Whether by hand using a knife or on a machine, slicing prosciutto is no mere gastronomic practice; rather, it is a genuine art. Doing it correctly, in fact, means exalting not only the presentation of the meat but also its organoleptic properties: a slice that is too thin, or too thick and irregular, that tends to fall apart, is truly a crime against the sense of taste.
It is precisely for this reason that the meat carver, that is to say, the person appointed to carve meat, enjoyed a role of great prestige in the past. Louis XVIII of France himself was proud of his skill in cutting ham into very thin slices, and used to say that, during the many long years spent waiting to ascend the throne (in 1814), slicing ham was his favourite pastime.
Proper slicing is essential in enhancing the qualities of any cured meat, although no universal cut exists: each meat requires a procedure of its own.
In order to machine-slice a prosciutto correctly, the haunch bone, the rind and the surface “stucco” must be removed, using the special knife for this purpose. If so desired, the trotter may also be eliminated at this stage. The prosciutto is then positioned on the slicer with the part from which the rind has been removed facing the blade, and slicing is carried on until the head of the femur has been reached. At this point, a knife is used to cut away the flesh around the bone as far as the head of the femur so as to enable the whole femur to be removed. The prosciutto is then turned so that the butt end faces the blade and, after the rind and “stucco” have been removed from this end, slicing is resumed. When the shank alone remains, the inner bone is removed.
In the case of a ham that has already been de-boned, the surface of the prosciutto must first be dried with paper towelling or a clean dishcloth so as to remove the thin greasy film (Figure 1). The rind is then removed from the “fiocco” side – the leanest and driest part – but only from that part which is about to be sliced (Figure 2). During this stage, attention must be paid to avoid removing too much of the subcutaneous fat, as it is precisely this fatty covering that enhances the release of the distinctive flavours and aromas of prosciutto di San Daniele. Then, to continue, the ham is positioned on the slicing machine with the fat-covered surface facing upwards while the pinkish-red part is resting on the plate, and slicing is resumed (Figure 3). This procedure is repeated each time the blade of the slicing machine reaches the rind. Once all the “fiocco” has been cut, the prosciutto is turned round and slicing is resumed from the butt.
To facilitate machine-slicing, it is recommended that the prosciutto be adequately refrigerated beforehand.