Cured meats need care, too
Prosciutto is a type of Italian dry-cured ham that seems hardy. After all, prosciutto is made by salting a leg of ham then hanging it up in a dark room, unrefrigerated, for months until it's dried out and turns into the salty, complex cured meat you know and love. You'd think this curing process would make prosciutto a meat that can last for a long time, even when kept at room temperature—but it turns out the shelf life of prosciutto is much shorter than you might think and the correct way to store prosciutto so it doesn't dry out isn't to keep it in your dark pantry.
Lorenzo Tedeschi, a representative for Rovagnati Prosciutto, an Italian producer of prosciutto and other high-quality cured meats for over 70 years, explains that even though prosciutto is cured, you need to keep that meat chilled. "The best way to store prosciutto at home is to keep it in the fridge at a maximum temperature of 44°F," he explains, adding, "In order to preserve its natural flavor, you should never keep it close to food like cheese and keep it far away from the light."
Even though the giant leg of pork is cured, you really don't have that long to enjoy your prosciutto once it's been sliced, especially since prosciutto is generally sliced paper thin, which makes it even more delicate and susceptible to moisture loss. "At Rovagnati, we recommend that you eat our Gran Biscotto prosciutto cotto [or cooked proscuitto] within one day that it is bought in stores, but you can store it up to three days, however it will lose some of its flavor and aroma."
The shelf life is just as short for prosciutto crudo, which is uncooked and technically raw meat even though the curing process kills any foodborne pathogens. "For cured prosciutto we recommend three days to eat," Tedeschi explains. "Never try to eat it after that period as it will lose its properties and preservation level."
The bad news for those trying to extend the life of their prosciutto by putting it in the freezer is that, "Freezing prosciutto is never a good idea," says Tedeschi. "Freezing temperatures are likely to make the meat lose its characteristic tenderness and its flavor."
The best way to make your prosciutto last is to be careful about storing it properly—by wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap and keeping in refrigerated—and really, you should only buy as much prosciutto as you're going to use or eat in one sitting. But given how delicious prosciutto can be, that shouldn't be a problem.