Italian for "ham," prosciutto is a term broadly used to describe a ham that has been seasoned, salt-cured (but not smoked) and air-dried. The meat is pressed, which produces a firm, dense texture. Italy's parma ham is the true prosciutto, although others are also now made in the United States. Italian prosciuttos are designated prosciutto cotto, which is cooked, and prosciutto crudo, which is raw (though, because of its curing, ready to eat). This type of Italian ham is also labeled according to its city or region of origin, for example prosciutto di Parma and prosciutto di San Daniele. Prosciutto is available in gourmet and Italian markets and some supermarkets. It's usually sold in transparently thin slices. Prosciutto is best eaten as is and is a classic first course when served with melon or figs. It can also be added at the last minute to cooked foods such as pastas or vegetables. Prolonged cooking will toughen it.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.