I had dinner last night at the newest location of Kansas City’s best tapas restaurant, La Bodega. This was actually my second trip in as many weeks. I’ve always enjoyed the small plate concept and no one executes it better. It also led to a foodie discussion of the difference between the different pork products that were offered. No conclusions were formed at the table and no clear answer was found through a quick google search. This lead me to decide it was a topic worth posting on.
Here is a quick set of facts on each.
Prosciutto is literally the Italian word for ham. It was derived from the Italian word prosciugare, which means “to dry thoroughly”. It is considered a ham because it comes from leg or thigh area and is cured. The ham is cleaned and packed in salt for no less than two months. After this it is aged in a cool dark room similar to the process used to dry age beef, but usually for a much longer time. The two most common types of prosciutto are prosciutto di Parma which tends to have a nuttier flavor and prosciutto di San Daniele which tends to be sweeter. Some Prosciutto can be aged with nitrates to provide the familiar color of American smoked hams, but most are not. If sold raw it will carry the title prosciutto crudo while the cooked form is called prosciutto cotto.
Pancetta is derived from the Italian word pancia, which means “belly.” Unlike prosciutto, which comes from the leg, pancetta comes exclusively from the belly of the pig. This often leads to it being considered bacon. While American bacon comes from the belly and side of the pig, pancetta is exclusively from the belly. Pancetta is salt cured like prosciutto, but also seasoned with herbs and spices. It however is not smoked like most American bacons. While native to Italy, pancetta is also prominent in Spanish cooking.
Serrano ham or Jamon Serrano comes from Spain. The word serrano refers not to a region, but more generically translates to “highlander.” It is produced in a manner similar to prosciutto. The primary difference is that serrano is aged at a higher altitude. Serrano ham comes almost exclusively from a breed of pig called the landrace. Some are made from the Iberico pig, but will instead be called Jamon Iberico. This designation is considered of much higher grade and carries a correspondingly higher price.
While each of these is most common in Italy or Spain they are also prominently consumed throughout Europe. They are also important ingredients in the cuisine of Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro. I hope this gave you all a bit more insight into the world of prestigious pork. If nothing else, it should tease you pallet for a more in depth examination of pork yet to come. If there is a type you did not see mentioned, leave a comment and I will include it in my next pork post.