It's amazing to realize that something as fragrant, sweet and supple as Prosciutto di Parma or San Danielle is acheived by simply curing meat with nothing more than salt and letting it hang for upwards of a year.
I make a version of salt cured air-dried ham that, when aged successfully, is very similar in aroma, taste and texture to the Italian versions that most would recognize as prosciutto.
The hams in the slideshow are from Berkshire hogs that were raised on grain by another farmer (we currently have no hogs on the farm). The fact the hogs were raised on grain and have not been mast -finished on say, acorns or hickory nuts, might be problematic.
As Mangalista hog breeder Heath Putnam explains in his great blog Wooly Pigs , most hogs in the United States are raised on a diet high in polyunsaturated fat (from grain) which results in soft polyunsaturated pork fat that is prone to oxidation. Hogs that are fed a diet that is high in the monounsaturated fats that are found in acorns and other types of produce soft fat too. However such pork fat is much less prone to oxidation.
Ironically, Heath writes that at least one way to produce pork with hard fat involves feeding the hogs a low fat diet in the final few months of their lives. I don't understand the science yet, but apparently the lack of fat in the diet forces the pigs to synthesize saturated fats.
So, since my hams came from hogs that were fed grain, the fat might be prone to turn rancid. I'll monitor them as they age and if I see any yellowing (a sign of rancidity) I'll pull them down, trim them and cook them off.
Here are some shots of the final stages of preparation of the two hams I hung last week. By the time these shots were taken, they had cured in salt in the aging room for a little over three weeks (1 day per pound) and, after being rinsed, spent a week in the refrigerator. Now they will hang for a year before they are salable (provided they don't get funky).