Uncover Italy’s Best Prosciutto: A Guide to Regional Varieties and Flavors

By: Simona Piccinelli / Last updated: December 19, 2023

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

When you think of Italian ham, no doubt it’s the thin, crumpled slices of velvety, smooth, salty-sweet Prosciutto that come to mind. Yet calling all Italian ham ‘Prosciutto’ is akin to calling all white wine ‘Chardonnay.’ To the initiated, Prosciutto is a vast world of taste and texture, with each Italian region putting its own spin on this classic. Prosciutto di Parma from Parma is Italy’s best-known variety of cured ham. Still, many others compete with it: Prosciutto di Carpegna, Tuscan Prosciutto Crudo, and Prosciutto di San Daniele are just a few of the many kinds available.

Prosciutto, whose name comes from the Latin word for “deprived of all liquid,” has been made in Italy since the second century BC. Although each kind of Prosciutto claims its own flavor and texture nuances, the curing process is similar in all. Pork thighs are first hung in a breezy and well-ventilated room for a day or longer. Next, the fat and hide are trimmed, and salt is massaged onto the meat once a week for a month. At the end of the month, the hams are washed off and dried (traditionally, in the sunlight, although now they are more often dried indoors in a warm room). The hams are greased with a mixture of salt, lard, pepper, and flour and are aged for months or years, depending on the kind of ham. During this long aging period, hams will lose up to a third of their weight.

Protected Denomination of Origin

What can vary significantly between Prosciutto-making regions is the diet pigs are fed. To be officially recognized as a Protected Denomination of Origin (PDO), the ham must follow strict guidelines about what kind of pig the ham is made from and what those pigs are fed. For example, local pigs are fed whey from locally made cheese to make Prosciutto di Parma.

Pairing Prosciutto Perfection

The delicate flavor of Prosciutto is best enjoyed with a dry but not too powerful white wine (like dry Malvasia) so that none of the ham’s flavor is masked. Ideal Prosciutto recipes allow the ham’s unaltered flavor to shine through; serve it on thick Italian bread with Olive Oil, accompanied by a soft cheese like mozzarella, or alongside fruit like melon or figs.

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Prosciutto di Parma

With its sweet flavor and creamy texture, Emilia Romagna’s Prosciutto di Parma is Italy’s most popular ham, especially beyond Italy, where it’s widely exported. With roots going back to 100 BC when salt-cured ham was mentioned in the writings of Cato, Prosciutto has a long and hallowed history here in the Parma province.

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Tuscan Prosciutto Crudo

Considered a savory ham, the Tuscan version of Prosciutto tends to be quite salty and may have notes of strong flavors like pepper, garlic, rosemary, and juniper. They are made exclusively with pigs born, bred, fattened, slaughtered in the Tuscany region, and cured with sea salt, pepper, and aromatic herbs. The unmistakable fragrances of Tuscany subtly enhance the ham’s flavor.

Prosciutto di San Daniele

In Friuli Venezia-Giulia, a region in northeastern Italy, the prized Prosciutto di San Daniele has been made for centuries. Although the curing process here differs little from other regions, the Friuli region’s unique climate and geographical conditions – dry air and high altitudes – give Prosciutto di San Daniele an exceptionally creamy texture and sweet flavor.


Although considered a Salami, not a ham, the delicious Culatello is also revered in Italian cuisine. It is made with a boneless section of the muscular rear legs of the pig. This cured meat is made in the Zibello area of the Parma province. Placed inside a pig bladder and tied with string, then cured and aged for at least 12 months. Culatello has a rich, intense flavor and a deep red color; this is Italy’s creme de la creme ham!


simona piccinelli

Simona Piccinelli

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2 thoughts on “Uncover Italy’s Best Prosciutto: A Guide to Regional Varieties and Flavors

Stacey Langsays:

September 11, 2017 at 8:29 pm

There used to be a ham that my father bought at the Italian market in cleveland called "spiced ham." Nope, it wasn't capicola, it wasn't really spicey. It was a processed square loaf of ham. Not chipped ham (yuck) -- more depth of flavor. Any idea what it was/is?

tim Wardsays:

August 29, 2017 at 5:36 pm

I want a prosciutto that does not need a cutting machine but can easily be cut by hand

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