I have been taught well by my book club and thus know how to assemble a lovely charcuterie board when called upon to do so. Except when it comes to the prosciutto. There’s no meat on this planet I’d rather eat than a thin, salty, fatty slice of cured ham, but seeing the flat vacuum-sealed pouches of prosciutto at the grocery store always gives me pause. I know that the second I crack open that package, I’m going to start mangling the stuff beyond recognition or repair. No book club guest deserves that. How does anyone arrange prosciutto in a way that pleases the eye and leaves the slices intact?
Over at Food52, there are some helpful hints for styling your charcuterie board. “Although these meats are delicious, they can look a bit lackluster just plopped on a board directly out of the package,” reads the start of the guide, which I must say makes me feel attacked. Styling tips include instructions for creating beautiful rosettes out of salami, coppa, and prosciutto, each formed by layering multiple slices of meat and folding/rolling them into their most Instagrammable form.
Roses are indeed beautiful, but that’s a lot of slices to pop in one’s mouth at once, and their formation suggests lots of handling. Instead, I’d prefer to create the impression that it just tumbled elegantly from the slicer. Besides, charcuterie styling tips like these make the generous assumption that I’m even able to take this stuff out of the package correctly. I really need to start at square one here.
How to separate thin prosciutto slices
The internet is full of people who genuinely believe they give good advice, and when you’re dealing with pricey dry-cured meats, you should not trust these people just because they chime in first or loudest with ideas. I have found many suspicious recommendations for easily separating thin slices of prosciutto, including both freezing the slices and microwaving them.
Microwaving a pack of prosciutto will indeed make the slices slightly easier to separate, but that’s because you’re turning it into crisps by cooking it in its own fat. That sounds great for certain applications, but let’s assume I don’t want to fundamentally change the essence of the pork product I’m eating. I just want to get it out of the damn package intact.
How about freezing? Technically this is possible, but it’s simply not worth the risk of moisture loss. Freezing can make the meat less tender—which is presumably why the slightly tougher frozen slices are easier to separate—and at that point, I’d rather serve (and eat) two pieces stuck together at their optimal temp and texture than to “hack” my way to a clean picturesque slice.
Slipping a knife in between the slices is one method that many charcuterie assemblers swear by, and while a knife is capable of slipping between stubborn slices, I know that I end up mangling the whole package whenever I try it.
Ultimately, I found the most success with a tool-free method recommended by our good friends at Reddit (r/cooking): Take the tip of one slice and start rolling it up from the end. This works for the same reason that rolling stubborn tape off a wall is better than pulling it outward: the force of the pulling motion is being applied flush with the next slice, rather than perpendicular to it. This even application of force leaves you with relatively unscathed meat that you don’t have to freeze, crisp, or stab.
Also, if you get the prosciutto straight from a butcher counter or any other place where they’re slicing the meat directly off the leg, you can request that they place butcher paper/wax paper/plastic be placed between each slice.
How to arrange prosciutto on a plate
If you’re looking for a more au naturel charcuterie board, you can skip the prosciutto rosettes and go with a simple folding technique. YouTube darling Babish assembles a lovely board with the slices simply laid flat on top of each other, in which case I suppose you’re just shifting the meat-rolling responsibilities to your guests.
The Simply Home Cooked YouTube channel, meanwhile, is more my speed. “Instead of folding it, you just want to drop it onto the board in a ribbon type of fashion,” the host says of her thinly sliced prosciutto. She bunches each slice into a pleasing, loose little mound, then scatters them in a cascade across the wooden board. It’s much easier for a guest to pluck a piece of meat from the arrangement that way. And designing your grazing boards to be optimally grazable is the whole point, right?