6 Italian Ham Types

Italian Ham Types. (Image: Cultura RM Exclusive/BRETT STEVENS/Cultura Exclusive/GettyImages)

Connoisseurs of Italian food may be well versed in various Italian ham types. For the casual foodie, however, differentiating the Italian ham varieties can prove a bit more difficult. For instance, what is the difference between prosciutto di Parma and prosciutto di San Daniele? These delicious mysteries are unraveled when you learn about the different types of Italian hams.

1. Prosciutto

Prosciutto comes from the Latin word "perexsuctus," which means "deprived of water." There are two preparation methods for prosciutto: baked and cured. Most prosciutto used in the United States is the cured variety, called prosciutto crudo. It is typically a deep red color since it is never cooked and has streaks of flavorful fat.

In the U.S., prosciutto crudo is nearly synonymous with a variety that is known as prosciutto di Parma. This variety is a celebrated Italian ham that has been around for over 2,000 years. Generally, prosciutto di Parma is made with large pigs that are raised locally and fed a diet including whey made from Parmesan and Romano cheese.

Believe it or not, most every region in Italy makes its own version of prosciutto. For instance, take prosciutto di San Daniele, which uses minimal amounts of sea salt and stacks the hams atop one another. Due to this preparation, this variety is considered a sweet prosciutto. Some prosciutto lovers also appreciate the crudo Toscano variety, which is a savory choice using pepper, garlic, rosemary and juniper.

2. Coppa

Coppa, formally called capocollo, is a type of salami. When considering coppa vs. prosciutto, coppa is made from pork that is air cured and salted, whereas prosciutto is not always air cured. In addition, coppa is made with meat from the neck or shoulder of the pig, and it is seasoned with black or white pepper, cinnamon, cloves and bay leaves.

3. Pancetta

Pancetta is made with the same cut of meat as bacon. However, unlike bacon, pancetta is not smoked. Instead, it is salted and air cured, much like other Italian hams. Generally, no sugar is added, but pancetta is usually seasoned with pepper, fennel seeds, coriander, rosemary and juniper berries.

4. Culatello

Culatello is a specialty ham that is made only within the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. It is made with the back of the pig's haunches. These pigs are fed fresh, local grains and the whey from certain cheese, including parmigiano. Due to the quality of the meat and its preparation, culatello is bright red with very little fat.

5. Speck

Speck is similar to prosciutto in that it is made from the hind legs of pigs. However, it differs because it is typically smoked before it is dried. In addition, speck is traditionally seasoned with spices like garlic and juniper to give it a rich flavor, which is a bit stronger than that of prosciutto.

6. Guanciale

Guanciale meat comes from the pig's jowls and offers a very robust, fatty flavor. It is typically seasoned with salt, pepper, sage, rosemary and garlic. Guanciale is dried and aged for about three months. Imports of this meat from Europe are banned in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration, so it can be difficult to find.

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