Croatian prosciutto (called “pršut” in Croatia) is one of the most original gastronomical specialties Croatia has ever produced. It is a welcomed guest on many celebrations and gatherings. It should not be mistaken for an Italian prosciutto. Those are two different things. If you are visiting Croatia, make it a priority to try a real, homemade prosciutto. Several regions in Croatia make their own versions of prosciutto, but the best one, and the most recognized, is certainly the Dalmatian prosciutto. Dalmatians have been mastering the production of prosciutto for centuries. Their knowledge and experience combined with climatic conditions resulted in a truly unique delicacy. So let’s find out how a prosciutto is made.
First, you have to pick the right breed of pig with the optimum fat/muscle ratio. It is considered that a crossbreed between the “Yorkshire” breed and the “Landrace” breed is the best. Their preferred weight is between 130 kilos (286 pounds) and 200 kilos (460 pounds). The only parts that can be used for a real prosciutto are pig’s thighs (hind legs) which are considered a first class meat.
Traditionally, pigs are slaughtered in November and December, but if climatic conditions are not met, it can happen in January or February, too. At the time of slaughter, strong, dry wind (called “bura” in Croatia) is vital for the first week of drying the prosciutto in a natural and non-aggressive way, and cold weather is needed to prevent flies and microbes from ruining the meat. In later stages, another mild and humid southern wind (called “Jugo” in Croatia) is needed so the prosciutto doesn’t get too dry. Keeping a prosciutto in a perfect balance between too dry and too moist is a true art that takes years to master.
There is no exact amount of salt that’s used. It all depends on how big and heavy is the thigh. Salt is aggressively rubbed into the meat to reach the deepest lairs. That guarantees the rounded saltiness of the final product. After the meat is salted, it is left for up to 18 days in a cold and dark room. In this period, salt extracts the water out of the meat. You want as little water as possible to be left in a prosciutto.
When the salt has done its part, the meat is pressed with metal plates and weights so the last drops of water come out and for the prosciutto to get its final, recognizable look. Prosciutto is then covered with a special mixture of flour, fat, and pepper that serves as a protection from bugs and microbes. Artificial preservers are strictly forbidden. After that, it’s ready for drying and smoking.
Drying and smoking last at least 12 months, but 24 months is preferred. Wood used for smoking is usually a beech or an oak. Just like drying, smoking requires lots of finesse and experience as well. You can’t just light a bunch of logs on fire and leave. The right amount of smoke and temperature of the fire has to be constantly maintained.
As you can see, it takes lots of knowledge, effort, and commitment creating an original Dalmatian prosciutto, so don’t be surprised if it’s a bit expensive. Trust me, it’s worth every penny.