Why Is Prosciutto So Expensive? (Solved!)

Cured meats, including prosciutto, are a guilty pleasure for a lot of people. Many enjoy them due to their high quality and excellent taste. However, those who love it usually have one negative thing to say: it’s expensive.

So, if you’ve ever stopped to wonder why prosciutto is so expensive, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, I’ll dive into the world of cured meats and discuss the reasons for the high price.

There’s a combination of reasons that lead to prosciutto being so pricey, including the fact that it can take years to make. In addition, it involves a fairly complex procedure to create a high-quality product, and the meat used is very high in quality, to begin with. Furthermore, prosciutto is traditionally seen as something fancy, definitely not your average bologna. So, let’s take a closer look at why you’re shelling out the big bucks for some prosciutto.

why is prosciutto so expensive

Why Are Cured Meats Generally More Expensive?

Curing is one of the oldest food preservation techniques.

In the process, salt is added to the meat to extract the water and preserve it. By adding salt, the meat is protected from harmful bacteria that cause spoilage.

Various processes can be included in curing: cooking, spicing, smoking, adding sugar, nitrite, nitrate, etc.

Curing is what gives the meat its distinctive color and flavor. If you enjoy eating cured meats, you’ve probably noticed their price. There are several reasons for that:

  • Curing and drying meat isn’t a short process. Sometimes, the process can take months or even years.
  • Curing isn’t simple. There are various factors one has to keep in mind to produce high-quality meat, such as pH acid level monitoring, drying environment, growth of good mold, etc.
  • Depending on the type of meat you’re buying, high price usually means high quality. Meat is kept in specific conditions, and a significant amount of attention is paid to the way the animals are raised and fed.

The price of cured meats depends on many factors.

The most expensive type of cured meat is Iberian ham (Jamon Iberico). It’s produced in Spain and Portugal. The meat comes from the black Iberian pig.

For the first several weeks, piglets are fed barley and maize. After that, piglets feed naturally on different herbs, grass, acorns, etc.

Once slaughtering time approaches, the piglets are fed chestnuts, olives, and acorns to produce high-quality meat.

Overall, the curing process of the Iberian ham takes between 12 to 48 months.

The whole process impacts the price: A leg can cost you up to $4,500!

Why Is Prosciutto So Expensive?

Prosciutto is a type of dry-cured ham from Italy that’s usually uncooked.

It’s made from a pig’s or boar’s hind leg or thigh. Since it’s both dry-cured and air-dried, it’s safe to serve raw, making it a perfect addition to salads or charcuterie boards.

It’s usually sliced in thin pieces, as its texture can be overwhelming if eaten in large, thick pieces.

A lot of factors affect the price of prosciutto:

Meat Selection

The quality of meat depends on the quality of pigs, their origin, nutrition, and age. The most expensive types of prosciutto are made from specially bred pigs of specific origin. They’re monitored and inspected regularly to ensure all the safety standards are adhered to.

Besides their origin, the price of prosciutto also depends on the nutrition of the pigs. The prosciutto will be more expensive if the pigs are naturally fed. This means pigs are free to roam around and eat different herbs, grass, and plants.

If the pigs are fed commercial pig food, the prosciutto will be less expensive, but the quality won’t be as good.

Additives

Traditionally, only sea salt is used to cure prosciutto. However, nowadays, it’s possible to use additives such as nitrites and nitrates that help with the curing process and colorings to improve the meat color.

The additives are artificial and can be harmful to our health. That’s why it’s always better to purchase prosciutto cured only with salt.

However, this affects the price, and this type of prosciutto is often much more expensive.

Drying Period

Besides selecting high-quality meat, the preparation process is one of the factors of prosciutto’s high price.

After salting and rinsing it, the meat has to dry. The drying period varies in length, depending on the flavor and dryness one wants to achieve. This process can last up to 36 months.

many cuts of prosciutto on drying racks in dark room

By drying prosciutto for such an extended period, a deep, concentrated flavor is achieved, which is another factor to pay attention to when it comes to the price. If the meat is dried for a short period, it can be too chewy and soft, which isn’t a trait of authentic prosciutto.

Moreover, another critical factor is the climate. Different geographical regions’ temperature and humidity levels significantly impact how the meat is dried, and the end result affects the meat’s quality and flavor.

For example, the flavor depends on whether prosciutto was dried near the sea, in the mountains, or a mix of both.

Quality Control

If you want to be sure your prosciutto was manufactured by adhering to high standards and is safe to consume, you’ll look for brands that have the necessary certifications.

Obtaining a certificate for top-quality products isn’t easy. Companies have to obey specific standards and guidelines to get it, and the process isn’t cheap. This also has an impact on its price.

Tradition

People have been curing meat for hundreds of years. Families developed recipes for achieving excellent flavor and high quality.

You can purchase prosciutto from companies that have been in the business for a long time. The history and traditional preparation of prosciutto affect its price. By buying it, you’re supporting its authenticity and uniqueness.

Import Fees

If you want to purchase original Italian prosciutto, you’ll have to spend a considerable amount of money.

It’s very expensive to get the meat from Italy to the US since it’s marketed as a delicacy. The importation costs are very high, and this likewise has a significant impact on the price.

There are domestic prosciutto brands that are significantly cheaper. However, if you want the real stuff, you have to be ready to spend more money.

In Summary

If you’ve ever wondered why prosciutto is so expensive, now you know.

Prosciutto is about tradition, authenticity, unique preparation, and high-quality meat. If you’re thinking about buying it, think of it this way: You’re not buying just the meat; you’re buying a piece of history, effort, and family recipes that have managed to stay authentic for hundreds of years.

It’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth the price, but if you ask me, it absolutely is!