Ham It Up!

Ham is a big favorite for Easter celebrations. It may be fresh, cured or cured-and-smoked. Cured ham involves the addition of salt, nitrites and sometimes sugars or seasonings. These hams are usually deep rose or pink, as opposed to fresh hams which are pale pink or beige. After curing, some hams are smoked. In this process ham is hung in a smokehouse and absorbs smoke from smoldering fires. Country hams and prosciutto (which are dry cured) range from pink to mahogany color. In dry curing, fresh meat is rubbed with a mixture of salt and other ingredients. Dry-cured hams may be aged a few weeks to over a year.

Prosciutto means ham in Italian and refers to the pork cut, not its specific preparation. Italian speakers therefore make a distinction between prosciutto cotto (literally “cooked ham”) and prosciutto crudo (“raw ham”). In English, the word is used only for dry-cured ham which has not been cooked. These hams come from central and northern Italy, such as Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto di San Daniele. The Prosciutto di Parma has a slightly nutty flavor from the Parmigiano Reggiano whey that is sometimes added to the pigs’ diet. The Prosciutto di San Daniele, on the other hand, is darker in color and sweeter in flavor.

The process of making prosciutto can take anywhere from nine to eighteen months, depending on the size of the ham. First the ham is cleaned, salted and left for about two months. During this time the ham is pressed gradually and carefully to avoid breaking the bone, to drain all blood left in the meat. Next, it is washed several times to remove the salt and hung in an airy place for up to 18 months, depending on the climate. The surrounding air is important to the final quality of the ham; the best results are obtained in a cold climate. Delco’s selection of Volpi prosciutto products are aged a minimum of 230 days to ensure maximum flavor.

Prosciutto is sometimes cured with nitrites (either sodium or potassium), which are generally used in other hams to produce the desired rosy color and unique flavor.

Sliced prosciutto crudo in Italian cuisine is often served as an antipasto, wrapped around grissini or, especially in summer, cantaloupe or honeydew. It may be included in a simple pasta sauce made with cream, or a Tuscan dish of tagliatelle and vegetables. It is also used in stuffing for other meats, such as veal or as a wrap around a cooked steak. Prosciutto may further be used in a filled bread or as a pizza topping.

Capacolla is a dry cured ham made with boneless pork shoulder. Delco’s Volpi Capacolla is slowly cooked and surrounded with red pepper. It’s a perfect pizza topper. No matter what ham you choose, Delco’s ham products are sure to please.

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