Making Italian Prosciutto Crudo, Cured Ham in Parma: Drying and Sugna

Part 2 in a series about how Prosciutto di Parma is made when I visited a prosciuttificio (prosciutto factory) during the Festival del Prosciutto in the province of Parma.

After the salting process, the prosciutto have been washed and now they are hung to dry – usually in climate-controlled rooms so that the temperature is an average and most importantly, dry temperature. If there is too much moisture in the air, the meat will spoil instead of curing. The air is also changed frequently. The legs are hung with rope and though many of the racks are now metal, more traditional racks would be made of wood.

Prosciutto di Parma drying out

The old style of making prosciutto, as I mentioned in the previous post, dictated that prosciutto could only be made certain time during the year – late winter to early spring, when the salting process could be done in a cold cellar, and then the drying out would be done in the open air. Several factories would actually put the racks outside on the roof to let the air dry out the prosciutto as it continues to cure.

Racks of Prosciutto di Parma drying out

In fact, one of the things I thought was really interesting was comparing the photo of these prosciutto from the 1950s with today’s – look how much fat of the prosciutto is exposed here! It’s something that’s a bit of a struggle for producers now – most people don’t really want to eat the fat and therefore a leg that’s a little more trim is desirable. But at the same time, the fat is what helps keep the prosciutto meat moist, tender, and adds lots of flavor.

Prosciutto from 1950s - look how much fat!

If you don’t like to see where your food comes from – look away now. Here’s a close-up of the drying meat.

Close-up of Prosciutto drying out

After it’s dried sufficiently, the prosciutto leg is ready for sugna (SOON-yah). What’s sugna? Sugna is rendered pork fat, which is spread over the exposed part of the prosciutto. Usually the fat is mixed with spices like salt and pepper, but each establishment has their own special mix and proportions. The sugna helps protect the exposed part of the prosciutto and keep it from drying out excessively with respect to the interior part of the prosciutto, and therefore ensures you a slice of prosciutto that is tender and moist the entire way through.

Sugna, Rendered Pork Fat, used on Prosciutto di Parma

The sugna is spread onto the prosciutto by hand, as you can see here – there are finger marks in their sugna!

Sugna, pork fat, being spread onto Prosciutto di Parma

At this point the prosciutto is still NOT considered Prosciutto di Parma – that’s in the next post!

Continue Reading: Part 3: Making Prosciutto di Parma: the Maturing

If you’re planning on participating in the O Foods for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Contest – prosciuttO is a great O Food! Help us spread awareness!

Comments

  1. says

    I love this kind of thing too (although the ham with the eyeball-looking thing is kind of creepy)!

    I have to tell you the best “how it’s made” tour I’ve been on was in Hershey, PA., and I’ve done it several times ;) Free chocolate at the end and a delicious chocolate smell the entire time! Woohoo!

  2. Marco says

    I was born and raised in Italy and all through my childhood prosciutto crudo sandwhiches were the norm. My dad used to buy a whole leg and it would last a month or so in the house. Now that I live in the States, getting good prosciutto is like digging for gold. Its really hard to find the good stuff, not to mention how expensive it is since its all imported. 255$ bucks for a whole leg is crazy! In Italy i used to buy one for 140-145 dollars!

  3. Al Pizzi says

    I have two high quality legs 30 lbs each and paid $72.00 for both add the small cost of some spices. All you need is an unheated room with two windows that have sliders so you can control air flow and you’re in business!

  4. eric boatwright says

    Hello, I’m going to make my owned prosciutto and I have a few questions if you don’t mind. 1-do you change the signal while its cureing. 2-do you have to press the leg, I’m trying to rig something up, just need some fresh ideas. Your response will be greatly needed.

  5. eric boatwright says

    Hello, I’m going to make my owned prosciutto and I have a few questions if you don’t mind. 1-do you change the sugna while its cureing. 2-do you have to press the leg, I’m trying to rig something up, just need some fresh ideas. Your response will be greatly needed. Had to resend misspelled signal.

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