When it comes to pork, some of the best restaurants in Kansas City are known for barbecuing it—thick, smoked, meaty slabs of it. And nobody bats an eye at when it’s served in an old gas station. But in a city where barbecue reigns supreme, prosciutto is being left out in the cold—unfairly so. If barbecue is the Apollo of pork, then prosciutto is the equally heroic Odysseus, the Homer Simpson to its Ward Cleaver. So Kansas City Italian restaurants are doing their part to bring prosciutto the attention it deserves.
At first glance, prosciutto seems like a cross between raw bacon and smoked ham. The Italian delicacy is meat from a pig—the haunch, specifically—but unlike other cured meats, it doesn’t contain nitrates or even need to be cooked.
The exact origins of prosciutto are unknown, but it’s likely been a favorite for millennia. The Roman statesman Cato mentioned a delicacy similar to prosciutto in his writings, and the ancient Celts are believed to have consumed salt-cured pork. Prosciutto’s name even hints at ancient roots: it comes from the Latin word perexsuctus, meaning “dried” or “deprived of all liquid,” as when Caesar shouted it from the theater steps when Brutus drank the last of his soda.
Prosciutto is still created following simple, ancient practices. First, a pig or boar leg arrives fresh from the butcher. Next, a curer coats the leg with sea salt to draw out moisture, then lets it dry in a special curing room. The exterior, or rind, may also be coated with lard and grease to prevent the meat from becoming dehydrated. How long the haunches need to be cured depends on the desired taste, but most mature anywhere from one to three years.
In the past few years, prosciutto has started eking out a place for its delicate cuts of bold flavor in Kansas City Italian restaurants. The silky, sweet-tasting pork is usually served thinly sliced and at room temperature, often as the centerpiece of an antipasto or charcuterie plate. Folks can get a taste of it in its purest form at restaurants such as Extra Virgin, which serves the sea-salted meat all on its lonesome (and even offers a happy hour plate). For a slightly more decadent approach, pop into Jasper’s Italian Restaurant, where the chefs stuff veal with prosciutto and cheese.