Everyone loves prosciutto — it’s a perfect snack, cooking ingredient, and pizza topping. We’ve all had those moments of madness at the deli counter where we come home with far more prosciutto than we intended!
But if these flavorful slices of cold meat are not devoured within a day or two, you may be wondering if you can freeze them to enjoy at a later date.
So, can you freeze prosciutto? Freezing is a great way to store prosciutto, but it needs to be done correctly to preserve it in the best possible condition. As prosciutto is very thinly sliced, it is highly susceptible to freezer burn and will only stay good to eat in the freezer for around a month.
If you’ve got a load of prosciutto that is nearing its best-before date, read on to find out the best way to preserve it for longer!
What Is Prosciutto?
Prosciutto is a very famous form of cured meat originating from Italy.
The name prosciutto means “ham” in Italian, and the form that we normally buy from the deli counter is prosciutto crudo, which is a raw, cured ham.
This delicacy is made by dry-curing pork legs to create a ham that is firm, pink, and salty. It is normally served by slicing it into paper-thin slices, which quite simply melt in the mouth.
To make prosciutto, pork legs are covered in salt and left to rest for several weeks. The salt draws out all of the moisture from the meat, making it safe from bacterial contamination.
After the meat has been salted and is firm to the touch, the pork legs are washed and then seasoned. They are hung in a temperature-controlled location to dry-age for up to three years. This gives the meat a sweet, delicate flavor.
There are many regional variations of prosciutto, and the most famous is probably Prosciutto de Parma DOP, or Parma ham, which can only be made in the Parma province.
You can buy prosciutto either ready sliced or as a whole or part leg of cured ham. Although they have both been dry-cured to make them stable at room temperature, you will find that they last for longer if kept chilled.
Can You Freeze Prosciutto?
Let’s turn our thoughts back to that leftover prosciutto that you’ve got lurking in the fridge — can it be frozen to preserve it for longer?
OK, so we have a bit of a “good news, bad news” kind of situation here! Prosciutto that has been frozen and thawed is perfectly safe to eat.
However, the consistency of prosciutto can be altered when it has been frozen, and changes may occur to the flavor as well. It is essential to reduce exposure to moisture and air to ensure there are no changes to the meat’s texture or flavor.
The reason that prosciutto does not freeze as some other cured meats such as bologna is that it has a very delicate texture and flavor. It is normally sliced very thinly, making it much more prone to freezer burn.
However, there are some tips and tricks that can help to keep your prosciutto in the best possible condition when it is frozen!
Follow these steps and your prosciutto will be nearly as good as new when defrosted, perfect for using on a charcuterie board or as a topping for pizza or salads.
Can You Freeze Sliced Prosciutto?
Sliced prosciutto can be frozen, but these delicate slices are so fine that they may fall apart when defrosted. Prosciutto can also become tougher to chew when it has been frozen.
If you do need to freeze sliced prosciutto, it will need careful preparation and packaging to protect it from freezer burn.
This delicate meat can also absorb flavors and aromas from other foods in the freezer, so care must be taken to store it away from food with a strong taste or smell.
Can You Freeze A Whole Prosciutto Leg?
A whole or part prosciutto leg can be frozen, and this cured meat stands up better to the freezing process than when sliced.
You might notice some mild changes to the taste or texture of this traditional ham when it has been defrosted, but they should be fairly minimal.
But while you can freeze a whole prosciutto leg, the question you have to ask is do you really need to?
This meat has been cured using specialist techniques to keep it shelf-stable at room temperature. It will deteriorate slowly over time, but this can be months rather than days.
If you live in a warmer climate, any cured meat will start to deteriorate at a faster rate. If this applies to you, then keeping your prosciutto in the freezer may be a good option.
How Long Can Prosciutto Stay Frozen For?
Provided you’ve stored your prosciutto correctly in the freezer, it can be stored for around four weeks. During this timeframe, it will be almost as good as new when defrosted, although the taste may not be quite as intense.
But what happens if your prosciutto is frozen for more than four weeks?
The good news is that this prosciutto can still be used, even if it is slightly freezer burnt or past its best.
It might not be perfect for a charcuterie board, but it can be used to cook with. It can be sliced, chopped, shredded, or torn, and used to flavor casseroles and oven-baked dishes or as a pizza topping.
Does The Taste And Texture Of Prosciutto Change When It Has Been Frozen?
In theory, prosciutto should be ideal for freezing. It is a dense cured meat with low water content, but unfortunately, things don’t always work out the way we’d hoped in the world of food preservation!
The problem with freezing prosciutto comes from the way it is sliced, making it more delicate and prone to freezer burn. It is not robust enough to stand up to being frozen and thawed without undergoing some changes.
This means that the texture of finely sliced prosciutto can be altered when it is defrosted, and some of the delicate flavors might be lost. It may taste dry and chewy, with a less intense flavor.
If you can, freeze prosciutto in large pieces or as a whole or part leg, rather than slicing it first. This will have the best results, as sliced prosciutto does not stand up well to the freezing process.
To keep the meat in the best possible condition, it is essential that it is prepared correctly for freezing, and that it is not frozen for longer than the recommended time.
How To Prepare Prosciutto For Freezing
There are two risk factors when it comes to freezing prosciutto – air and moisture.
Exposure to either or both of these will quickly cause your lovely prosciutto to deteriorate, along with the dreaded freezer burn!
Here are some ways to optimize freezing different types of prosciutto.
Freezing Sliced Prosciutto
Unopened vacuum packs of prosciuttos can be popped straight into the freezer just as they are. To minimize the risk of freezer burn, pop the packet inside another bag or wrap it in aluminum foil.
Opened packs of prosciutto, or fresh prosciutto from the deli counter, should be carefully sealed inside an airtight bag with as much air removed as possible.
It is a good idea to lay a piece of baking paper between each slice to prevent them from becoming stuck together in the freezer.
Wrap a few slices together in plastic wrap, then pop this inside your airtight bag. This means you can remove just a few slices at a time from the freezer, without defrosting the whole lot!
Freezing A Prosciutto Leg
A whole or part leg of prosciutto is much easier to freeze with good results. The secret is to wrap the cured meat thoroughly to prevent moisture and air from reaching the meat.
It is a good idea to be extra cautious with your wrapping, as a good leg of prosciutto is too good to waste!
Ideally, wrap the meat thoroughly in aluminum foil first, then place it inside an airtight bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible to reduce the risk of freezer burn.
Now we’ve got your frozen prosciutto queries all wrapped up, let’s take a look at some other commonly asked questions!
How Long Can Prosciutto Be Stored In The Fridge?
When buying vacuum-packed prosciutto from the chiller section of the store, it will be marked with a use-by date.
This type of cooked meat is normally able to be kept in the refrigerator for longer than freshly sliced prosciutto from the deli store.
Once opened, it is advisable to consume vacuum-packed Prosciutto within seven days. This time limit also applies to freshly sliced prosciutto ham. If you are unlikely to eat it within this time, it should be frozen.
How Long Can Prosciutto Be Stored At Room Temperature?
Although prosciutto has been cured to make it stable at room temperature, once it has been sliced it is susceptible to rapid deterioration.
This is because the bacteria responsible for spoiling food can multiply quickly at warm temperatures on the large surface area of sliced meat.
Sliced prosciutto should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. In hotter climates where temperatures are consistently high, this time is reduced to just one hour.
This means you need to take care when serving prosciutto on a charcuterie platter as part of a buffet or pot-luck brunch, as it will quickly deteriorate to the point where it is no longer safe to eat!