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Authentic Italian Recipes

Cotto vs Crudo: A Guide on Prosciutto

May 1, 2020

Ah prosciutto, that thin sliced meat we all know and love across the world. So many different kinds, cuts, flavors, spices, and pairings that you’ll never get tired of it! How well do you really know your prosciutto though? Do you know the difference between Cotto and Crudo? Do you know how to cook them? Do you know how to pair them with cheese to make a Salumi board? If you answered “no” to any of these questions, worry not, for I am here to guide you through the world of prosciutto – but first, let me start with a quick Italian lesson!

The word prosciutto basically means ham, and since there are different varieties of cooking and regions of origin they are first separated into two major categories: Cotto and Crudo. Cotto means cooked and Crudo basically means raw or crude – the etymology is pretty close in English so it should be easy to remember! 

Now, it’s also categorized by region and the two biggest ones are prosciutto di Parma (from Parma) and prosciutto di San Daniele (from San Daniele del Friuli) which are both coincidentally in Northern Italy. Prosciutto di Parma is known to have a slightly nutty and saltier flavor while prosciutto di San Daniele is darker in color and a bit sweeter in taste. Recently there has also been a new kind of prosciutto making its appearance: prosciutto Toscano, from the Tuscan region. This one is cured with salt, pepper, and aromatic herbs which is said to have an earthier and more robust taste. 

If you are shopping for prosciutto in the U.S. it is especially important to double check the labels! There are a lot of “imitation prosciutto” companies out there and you want to make sure you’re getting the real stuff. An Italian import will almost always have this label on it, called a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin), which is used for specific imports that are recognized under certain rules to produce certain foods. Such as prosciutto di Parma, which is claimed to be directly from Parma and cured in a traditional Parma fashion, which only Parma is authorized to do. You can find similar labels for other Italian imports like olive oil and specialty cheeses and they really do keep quality control on the products! 

Geographical indications and traditional specialities in the ...

Okay, now we know how to spot the different kinds, but let’s talk about how to serve them! 

Cotto: since this prosciutto is light in flavor but a bit thicker than Crudo, it works best in sandwiches or in other dishes! It can also be paired with cheeses and fruits too, like Mahon cheese and pineapple, to make an interesting Salumi board. 

Crudo: this kind of prosciutto is, personally, my favorite for Salumi boards! It’s so thin and lightly sweet that it pairs well with so many kinds of fruit and cheese. Popular fruit pairings are melon, pear, and fig and cheese pairings are parmigiano, pecorino, or rich and creamy mozzarella di bufala. 

The biggest difference between the two types is the taste – Cotto is very light in flavor while Crudo has a meatier and saltier taste to it. If you’re making something without a recipe, like a sandwich, you would normally use Cotto, but you’re free to interchange with Crudo in this circumstance. However, certain recipes, like pasta dishes or styles of pizza, specifically call for a type of prosciutto and I highly recommend following it for the best possible taste. You can usually figure out which kind to use based on the recipe itself. For example, if you’re making a creamy fettuccine sauce with prosciutto and peas you would use Cotto since the light flavor will mingle well with everything else, rather than overpower it. It always helps to keep in mind that
Italian food is based on simplicity and light flavors, so they will never want to overpower your tastebuds with many different kinds of flavors and will instead balance it across the palate. 

I hope this guide helps you to better navigate your way through the world of prosciutto and how to best prepare it!