An introduction to salumi, Italian cured meats
A staple of antipasti (starter boards), cured meats, known collectively as salumi, are a key element of the Italian diet, and come in many different varieties. Salumi are still homemade in many rural Italian households today, and involve curing or smoking different joints of pork to create a host of different delicacies. Some are spicy, some are salty, while others have richer flavours such as red wine and herbs added to create an unbeatable taste. Below are just some of the salumi you definitely need to try while you’re on your Italian holidays!
Capicola uses the neck or shoulder of a pig, with its name deriving from capo, the Italian for head or neck. Usually smoked, capicola is unbelievably tender and normally prepared with a variety of herbs and spices (and sometimes also a dash of wine). It’s best served in a sandwich made from fresh bread, leaving the flavour to shine through just as it is.
Cacciatore was once the meat of choice for hunters, its name literally meaning hunter – they used to carry this small and versatile salami around with them, which provided plenty of sustenance as they went about their hunt. Cured with wine, spices and herbs, cacciatore measures around 6-7 inches in length, and has a texture slightly tougher than capicola. Again, it’s great served with some fresh bread, as well as some sharp Provolone, though its small pieces mean it’s not ideal for sandwich making.
Prosciutto is one of the more popular cured meats outside of Italy, with Prosciutto di Parma now being a household name. Made from the back leg of the pig, this dry cured ham is perfect served with bread, Italian cheese and olives. It comes in two varieties: prosciutto crudo, the uncooked variety, and prosciutto cotto, the cooked variety.
Made from various parts of the pig which include the belly, tongue and stomach, soppressota is a sausage-like cured meat, though it can be spicy. It’s excellent for using in sandwiches, and differs based on region, with each area using a different blend of herbs and spices.
Made from a large pork shoulder, spalla is a meat where the pork is cured in a mixture of salt, pepper, garlic, cinnamon and nutmeg, and then left to chill for a long time (often around two months) until it is ready for consumption. If left to age for longer, it can be enjoyed raw, though most eat it cooked instead. The preparation of spalla follows centuries-old traditions, and involves cooking it in hot but not boiling water, seasoned with wine and bay leaves.
Pancetta is another international favourite outside of Italy, and is often served fried to accompany various dishes. Made from the belly of the pig, this salumi is cured with salt and spices, though much of its flavour also comes from its fat.
Made from the meat found on the pig’s hind legs, speck is very similar to prosciutto, though the bone is usually removed. Like prosciutto, speck is also often cut wafer-thin and served with bread. It achieves its flavour by being smoked, and promises a robust flavour though a slightly chewy texture.
Culatello is perhaps one of the most luxurious salumi on this list, and is one of the more expensive varieties of salumi on this list. Made from the meat of larger pigs, culatello is a prized cured meat which much resembles prosciutto, though packs in a lot more flavour.
Image: Frieder Blickle, available under Creative Commons