Prosciutto and melon are standard items on the Italian summertime dinner table. The salty flavor of traditionally cured ham and the sweetness of juicy melon are a splendid combination as a dish by themselves, and wonderful to start a meal.
Melons are an expensive delicacy in Japan, and Italian tourists in Japan are often very surprised to see them sold carefully packaged individually in kiri (paulownia) boxes. In Italy, melons are a cheap fruit, sold in bulk.
This makes a satisfying hors d'œuvre that can be prepared on hot days without using fire for cooking, and, even when you don’t feel much like eating, it is easy to eat and helps keep your body temperature down. The prosciutto that you buy pre-packaged at the supermarket is delicious enough, but when you have it weighed and cut fresh for you at the supermarket’s deli corner while you chat with the store clerk, it’s even better.
Where in Japan we have the o-bento boxed lunch, panini sandwiches are what people eat in Italy, and the ham that goes inside is essential. Many Italian homes are equipped with ham slicers, and you can set it to cut slices as thin as you like from the 5 kg-or-so stock, to set your table with.
Prosciutto comes from the thigh of the pig. Amusingly, pigs are animals with certain habits, and for some reason they always lie on their left side to sleep. Even when sitting, they sit sideways with their weight to the left. I have heard customers who know prosciutto well slip the request, “Make it the right thigh, please” into their order. Yes, the right thigh is supposed to be more tender. Now that you know this, don’t you want to taste-test and compare?
I’ve heard that the degree of completion of traditionally cured ham in production is tested by probing the meat with a bone from a horse. In Japan there is an expression, “a bone from a horse of unknown source”, which tends to be used as an insult meaning someone of unknown upbringing or unclear pedigree. But this bone of a horse is an absolutely essential part, no substitutes allowed, in producing prosciutto.
Horse bones are sponge-like, and odors permeate the holes easily. The degree of curedness is tested by quickly poking the bone into the meat and removing it, then sniffing it. The numerous holes also allow the odors to evaporate immediately, allowing quick and effective testing. The “bone from a horse” is said to be the ultimate tool for inspecting prosciutto in production.
So doesn’t all this talk of curing ham make you want to take a tour of a prosciutto plant and see the craftsmen who cure ham at work?