Guide To Italian Meats
The DNA of Italian cuisine, cured meats, were first documented as early as the Middle Ages. It was a time when Italian butchers were developing meat-curing techniques that are still being used today. Meat curing was developed in order to make use every part of the pig, a practice that showed respect for the animals and the environment.
You’re probably familiar with favorites like prosciutto, pepperoni, and bologna, but that’s just scratching the surface. From Bresaola to Speck, discover the distinctive and nuanced flavors of Italian cured meats, a must-have for charcuterie boards, antipasti platters, pasta dishes, and gourmet sandwiches.
Similar to Lomo from Spain, Bresaola is a type of air-dried meat that is considered a special gourmet item. The crown jewel of the Aosta region, this cured meat has a deep red color and delicate flavor that melts in your mouth. For the holy trinity of deliciousness, coat a few slices with olive oil, drizzle with lemon juice, and top with capers. Many pasta recipes with Bresaola call for arugula to mellow out the brininess, plus lemon juice and cheese. For an introduction to Bresaola, try our favorite brands such as Bellentani, Citterio, Bernina Noce Piatta, and Beretta.
Translating to “Hunter’s Salami,” this cured meat is the smallest type of Italian sausage but it’s big on flavor, thanks to a sweet and spicy, pungent bite. These bite-size sausages are an excellent addition to picnics or as part of an antipasto platter. Cacciatore can also be diced and incorporated into pasta dishes to add delicious pops of flavor.
Similar to Sopressata, Calabrese comes from the Calabria region of Southern Italy and has a spicy-hot flavor that adds robust punches of flavor to a wide range of dishes. Seasoned with bold spices and hot peppers, Calabrese is slow cured and then pressed, a curing process that gives it an intense flavor profile. Try it in sandwiches, as an appetizer with mozzarella, or as a tasty pizza topping.
Also called gabagool, capicollo, and capicollu, coppa/capicola is a traditional Corsican cold cut made from the entire muscle of the pork shoulder or neck. Similar to cured ham or prosciutto, this thinly sliced Italian meat is different because the curing process uses less salt, giving it a mellow flavor that doesn’t overwhelm the palate. Cured between 4 and 6 months, the flavors range from mild and sweet to super hot and spicy. Coppa is a special kind of cured meat because it’s the main ingredient in the famous Mufalletta sandwiches from New Orleans. It can also be used to make a classic Italian sandwich when you season it with basil leaves and drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Similar to Zampone, Cotechino is considered to be premium northern Italian meat. This boiled Italian sausage was developed in Modena in the early 1500s and became so popular that production spread across the Emilia-Romagna region and into neighboring Lombardy and Veneto. On New Year’s Day[CB1] , Cotechino is traditionally served with lentils, although many enjoy it all year round in a variety of classic recipes.
One of the finest types of Prosciutto di Parma, Culatello exhibits a special flavor and texture that sets it apart from any type of ham. In fact, Italians don’t consider it deli meat but a gourmet treat fit for royalty. The filet mignon of Italian meats, this prime cut of ham is produced in the United States using the same curing methods from Zibello, Italy where it was first developed. What sets it apart is the meticulous curing method, which starts with the meat being seasoned and salted, then shaped into an oblong ham with twine and placed inside the bladder of the pig where it is cured for up to 12 months.
Made from cured pork jowl, Guanciale isn’t typically included on the traditional charcuterie board but makes an excellent cooking ingredient for many [CB2] , including risotto, stew, and pasta. The rich flavor comes from a generous amount of fat that is evenly distributed throughout the cut. A combination of black pepper, garlic, and rosemary is what gives it a distinctive flavor that stands out in the classic dish Pasta all’Amatriciana.
Italy’s most famous ham, Serrano tastes similar to the popular Spanish version but is different because it’s made from a specific breed of pig that produces darker meat with a more complex flavor. Also called Iberico, this type of ham has a different flavor because of a specific diet these pigs eat.
Pungent, sweet, and delicate, Mortadella is everything you could ask for in a gourmet Italian meat. First produced in Bologna, it’s the original bologna meat that eventually made its way to U.S. ham sandwiches. But because of a large amount of pork fat and flavorful spices, Mortadella is distinctively different than the typical ham you might remember from paper bag lunches in grade school.
A classic Italian meat, pancetta is a dry-cured meat made from pork belly and seasoned with salt and spices. It comes thinly sliced, which makes it taste delicious in gourmet sandwiches. It can also be diced into small cubes and tossed into your favorite pasta dishes, including Pasta Carbonara.
Originating from the Lazio region of Rome, Porchetta is a boneless pork roast that has been brined with salt and spiced with garlic, rosemary, fennel, oregano, and black pepper. Place a few slices on bread, add cheese and pickles, and enjoy a simple yet delicious Italian style lunch at home or on the go.
Also called Parma ham, prosciutto is a popular type of ham made from the hind leg of a hog or boar and is air dried for at least 210 days. What sets prosciutto apart is an intensive curing process that uses a carefully controlled climate. Thinly sliced to preserve its delicate flavor, this high-quality ham is the most versatile of Italian meats and is often used in sandwiches, antipasto, pasta, and more.
Meaning “cooked ham” in Italian, Prosciutto Cotto is a popular deli meat in Italian cuisine. What makes it different than other types of ham is its low sodium content, which adds a subtle flavor that doesn’t overwhelm the overall flavor of sandwiches and pizza.
Everybody has heard of salami—it’s the most famous of all Italian meats and every region of Italy boasts its own version, including Genoa, Calabrese, Milano, Varzi, and Abbruzzi. Salami can be made from many types of meat, including pork, boar, beef, or venison. The seasonings are traditionally a combination of herbs and spices, plus salt, pepper, wine, or vinegar. The plural form of salame, salami is seasoned and brined, then stuffed into a casing where it hangs to cure.
Another favorite at the Italian deli, sausages are salted and seasoned, then stuffed in a casing and cured for a period of months, depending on the type. A sweet dry sausage makes a tasty Ragu pasta sauce that would make any Italian grandmother proud.
First developed in Calabria, soppressata is a type of sausage that is similar to salami but with a spicier flavor. It also has a rough texture that clings to hearty pastas and adds balance to a variety of red sauces. It also makes a delicious addition to an antipasto platter when eaten with cheese, pickles, and toast points.
Speck is a favorite type of cured meat from Alto Adige, the northern most part of Italy. Combining the curing methods of the Mediterranean and Northern European regions, Speck has a lighter, less salty flavor compared to prosciutto di Parma. The secret is in the slow and gentle curing process, plus the ventilated rooms that allow the crisp Alpine air to affect the flavor.
Try incorporating gourmet Italian meats into your meal rotation and bon appetito!
[CB1]Blog suggestion: Traditional Italian NYE eats and traditions
[CB2]Link to blog