What are the differences one should look for between good and not-so-good prosciutto? [Split from Minneapolis-St. Paul Board]
The Chowhound team has split this post from a discussion on the Minneapolis-St. Paul board: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6758...
What are the differences one should look for between good and not-so-good prosciutto?
Moisture content and color. The prosciutto should have brilliant white fat, and the meat shouldn't ever have a sheen or iridescence. It should also be dry and silky, very pliable and soft not leathery.
The only non-imported prosciutto that's worth buying is LaQuercia. That's about all you need to know. If it's Italian, it's probably going to be decent. Avoid like the plague anything from any of the mass-market continental "deli" brands even if they try to trick you with a faux Italian name. Bletch. Read the label.
It should taste porky. Really, really porky--visceral almost, and a little funky and salty. An umami bomb. The fat should be silky. The bad kinds just taste weird and like chemicals. It can also taste a little stale if it doesn't get decent turnover, which is boo. That's one of the bonuses of LaQuercia--small packages and never stale.
Also, once it's sliced it needs to get eaten up within a couple of days or it starts to taste seriously weird.
If it's in a package, do you just learn to tell moisture content from appearance?
I've seen other sliced meats that show some iridescence and always thought it looked neat. Why is it undesirable?
I have a recipe for chicken breast stuffed with garlic and herb boursin and wrapped in prosciutto that I've been wanting to try...
if it's in a package and it's as above, moisture content is not going to be an issue, but for reference, real prosciutto is dry cured and aged, so the finished product is quite dry and firm vs. some of the disgusting faux brands that clearly have the moisture content and texture of a wet aged product (closer to lunch meat). That has nothing to do with actual prosciutto which is cured with salt and then hung in a controlled environment until it reaches the appropriate age/moisture content. If it's something you're having sliced from a deli case, either ask the brand or where it's from, or ask to taste it. IME only the better grocery stores have the real stuff in their deli cases. Co-ops sometimes, too.
Iridescence actually has nothing to do with quality or flavor. It's a feature of the structure of meat and does not affect flavor.
the best prosciutto will only contain pork and salt, no E numbers which are added to give a redder colour (and which the spanish in particular like).
its boring and expensive but buy the DOP Parma or DOP San daniele which are the reference points for italians, minimum 12 months cure.
quality characteristics are salmon pink flesh with heavy marbling (so the meat is delicate, soft and moist), pure white fat (no rancidity), free of bloodspots (rancidity again) and preferably with many small white spots which are charateristic of tyrosine manifesting itself after a long cure and add a hige amount of taste.
the american wet cure stuff sounds absolutely revolting.
real quality prosciutto is for eating and not for cookiing
for cooking prosciutto di Speck (especially IGP) is a good alternative, its cheaper beacuse its a boneless production (24 weeks for IGP but the 16 week cure is OK) and tasty with herbs and spices.
if you are cooking then perhaps better to go for spainsh serrano which is cheaper or even a black forest ham which is much cheaper. or coppa or pancetta which both "melt" during cooking.