Spanish vs Italian ham

One characteristic of the Roman Empire was their ability to take the techniques they found across their empire and assimilate them into their own culture - Spanish ham production was no exception.

Like Spain, Italy has a regional ham culture with different regions excelling at producing fine quality ham. Prosciutto from Parma is one of the most well known has become a common sight in delis and even supermarkets. So what is the difference between Spanish ham and Italian Prosciutto? 


There is no real comparison with Iberico ham as this is made from a special breed of black Iberian pig and dry-cured for up to 3 years. However, as Italian Prosciutto is made from a breed of white pig it does share some similarities with Spanish Serrano but there are still key differences. See below:


Both Prosciutto and Serrano are traditionally dry cured and follow a similar production method. However, Serrano is traditionally produced in mountainous regions where humidity is much lower. This combined with the fact Serrano is cured for longer means Italian Prosciutto tends to retain more moisture. 


Serrano ham has a higher fat content than Italian Prosciutto and tends to be cured for a much longer period (16-24 months for Serrano vs. 12-14 months for Prosciutto). This longer process allows the meat to fully mature and Serrano ham tends to have a stronger flavour and a saltier taste than its Italian cousin.


The taste of Italian ham is less intense, smoother and more subtle than Serrano ham due to its higher moisture content and shorter curing time. Italian Prosciutto is machine cut into very thin slices and often used as an ingredient to other dishes whereas Spanish Serrano tends to be hand carved and eaten on its own. 


Due to the higher water content, Italian Prosciutto is usually lighter, pinker than Serrano ham, which is a darker pink (but not the deep ruby red of Iberico ham).


Italian Prosciutto usually lacks the hoof and has generally more rounded shape than both Serrano and Iberico legs which are also much larger.


The art of hand cutting is more widely spread in Spain than in Italy. Almost every family in Spain has the whole leg at least once a year, usually for Christmas, while in Italy this is not so common.


The use of chemical additives, especially nitrates and nitrites is common in commercial ham production across both Spain and Italy. However, Italian Prosciutto that has been certified with protected designation of origin (PDO) such as Prosciutto di Parma is guaranteed to be additive-free. However, consumers should be aware that where their use is permitted, chemical additives and preservatives are still widely used in both countries.