I hear this quite often. Frankly, I see it even more often.
A beautiful, 17-pound leg of prosciutto cured for nearly 24 months in the unique microclimate region of San Daniele Del Friuli, Italia, savagely mutilated, to remove all of the precious and flavorful fat. All because, "the customer does not want to pay for fat they are not going to eat, so we just trim it at the start to save time later." Off with their heads!
On June 20, 2014, exactly two years ago, Domenica Marchetti, Special to Tribune Newspapers, published an article for the Chicago Tribune titled, "A fat phobia is ruining lots of good prosciutto", and my how accurate this is. Removing the fat from the prosciutto is a widespread epidemic now, and one that is very much ruining prosciutto for both the consumer and the provider. Most do not even realize it. It has become so common, in fact, that on two separate occasions I could not purchase a particular prosciutto. It had been fully trimmed right out of the vacuum seal. How disheartening.
When I demo prosciutto for my customers, every sample, no matter how small or large, or whether I'm at Whole Foods, Mariano's or Plumb Market, contains a bit of fat. I DO NOT trim away or discard any fat. Why? Because the fat contains so much flavor. Paired with the lean, muscular part of the meat, you have balance, and can enjoy the prosciutto exactly as it is intended to be enjoyed.
Just like the deli staff, it is commonplace for customers to ask me to remove the fat from the sample. It breaks my heart when I hear this, but it boasts the perfect opportunity to shed a little light on the proper way to enjoy prosciutto, and remove this 'phobia' once and for all. Once I explain that there is a science behind the amount of fat that should surround a slice of prosciutto, and how it is the perfect balance of fat and muscle that lights up your pallet with majestic flavors, there is very little contest, but still some sneaking suspicion that I am making this stuff up. But when I give them a sample without the fat, then I give them a sample with the fat, you can see the submission in their eyes- it's better with the fat!
We're not talking about crazy bacon fact where sometimes it seems like there is more fat than there is actual muscle. But a healthy slice of prosciutto should always be complimented with a little bit of that tasty fatness. It's just the right thing to do.
As important as it is to maintain that fat for flavor, it is also important for shear maintenance and shelf life. When prosciutto is properly cared for, it will resist absorbing flavors from other products in the cooler, or from drying out. This is critical to preserving the flavors that have been enhancing over the near 24 months. When the prosciutto is not properly cared for, and say the skin and fat are pre-trimmed to accommodate advanced customer requests, the prosciutto will immediately absorb flavors from other products and the cooler, thereby changing the very taste of the prosciutto itself. Not to mention it, it will lose all of its moisture and dry out at an accelerated rate.
So do yourself a favor....if you are looking to buy prosciutto from the store don't ask for it to be trimmed. I can assure you that you won't be getting what you paid for. And if you work with prosciutto behind the counter, explain to your customer why trimming the fat is sacrilegious. They'll thank you later. So too will your manager when your $250 leg of prosciutto doesn't go bad after 10 days.