It is impossible to visit Italy without tasting salumi, the Italian term for cured meats. This word will be found everywhere in Italy. However, the variety of salumi can make it difficult to choose from. Don’t worry, our guide to Italian Cures Meats will help.
What are “salumi?”? These are Italian deli meats and Italian cold cuts. Salume, plural of salumi, literally means “salted beef”.
Although most salumi in Italy are made from pork, there are salumi that can be made from wild boar or deer, as well as salumi from horse. We’ve already told you that Italians love all things pork. There are actually hundreds of types of salumi from Italy. Italian cured meats are different depending on where they come from, how fattened, what seasoning is used, and how curing methods are done.
All Italian cured meats are included under the umbrella term “salumi”. It can be divided into three sub-categories: salumi (salami), salsicca (salsicca). True salumi, as opposed to the general term, are cured meats that have been prepared from whole animals. They are usually the shoulder or the thigh. Prosciutto is the most well-known of these cold cuts from Italy. Salami, also known as salame, is a type of salumi that has been air dried, smoked, salted and allowed to age. These are what most people associate with “salami” when they hear the term in the USA. However, it can also include American “pepperoni” and soppressata. Salsiccia is a sausage that is ground up and then encased. You can either cook it slightly or raw before you serve it. It can be considered a subgroup in salami.
Are you still confused? There are many options. You can taste test to find out more about the salumi. Our guide to Italian cured meats will help to identify what you are eating, whether it’s salumi or salami.
We would be delighted to show you the differences between our Italian Food Tours, in Florence or in Rome. Let’s look at each one in detail.
Crudo, cotto and prosciutto
Prosciutto is the most well-known type of salumi. It is made from the leg of the pork and comes in either raw (prosciutto crudo), or cooked (prosciuttocotto), similar to “ham” in America.
Prosciutto Crudo di Parma may be the most well-known salumi in the world. It is named after the city of Parma but Prosciutto di San Daniele also competes for attention. The difference lies in the aging. Prosciutto di Parma can be aged between 10-12 months and San Daniele, which is about 15-18 months old. It is sweeter than Parma Ham.
If you love your Ham as much as we do, visit our Blog to learn everything about prosciutto.
Although speck is a form of prosciutto it has a very distinct flavor. It is smoked and robust, and is usually thinly sliced. Prosciutto is a common choice for pizzas, but speck with scamorza cheese will impress any waiter. The pig thighs are made in Trentino-Altro Adige. They are dry salted, smoked and aged for 5-6 months to get their distinctive smoky flavor.
Bresaola, a local cured meat, is made in Valtellina, Lombardy. The cut, which is made from beef, is one of the few cured meats that has almost no fat. Bresaola’s rich red color is due to its salted, spiced, and air dried preparations. To really enjoy its flavor, you can simply add a little oil and a squeeze of lemon to it.
Baloney is what we call it, but Bologna residents have mortadella. This is cured bologna-style meat which is far more delicious than the supermarket bologna slices. Baloney can be a bit rubbery but mortadella tastes like pork. For flavor, it also contains large cubes of fat. Sometimes garlic and pistachios are also added. Mortadella can be eaten as an appetizer before dinner.
Pancetta, an Italian bacon made from pork belly and spiced with black pepper, is also known as pancetta. This is the closest to bacon that we love and it’s delicious! It is not often eaten as a breakfast staple. It’s often used to enhance the flavor of favorite dishes. Lardo, which can be considered pure fat, and Guanciale (made from pig cheek, in Italian), are similar cuts of meat. They both have high fat content and similar fats. Yes, high fat, but the Italians will never compromise on their taste!
Bologna and Emilia-Romagna are worth a visit if you like these meats. Check out our blog to learn more about their delicious, succulent specialties.
Salame Genovese, or Milanese
Genoa Salami is the most well-known salami in America. It is extremely finely ground, with very few visible flecks fat. Milano Salami is a similar product, but it is even more finely ground. There are almost as many varieties of salame in Italy as there are regions. There are nearly as many types of salame in Tuscan as there are regions of Italy. However, Tuscan salami is known for having larger amounts of fat. Other salamis like fennel salami have more flavor and spices.
Salami piccanti, also known as salame piccante in the singular, is what Americans refer to as pepperoni. The Italian pepperoni are sweet bell peppers. Be careful about what you order for your pizza. Salame piccante, most notably from Calabria is salame spiced up with red peperoncino peppers (hence its name mix-up).
It’s not a typo. Calabria, in the south of Italy is where ‘Nduja comes from. The name of the salame is pronounced “en-duya” in Calabria, south Italy. Spreadable spicy salami made from various parts of a pork pig’s body, such as the liver, shoulder and belly. However, the most important ingredient is the generous addition of spicy red peppers before the meat is aged for up to one year. Can you see a trend here with the Calabrese or pepperoncini? It’s hot, so be careful! It’s hot!
Soppressata can be made from many different parts of the pig, which vary from one region to another. Soppressata is a type or salame like those from Tuscany and Liguria. It can also be a type cured dried sausage like those from Calabria, Calabria, and Puglia. Although seasoning and spices can vary, soppressata is usually made with red peppers. It can be spicy but not as spicy as ‘Nduja. It is usually a little coarser than salami making it the perfect rustic salame for slicing and eating plain with a slice of bread and cheese.
Cured Italian sausage must be ground before being encased. This is different from prosciutto or speck which are made from a whole animal. This category includes salami, but some sausages can be considered to be only salami. These are our two favorites:
Luganega is a sausage that has been flavored with black pepper and fennel seeds. It is often found in risotto recipes such as risotto ala monzese. This recipe uses luganega and saffron.
Cotechino is very popular in Emilia-Romagna, Lombardia, and elsewhere. It is a large piece of raw sausage that is boiled and then mixed with lentils. This rich dish is traditionally enjoyed on New Year’s Eve to bring good fortune. You might like the sound and taste of cotechino. Read our comprehensive post, There’s no such thing as Italian Food (and what to eat instead).