Italian hams are famed throughout the world for their quality. They are used in many dishes, including the classic antipasti. Italian hams also form the base for many risottos and pasta dishes such as spaghetti carbonara. Italian hams are made from different cuts of pork and then cured for a lengthy period of time.
The name prosciutto comes from the Latin meaning "deprived of liquid." Many varieties of prosciutto exist and the difference in taste is related mainly to the diet on which the pigs are fed. The best known is prosciutto di Parma. To prepare prosciutto, producers first hang pork thighs for at least a day. Then, once the fat has been trimmed, salt is massaged onto the meat on a daily basis for a month. The ham is then dried and greased with a combination of salt, lard, pepper, and flour. It is then aged for up to a year. "Prosciutto cotto" is the term used for cooked prosciutto, while "prosciutto crudo" refers to the raw, salt-cured variety.
Pancetta is an Italian bacon that has been dry cured from belly of pork. It is often sold in cubes as “cubetti di pancetta” and cooks use these as a base for pasta and risotto dishes. You can also buy slabs of pancetta from Italian delicatessens. Pancetta tends to be high in fat and has a strong, salty flavor. It is often used as an ingredient in Italian sausages.
Speck is a form of cured ham, traditionally from the northern part of Italy, near the Austrian border. It is made from the hind leg of a pig that has been boned before curing. The curing ingredients include garlic and juniper berries and these provide a strong taste to the final ham. Traditionally, speck was smoked over a domestic fire, but today it is cold-smoked in ventilated smokehouses. Speck is matured for a period of five months before packaging.
Coppa (also known as coppocolo or capicola) is a salted, cured, raw ham. It is similar to prosciutto, but is cut from the shoulder of a pig, as opposed to the leg. It is traditionally made in the Italian region of Calabria. Coppa tends to be more expensive than other Italian hams and is a component of gourmet antipasti dishes.