I was at a cooking demonstration recently where the Italian chef was using pancetta liberally. It got me thinking, what IS the difference between bacon and pancetta… and for that matter prosciutto?

All three are cured meats, the difference is in how they are prepared. To make bacon, pork belly, sides, or back are brined and then smoked. Pancetta, is often called Italian bacon, but unlike the bacon we’re familiar with in New Zealand which is most often smoked, pancetta is un-smoked pork belly that is cured in salt and spices such as nutmeg, pepper and fennel. It’s then dried for a few months. Pancetta and bacon are often used in much the same way and are cooked before eating. Both are add superb flavours to other dishes, especially soups and sauces.

Prosciutto comes from the pork shoulder and is dry-cured, it takes a considerably longer process to make than the other two. The curing time alone for traditional prosciutto is around two years. After curing, prosciutto is sliced into paper thin pieces which are usually slightly transparent. It is typically eaten uncooked, on antipasto platters, wrapped around fruit and vegetables, or in salads. In some cases prosciutto may be lightly cooked, as is the case when it is tossed with pasta.

The most renowned and expensive legs of prosciutto come from central and northern Italy – Tuscany and Emilia in particular.

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