Ham, bacon, Canadian bacon, prosciutto, tenderloin; with so many decadent choices, how can you possibly choose one cut or preparation of pork? When comparisons are often broken down into “pros” and “cons,” how can anyone compare two pork products when no con exists?
Regardless, there are two particular pieces of meat that are in a bit of a competition for first place— Prosciutto and Iberico ham.
They’re both sliced, they’re both delicious… so what’s the difference?
Iberico ham and prosciutto are processed in the same way. Still, their biggest difference lies in the fact that they come from different varieties of pig, which ultimately leads to the different flavor profiles. Prosciutto is made from Large White, Landrace, or Duroc breeds of pig and is often a component of a larger dish. In contrast, Iberico ham is processed from Iberian pigs and is typically eaten without accompaniment.
What is Iberian Ham?
The Iberian Pig is a Spanish swine with long legs and little hair. It is big, so big in fact, that thick veins of fat run through the meat from this hog. This meat is in turn cured for 2-4 years and becomes the coveted Iberico ham. These veins of fat allow for Iberico ham’s longer curing process, which leads to a complex sweet flavor that some say is unmatched by any other cured meat.
What Does Iberico Ham Taste Like?
You’ve read about acorns and fat bands, but how does that translate to a difference in flavor? Mouthwateringly well-marbled, this melt-in-your-mouth ham has been described as having a sweeter, more floral, earthy, nutty flavor when compared to prosciutto.
Where Does an Iberian Pig’s Unique Flavor Come From?
Iberian pigs have a different diet than the ones raised for prosciutto. Rich in acorns, the Iberian pig’s diet is what makes their meat so fatty. In fact, Iberian pigs weigh around 200 pounds in only 10 months from eating around 20 pounds of acorns a day! During the curing process, this fat will slowly melt away as half of the hog’s weight is shed, giving way to the deep golden-hued meat beneath.
What is Prosciutto?
Prosciutto is a literal translation of the Italian word for “ham”, but anyone who has enjoyed a delicate slice of this “ham” knows it’s so much more than just a slice of lunch meat. There are two varieties of prosciutto— “crudo”, or raw, and “cotto”, or cooked.
When talking about prosciutto, it is often the raw “crudo” variety that’s being referred to. Prosciutto crudo is a salt-cured salami made from pork legs left to rest over the course of a few weeks. The resulting product is a salmon-pink, translucently-thin strip of salty-sweet meat punctuated by rich streaks of fat.
How Should I Eat Prosciutto?
It’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy prosciutto on its own by simply popping a strip into your mouth (lucky you!) and enjoying the complex dance between salty and sweet. Most often, however, prosciutto is served with fruit, nuts, slices of bread and cheeses as a protein element of a charcuterie board. Other ways to enjoy prosciutto include:
- Bruscetta topped with prosciutto
- As a protein in salads
- As a pizza topping
- Wrapped around asparagus
- As the meat in a panino
Are Cured Meats Safe to Eat?
In short, yes. While “curing” is different from using heat for cooking, cured meats are still considered perfectly safe to eat.
An exception to this, however, is for people who are pregnant; when pregnant, your immune system is less effective at fighting sickness that could be caused by trace amounts of bacteria that were not completely removed during the curing process.
Iberico ham and prosciutto are both cured pork products known for unique salty-sweet flavor profiles and decadent fat content.
The biggest distinction between the two is that Iberico ham comes from a fattier pig and is cured for longer than prosciutto, leading to an overall more complex flavor that many argue should be enjoyed on its own.
Prosciutto is less fatty, has a shorter curing period, and is often used as an element or ingredient of a dish rather than as a dish itself.
One thing they have in common, though, is that Iberico ham and Prosciutto are both delicious and safe to enjoy.