You would think that as the daughter of an Irish-Welsh mother who made AMAZING Italian food that I’d know the difference between PANCETTA and PROSCIUTTO.
Not so. But I'm learning.
Here’s what I discovered:
Pancetta is a cured meat made from pork belly and needs to be cooked before eating. Pancetta is Italian for “bacon”. The key factor is the need to cook it. It’s cheaper, too.
Prosciutto is a cured meat, too. It is the Italian word for “ham”. I found there’s a hierarchy of cured ham, and not just Italian, each with its own distinct taste: speck (Italian), jamon serrano and jamon iberico (Spanish), even American prosciutto exists.
Spanish jamon iberico is the most expensive and perhaps the rarest of the cured hams listed above. It comes from a special breed of free-range black-skinned pigs native to the Iberian Peninsula. Famously, they forage for acorns in protected oak forests. This ham costs $100.00 - $200. per pound.
Speck and jamon serrano range from $25.00 to $35.00 per pound.
But Italy’s prosciutto di Parma is best known.
It’s even named-protected. A combination of factors gives it its distinctive character - location (Parma), the breed and diet of pigs, section of pig used (the hind leg), curing method and length of curing time. It’s all natural, too. The price reflects this tradition-bound method ranging from $22.00 to more than $40.00 pound.
It is one of few hams awarded the elite PDO(Protected Designation of Origin) status from the European Union.
PDO certifies high quality European foods that are produced using traditional methods in a specific region.
Prosciutto di Parma is fully traced from the birth of the pigs to the final product which is branded with the Parma Crown as a guarantee of authenticity, quality and consistency.
I guess by now you can tell I’ve been taken by both the unique flavor and history of prosciutto di Parma.
No more pancetta for me.
So, next time I make Lidia Bastianich’s recipe for Verza e Prosciutto (braised cabbage with prosciutto) from her cookbook, Lidia’s commonsense Italian cooking: 150 delicious and simple recipes anyone can master, you can bet that I'll go whole hog (no pun intended) and get prosciutto di Parma. Recipe only calls for 3 ounces.
List of Italian cookbooks from our collection:
Lidia’s commonsense Italian cooking: 150 delicious and simple recipes anyone can master by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich Tanya Bastianich Manuali. New York: Knopf, 2015.
“Italian moms: something old, something new: 150 family recipes by Elisa Costantini with Frank Costantini. New York: Sterling Epicure, 2018.
“This is Sunday dinner: 52 seasonal Italian menus” by Lisa Caponigri. New York: Sterling Epicure, 2018.
“Felidia: recipes from my flagship restaurant” by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich with Chef Fortunato Nicotra and Tanya Bastianich Manuali. New York: Knopf, 2019.