Italian culinary culture has a long history of producing cured, fermented, smoked and preserved meats. In Italy, such meats are known as salumi. Various regions have been crafting versions of salt-cured ham, aromatic-brined beef and even mold-encased salami for hundreds of years. Bursting with flavor and some might even say unique personalities, there are many varieties that you already know, but perhaps a few that have not yet been savored. In this three-part series, the Italian Tribune looks at fifteen different salumi.
Prosciutto – At the top of the list is prosciutto. This beloved dry-cured ham has exceptional flavor and versatility. Few other Italian deli meats can be considered as ‘classic.’ Its origins trace back to the ancient Romans, where the practice of curing ham dates over 2,000 years. The heartland of prosciutto production lies in Emilia Romagna. Here, the process involves salting the ham and allowing it to rest before undergoing an extended period of air-drying, sometimes taking up to two years. This method imparts prosciutto with its signature tenderness and complex flavor profile.
Two prominent types of prosciutto stand out, Prosciutto di Parma and Prosciutto di San Daniele. For many, there is no substitute for Prosciutto di Parma, renowned for its delicate, slightly sweet taste, while Prosciutto di San Daniele, originating in San Daniele, offers a more robust and nutty taste. Both varieties are protected by the coveted PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status, ensuring that only hams adhering to strict production guidelines can bear the name.
Prosciutto has a range of culinary uses. It is often served thinly sliced as an appetizer or part of an antipasti board, where its buttery richness envelops cheeses, olives and crusty bread. Wrapped around fruits including melon and figs, prosciutto adds a bright contrast that marries beautifully to the natural sweetness of fruit.
Genoa Salami – In Italy, many distinctive types of salami trace their roots to a specific place. The port city of Genoa, located in the northwestern region of Liguria, has its very own cured product. The spiced and cured sausage is made from pigs raised around the hills of Genoa, which gives it a specific flavor mirroring the environment and their foraging diet in the region.
Crafted from a blend of coarsely ground pork and sometimes veal, Genoa Salami showcases a harmonious balance of flavors. It is seasoned with a medley of spices and herbs, including garlic, black pepper, coriander and thyme, contributing to its signature taste profile. The meat mixture is carefully wrapped in natural casings and then undergoes an aging and air-drying process that lasts for months. As a salami, Genoa is fermented, so a mold layer works to preserve the meat.
The flavor of Genoa Salami is robust, with savory, garlic undertones and a subtle spiciness. As it ages, the salami develops complex savory notes and a semi-firm texture that becomes oily when warm. Its versatility is a highlight. Genoa Salami is frequently served on antipasti platters but can also be thinly sliced and layered in sandwiches, salads or pasta.
Milano Salami – A jewel of Italian cured meats, Milano Salami is eaten as frequently on antipasti boards as it is consumed in sandwiches or baked into dishes such as a frittata. This salami carries a legacy deeply intertwined with the region’s culinary traditions.
It is meticulously crafted using a blend of ground pork and an array of spices. The fine grind of meat gives the final sausage a smooth texture. Often, Milano Salami has a secret ingredient – the inclusion of white wine. This addition imparts a mildly acidic trait. Aged within a timeframe between three to nine weeks, the maturation period allows the flavors to meld and intensify, resulting in a meat that is tender, but bursting with complex tastes. Salumi Milanese can take on slightly sweet notes in comparison with other types of salami and is less salty than most.
Calabrese Salami – This vibrant and flavorful Italian dry-cured sausage originates from the southern region of Calabria. What sets Calabrese-style salami apart is its unmistakable heat. The red pepper flakes, particularly those sourced from the Calabria region, lend an intense spiciness that packs a punch, creating a robust and vibrant flavor profile. The heat is balanced by the savory notes of garlic and other spices, resulting in a complex result.
The composition of Calabrian Salami typically includes coarsely ground pork meat, the aforementioned red pepper flakes and a blend of spices, including garlic, paprika and black pepper. These ingredients impart a vivacious kick and an intense aroma to the salami. The meat mixture is then stuffed into natural casings and allowed to ferment.
There are many uses for Calabrese-style salami in the kitchen. It is commonly enjoyed thinly sliced as part of antipasti platters, where its fiery character complements milder cheeses and olives. It can also be incorporated into sandwiches, pizzas and pasta dishes to add a spicy depth of flavor.
Mortadella – A classic and iconic Italian cold cut, Mortadella for some is an acquired taste. This delicacy originates from Bologna and has a rich history dating back centuries. Mortadella is a type of sausage made from finely ground pork, typically blended with small cubes of pork fat, which gives it a distinct consistency. The mixture is seasoned with typical spices but may also include myrtle berries and sometimes pistachios or olives, which contribute to its unique flavor. Unlike many other sausages, mortadella is cooked, rather than air-dried, which sets it apart from Italian cured meats.
Traditionally enjoyed in thin, translucent slices, either on its own or as part of an antipasto platter. The olive variety makes an appearance in many sandwiches, including a classic from New Orleans, the muffaletta. It is also a frequent ingredient in a panini, where it is often paired with cheese and tomatoes. It is the star of the famous Mortadella Bologna sandwich, a specialty in the city, where it is served on a warm roll with various condiments.