With the hot summer (almost) behind us, it is time to process the harvest. Autumn is the perfect time to celebrate the efforts of a year and prepare for a freezing cold and cozy winter.­
­What characterizes autumn? Soup instead of salad, picking apples for cider and acorns for the pigs. The latter is what interests us: preparing your own dried meats so that you can serve something delicious, authentic, and homemade during the cold evenings. Dry ham, pancetta, guanciale, lardo, coppa, and more delicious southern European dried meats…you just make that yourself!

Prosciutto di Parma

Prosciutto di Parma


The word prosciutto, which translates to “ham” in Italian, is made only from the hind legs of pigs and is aged during a dry-curing process. The quality of prosciutto is based on the curing process, region, and strict quality controls during production. Curing prosciutto originated in Italy thousands of years ago and the ham is produced only using specially bred pigs, sea salt, air, and time. By law Prosciutto di Parma is cured for at least 400 days (starting from the date of first salting), and some may be cured for as long as 3 years. After that time has passed, an independent inspector pierces the ham (1 cm) in several locations (see below) with the ‘Osso ago di cavallo’, a horse bone needle, smelling it after each puncture to check for scents that may indicate any flaws or spoilage. A horse bone needle is used to test prosciutto and other charcuterie because it absorbs and releases scents quickly, which helps in telling if there’s any spoilage, but you can use it again immediately. The bone only requires a quick wipe on the apron in-between uses. And I found this coolest of all tools to impress friends & family -the symbol of the master prosciutto maker- available for the home charcuterie maker. Your own “Osso ago di cavallo”!

Osso ago di cavallo and protective sheath

Olfaction analysis: example for prosciutto.  

During the olfactory Puntatura test on prosciutto, the inspector pricks the meat with the horse bone needle to examine the scent and the dryness. The scent intensity of the lean part and the sweetness of the fatty part are tested. Prosciutto must have a slight scent of dried fruit, hazelnut, wood, and a slight smell of salt. The fatty part should have a sweeter smell. The prosciutto should also carry subtle hints of the area where it was seasoned. You shouldn’t smell any sour or bitter notes from the meat and unpleasant, pungent smells such as raw or rancid meat, or boar taint, are an indication of faulty processing, maturing, or poor meat quality. These parts can be sampled:

Tra corona e parte magra;
Sotto l’anchetta;
Nel fiocco sopra la noce;
Lungo la vena femorale o arteria Illica;
In una fossetta a sinistra della noce.

With this real handmade horse bone needle, imported from Italy, you can check whether the prosciutto (or other charcuterie) has reached the right maturity by means of the “Puntatura test”. Thin, sharp-tipped, and very porous, the bone immediately captures the internal aroma of prosciutto, or any other charcuterie, which the expert can then sniff to determine whether your coppa or pancetta is ready or needs some more time. A must-have for true lovers of raw ham and other cold cuts! As it is quite fragile, please do not insert it too hard or too deep, and do not wash it
With the horse bone you distinguish yourself as a master prosciutto maker!