The Origin of Cured Ham and Melon
Prosciutto e melone
Cured ham and melon is probably the most clichéd Italian antipasti ever. But it’s also a very old combination with roots dating back to the 2. Century AD.
It only takes two ingredients and a sharp knife to cook up this classic Italian antipasti that is always served among crostini, grissini and mozzarella tomatoes at receptions and big Italian party buffets. And this evergreen, dream snack is not a recent invention.
According to La Cucina Italiana the origin of cured ham and melon can be traced back to the theories of a doctor named Galeno, who lived in the 2. Century AD. Galeno was convinced that every being was made up by a combination of four qualities: That is the warm, cold, dry and juicy corresponding to the four elements fire, air, earth and water that constituted the universe. In order to avoid illness all humans should make sure that their diet was perfectly balanced between the four elements. In this way Galeno founded the still valid notion that our health is affected by what we eat, and that the art of cooking is based on combined excellence.
Apart from bread, few food products combine all four qualities. Most fruits and vegetables need to be combined with other kinds of produce or cooked in order to obtain the desired equilibrium.
In Medieval times melon was considered a highly dangerous fruit due to it’s cold and juicy nature. Therefore it had to be counterbalanced by something dry and warm. In Italy the choice fell on cured ham, and the combination became so popular that it has survived for centuries. And we can still enjoy the refreshing coldness, sweet juice, hot meat and dried saltiness in one exquisite bite of cured ham and melon.