Curing (preserving meat by salting, smoking or drying) is a traditional process that goes back generations. Cultures from around the world originally took to curing their meat out of necessity, to extend the shelf life of precious food.
Many of the cured meats that we adore today are extremely important to Italian cuisine and culture. Aromatic, rich and bold, Italian salumi is a testament to pre-industrial innovation. While there may be hundreds of types of salumi, each unique to a region of Italy, some have transcended borders and are now popular throughout the world.
“Whole-muscle” salumi is typically an entire cut of pork or beef, as opposed to salami – which is ground and then aged in a casing. If you’ve ever wondered exactly where each variety on your dinner table comes from or what makes them different, we’re here to tell you!
Renowned for its salty, yet delicately sweet flavour, prosciutto is one of Italy’s oldest (and certainly most well known) cured meats – dating back thousands of years, to 500 BC, when the Etruscan started to salt pork legs with a technique that has been perfected over centuries.
Made from simply pork hind or thigh and salt, prosciutto is an excellent antipasto or accompaniment to cooked vegetables, but it’s also famously wrapped around veal to create Saltimbocca and used as a delicious, authentic pizza topping.
The unique combination of salt, air and age means that no two prosciutti are the same. Visco stocks the most highly regarded variations: Prosciutto di Parma, from the Emilia-Romagna region, and Prosciutto Nazionale from Abruzzo.
Often labelled as one of the finest salumi in Italy and the peak of Italian food culture, culatello is much rarer and offers a more complex flavour profile than other salumi.
Made from the best muscle from the pig’s rear leg, culatello is made in only a few villages in Italy and has therefore always been much more difficult to find outside the country.
Velvety, tender and soaked in dry white wine for several days before drying over 8-14 months, culatello is best served by itself, accompanied by a dry sparkling white wine.
The bacon of Italy, pancetta is one of the few salumi that’s more frequently found as an ingredient in cooked meals, as opposed to being eaten raw.
A key component of authentic spaghetti alla carbonara and amatriciana, pancetta is made from pork jowls, which makes it very fatty and easily rendered.
Prepared primarily with peppercorns, rosemary and juniper, thin strips or cubes can add depth to pasta and soup dishes. It also stays crispy when fried, making it an excellent alternative to bacon in most meals.
Known for its beautiful red colour and significant marbling, coppa is made from the neck or shoulder of the pig and tends to have a much higher fat content and a richer texture than prosciutto.
With herbs and spices added depending on the region – such as white wine, garlic, nutmeg or even chilli – coppa contributes a more robust and seasoned flavour than other salumi.
It makes a gorgeous sandwich filling, especially when combined with an Italian cheese – like provolone – and pickled capsicum.
While most salumi are pork-based, gorgeous bresaola – from Italy’s Lombardy region – is made from air-dried and salted beef. Thanks to its northern origins, it shares similarities with the Swiss Bündnerfleisch.
With little-to-no fat, bresaola is made from the lean topside cuts of beef and is a characteristically ruby red (almost purple) colour with a slightly sweet smell.
It’s ideally sliced paper thin and served with a simple lemon juice or olive oil dressing, alongside a salad, cracked pepper and some hard Italian cheese – like Parmigiano.
While there are countless other types of salumi, you can experience many of them by ordering from Visco! Explore the world of cured meats and indulge your taste buds today.