan. Whether it’s wafer thin slices or a whole leg of prosciutto, correct storage is essential.
Delicate prosciutto slices need to be kept in the refrigerator to slow the oxidation process that begins once the inner flesh is exposed to the air. To further preserve your prosciutto, you should wrap it tightly in plastic after removing a sliver. Prosciutto slices will dry out rapidly in the fridge, which will compromise their flavor.
It’s also a good idea to keep your prosciutto away from any other pungent objects in your fridge, such as cheese. The fat in the prosciutto will keenly absorb the aroma of nearby foodstuffs. Although prosciutto is delicious as an accompaniment to cheese, nobody wants prosciutto to taste like cheese itself!
A deboned prosciutto leg should also be stored in the refrigerator. Because a prosciutto leg that has had its bone removed begins going bad immediately, albeit slowly, these products are usually vacuum packed. Keeping it sealed will maintain its freshness. Each time you slice some fresh prosciutto from the leg, you’ll need to reseal the bag to maintain moisture around the meat.
A prosciutto leg that has its bone in is the longest lasting form of prosciutto. The curing process will have a profoundly preservative effect on the meat, to the extent that you don’t need to keep it refrigerated. You can store your boned prosciutto leg in a cool dry place such as the pantry, or even hang it from a piece of string for the butcher’s shop look.
Moisture is the enemy of your bone-in prosciutto so if your kitchen is particularly humid you’ll need to find a good dry space such as a cupboard to hang your ham.
Can You Freeze Prosciutto?
If you have a pile of prosciutto that’s coming to the end of its lifespan then you might be wondering if you can freeze this product to preserve it. However, freezing prosciutto will wreak havoc on the delicate texture of the meat. Prosciutto is so succulent when it’s freshly sliced. A frozen and thawed slice of prosciutto will be tough and chewy, and nothing like the original product.
Whether you’re picking up sliced prosciutto at the deli or hacking away at a hefty leg at home, now you know how long this cured meat can last. Enjoy its tender, sweet and salty flavor any time.